Thursday, March 12, 2009

American Bird Conservancy v. Kempthorne

Mar 11: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, Case No. 07-4609. In July and August 2005, appellants, a number of conservation groups, petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list as endangered on an emergency basis the red knot, a species of migratory shorebird. The FWS declined to undertake emergency rulemaking by letter of December 22, 2005, but continued to review the petition in the context of a non-emergency.

On June 13, 2006, before the FWS made a final determination, appellants filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey claiming (1) that the denial of emergency rulemaking was arbitrary and capricious, in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and (2) that the FWS violated the ESA by failing to issue timely findings on the petition.

The FWS issued its final determination -- that the listing of the red knot was warranted but precluded by higher-priority listing activity -- in its periodic Candidate Notice of Review (CNOR) published on September 12, 2006. In response, appellants dismissed their timeliness claim, but persisted with their challenge to the denial of emergency rulemaking. In an opinion and order dated October 11, 2007, the District Court dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, finding that the FWS’s denial of the emergency listing request was not reviewable under either the ESA or the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Given this finding, the District Court did not find it necessary to reach the FWS’s claim that the publication of the warranted but precluded listing determination in the CNOR rendered moot appellants’ challenge to the denial of emergency rulemaking. The appeal followed.

The Appeals Court dismissed the appeal as moot; however, it said, "We note, as we conclude, that appellants have received quite substantial relief. Now that the CNOR has issued, the red knot is on the agency’s watchlist. This means that the emergency monitoring system set forth at 16 U.S.C. § 1533(b)(3)(C)(iii) has become available in the event of exigent circumstances that warrant immediate protection of the red knot."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).