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Thursday, December 27, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Rail-line foes file appeal of ruling

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Despite big setbacks, foes of a proposed light-rail line through Seattle's Rainier Valley haven't given up their legal battle against Sound Transit.

Save Our Valley has asked a federal appeals court to overturn part of U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein's July ruling dismissing most of the group's lawsuit against the regional transit agency.

The appeal, filed Friday, seeks to resurrect the group's claim that Sound Transit violated federal civil-rights guarantees in its treatment of Rainier Valley, which has a high percentage of nonwhite and low-income residents.

"We always thought it was the strongest part of our case," said George Curtis, Save Our Valley's president.

Sound Transit attorney Desmond Brown said he wasn't surprised by the appeal. But, he said yesterday, "we think Judge Rothstein made the right decision. We are confident the appeals court will agree."

Sound Transit plans to build a 14-mile light-rail line from downtown Seattle to Tukwila, part of which would run through the valley, down the center of Martin Luther King Jr. Way South.

In the lawsuit it filed 20 months ago seeking to block construction, Save Our Valley argued Sound Transit had discriminated against the neighborhood in deciding to build the line on the surface. Neighborhoods that are more affluent and influential had succeeded in persuading Sound Transit to put future rails through their communities in tunnels, the group said.

Sound Transit denied any discrimination.

In her ruling, Rothstein threw out Save Our Valley's key claim that the light-rail plan violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act by harming low-income and minority residents disproportionately.

That's what the group wants the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse.

Rothstein also dismissed charges that Sound Transit violated federal environmental and housing laws. Those parts of her ruling aren't being appealed.

The only part of Save Our Valley's lawsuit that Rothstein didn't throw out was the organization's contention that Sound Transit intentionally had discriminated against Rainier Valley. But Save Our Valley voluntarily withdrew that claim before the case came to trial.

Curtis said the burden of proof was too high and the expense of continuing to trial would have been too great.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April that private parties challenging government policies under the Civil Rights Act must prove not only that they would suffer disproportionately, but also that the discrimination was intentional. Rothstein cited that ruling in her rejection of Save Our Valley's claim.

But Save Our Valley lawyer Mickey Gendler said another provision of federal law allows suits based on discriminatory effects without demonstrating intent.

When Rothstein threw out most of Save Our Valley's lawsuit, she also lifted an injunction that had prohibited Sound Transit from communicating with Rainier Valley residents about buying their property for the light-rail line.

Sound Transit Executive Director Joni Earl said the agency still hasn't initiated those contacts but expects to begin soon.

Eric Pryne can be reached at 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.com.

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