Wednesday, May 21, 2008

U.S. v. Wilderness Society

May 20: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 06-15596. As explained by the Appeals Court, this is a dispute over the status of a road on U.S. Forest Service land in Elko County, Nevada. The case was before the Ninth Circuit for the first time in 2002. See United States v. Carpenter, 298 F.3d 1122 (9th Cir. 2002). At that time, the intervenor-appellant environmental groups wanted to object to the terms of a proposed settlement between the United States and Elko County that effectively allowed the County to repair the road. The Appeals Court ordered the district court to grant the motion to intervene.

The intervenor-appellants are now back, claiming that the district court disregarded the Appeals Court mandate by not permitting them to intervene in the Quiet Title Act portion of the suit that was the subject of the proposed settlement and therefore was the critical part of the litigation. The district court, after the Appeals Court decision, permitted the intervenor-appellants to appear only as amici during the settlement approval proceedings; it denied their motion to participate in an evidentiary hearing. After the hearing, the court ruled against their position on the merits without, in appellants’ view, permitting them adequate participation. The intervenor-appellants Appealed and requested the Ninth Circuit not only to vacate the approval so they can fully present their position, but they also request the Appeals Court to reach the merits and rule in their favor.

For their part, the United States and the County defend the settlement, contending that the intervenors’ participation was adequate because the district court properly, in appellees’ view, ruled that the intervenors lacked standing to participate as a party in the quiet title proceedings in light of their lack of any property interest in the disputed right of way for the road. The Appeals Court ruled, "pursuant to our earlier mandate, we hold that the district court must permit the intervenors to participate as parties in advocating their position in the Quiet Title Act action. We must vacate the settlement approval to effectuate that result. We also hold that the intervenors’ cross-claims are reviewable under the APA. The approval of the settlement of the Quiet Title Act claim is vacated, as is the district court’s order denying the appellants’ motion to intervene. The district court’s dismissal of the appellants’ cross-claims is reversed. The case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

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