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Case Name Western Watersheds Project v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serv. EJ-ID-0001
Docket / Court 4:06-cv-00277 ( D. Idaho )
Additional Docket(s) 07-35265  [ 07-35265 ]  Federal Court of Appeals
State/Territory Idaho
Case Type(s) Environmental Justice
Case Summary
On July 14, 2006, Western Watersheds Project, an Idaho environmental non-profit organization, filed this lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho. The plaintiff sought reversal of a January 2005 agency determination that a bird species ... read more >
On July 14, 2006, Western Watersheds Project, an Idaho environmental non-profit organization, filed this lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho. The plaintiff sought reversal of a January 2005 agency determination that a bird species known as the Greater Sage Grouse did not warrant inclusion as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The plaintiff also brought the claim under the Administrative Procedure and Declaratory Judgment Acts, arguing that the organization's continued interest in studying the bird in its wild habitat was threatened by the bird’s substantially declining population and the defendant’s decision to deny the species protection was arbitrary and politically motivated. The plaintiff sought an order to remand the matter to the defendant agency for reconsideration. The case was assigned to Chief District U.S. Judge B. Lynn Winmill.

According to the complaint, the plaintiff petitioned the defendant in 2003 to list the Sage Grouse as a threatened or endangered species, citing “over one hundred peer-review scientific publications” detailing the destruction of the Sage Grouse’s habitat due to livestock grazing and oil and gas development. In 2005, the defendant responded to the petition with a finding that Sage Grouse would be listed as an endangered species. The complaint alleged that this finding violated the ESA's requirement that such determinations be based on the best available scientific information. The plaintiff asked the court to order that the defendant conduct a new review of Sage Grouse’s status.

Beginning on September 19, 2006, fourteen corporate and government entities began efforts to intervene in the suit on the defendant’s behalf, including the State of Wyoming, the Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. The intervenors argued that new federal regulations protecting the Sage Grouse would burden them with costs of compliance. On March 9, 2007, Judge Winmill denied the motions to intervene in part, ruling that the would-be intervenors could not claim any interest in the litigation given that the plaintiff sought only an administrative re-assessment of the Greater Sage Grouse’s status. However, Judge Winmill granted the motion in part in the event that the plaintiff might pursue a remedy beyond a remand of the administrative decision. Because that could adversely effect the intervenors, they were granted the right to intervene to the extent of challenging a possible proposed remedy. This decision was unsuccessfully appealed to the Ninth Circuit by the intervenors.

On April 9, 2007 and May 21, 2007, the plaintiff and defendant respectively filed cross motions for summary judgment. On December 4, 2007, following a hearing on motions, the court granted summary judgement for the plaintiff, reversing the defendant’s decision to not list the Sage Grouse, and directing defendant agency to further consider whether to list the Sage Grouse pursuant the ESA.

In his opinion, Judge Winmill found that the defendant's review of the Sage Grouse's status had failed to consider the findings of its own scientific experts. Furthermore, a Deputy Assistant Director at the defendant agency had used “intimidation tactics” to influence the results of the agency's scientific inquiries. Judge Winmill therefore found that the agency’s decision had not been based on sound scientific analysis as required by the ESA. 535 F.Supp.2d 1173. The opinion also noted that the same Director had already been found in a separate case to have improperly interfered in an ESA listing determination in Center for Biological Diversity v. FWS, 2005 WL 2000928 (N.D.Cal. 2005). The court declared the defendant's prior determination invalid and remanded the issue to the agency for further consideration in compliance with the ESA.

On January 30, 2008, the parties stipulated to a 90-day deadline (from the date of the court's order) for the defendant's completion of the new review of the Sage Grouse's status. However, the defendant subsequently asked the court for additional time to comply with the court's order, and ultimately obtained several extensions from court.

On December 12, 2008, the parties agreed to a settlement covering plaintiff’s attorney fees and costs, amounting to $135,000, which the court approved.

On March 8, 2010, after receiving several extensions, the defendant reported to the court that it had determined that listing the Sage Grouse under the ESA was warranted. However, despite this finding, the defendant placed the Sage Grouse on its list of "precluded" species, meaning that a bureaucratic backlog and a lack of resources prevented the agency from protecting the species regardless of the threats it faced. Thus the defendant avoided needing to protect the Sage Grouse while conceding the plaintiff’s scientific arguments.

The plaintiff asked for leave to file a supplemental complaint to explain that the defendant’s new determination had been arbitrary and politicized, saying that it placed the Sage Grouse in a “black hole from which few species ever emerge, and under which they receive no ESA protection.” The plaintiff asked the court to order the defendant to review the Sage Grouse's status yet again and requested leave to file an amended supplemental complaint. But on April 27, 2010, Judge Winmill denied the motion. The plaintiff had not alleged that the defendant violated the earlier order or that their second determination was not in compliance with the ESA. The plaintiff would be required to file a new action if they wanted to bring this new claim and the case closed.

Nathaniel Flack - 09/24/2018


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
General
Government Services (specify)
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Causes of Action Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq.
Defendant(s) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Plaintiff Description Environmental non-profit
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Mixed
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Declaratory Judgment
Attorneys fees
Order for reconsideration
Source of Relief Litigation
Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2008 - 2010
Filing Year 2006
Case Closing Year 2010
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  Public-Private Conservation Agreements and the Greater Sage Grouse
Public Land & Resources Law Review
Date: Oct. 15, 2018
By: Justin R. Pidot (University of Denver Sturm College of Law)
Citation: 39 Pub. Land & Resources L. Rev. 161
[ Detail ] [ PDF ]

Docket(s)
4:06-cv-277 (D. Idaho)
EJ-ID-0001-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/27/2010
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
EJ-ID-0001-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/14/2006
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Decision [ECF# 118] (535 F.Supp.2d 1173) (D. Idaho)
EJ-ID-0001-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/04/2007
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Joint Stipulation Regarding Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs [ECF# 180]
EJ-ID-0001-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/12/2008
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Supplemental Complaint [ECF# 187]
EJ-ID-0001-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/08/2010
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Winmill, B. Lynn (D. Idaho)
EJ-ID-0001-0002 | EJ-ID-0001-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Lucas, Laurence J. (Idaho)
EJ-ID-0001-0001 | EJ-ID-0001-0003 | EJ-ID-0001-0004 | EJ-ID-0001-9000
Tucci, Todd C. (Idaho)
EJ-ID-0001-0004 | EJ-ID-0001-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Allen, Gary G. (Idaho)
EJ-ID-0001-9000
Allen, Jared Wayne (Idaho)
EJ-ID-0001-9000
Brooks, Russell C. (Washington)
EJ-ID-0001-9000
Burling, James S. (California)
EJ-ID-0001-9000
Ferguson, Deborah A (Idaho)
EJ-ID-0001-9000
Franco, Sandra P. (District of Columbia)
EJ-ID-0001-9000
Hensley, David Fermin (Idaho)
EJ-ID-0001-9000
Howell, Coby (Oregon)
EJ-ID-0001-9000
Jones, Sonya D. (Washington)
EJ-ID-0001-9000
Meyer, Christopher H. (Idaho)
EJ-ID-0001-9000
Monahan, Timothy J. (Colorado)
EJ-ID-0001-9000
Myers, William G. III (District of Columbia)
EJ-ID-0001-9000
Nicholas, Robert A. (Wyoming)
EJ-ID-0001-9000
Olsen, Nathan M. (Idaho)
EJ-ID-0001-9000
Perry, Thomas C (Idaho)
EJ-ID-0001-9000
Wigmore, Michael B. (District of Columbia)
EJ-ID-0001-9000
Williams, Robert Pendleton (District of Columbia)
EJ-ID-0001-0003 | EJ-ID-0001-9000

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