Thursday, July 9, 2009

Oregon Natural Desert Association v. Locke

Jul 8: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 06-35851. The Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries (NOAA Fisheries) and National Marine Fisheries Services (collectively, Commerce) appeal the district court’s order granting attorney fees and costs under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), in favor of Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA). The district court issued the attorney fees order after it entered judgment in ONDA’s action alleging unlawful withholding of requested documents and use of unlawful processing regulations in violation of the FOIA and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

The Appeals Court affirmed in part, reverse in part, and remand for recalculation of the attorney fee award. The Appeals Court said, "On two of its claims, ONDA was not a substantially prevailing party under Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W. Va. Dep’t. of Health & Human Res., 532 U.S. 598 (2001). As to those claims, the defendants provided the documents ONDA requested before the district court ordered that they be turned over. ONDA was successful in obtaining the documents, but it succeeded by use of the catalyst theory of recovery, and not by either a judgment on the merits or a court-ordered consent decree as required by Buckhannon. Id. at 604."

The Appeals Court said further, "The Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act (the '2007 Amendments' to the FOIA) authorizes the payment of attorney fees when documents such as those sought by ONDA are recovered using a catalyst theory, but those Amendments were signed into law after the district court entered its attorney fees order, and they do not apply retroactively to this case. ONDA is not eligible for the recovery of attorney fees on its first two claims. Nor is it eligible for attorney fees on its third claim, which it lost. But, it is eligible for an award of attorney fees on its fourth claim for its successful challenge to the cut-off regulation."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).