Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center v. U.S. BLM

Dec 15: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 08-35463. The Appeals Court explains, "We must decide whether environmental organizations are prevailing parties within the meaning of the Equal Access to Justice Act when, before judgment, the Bureau of Land Management [BLM] withdraws its challenged decision to conduct a timber sale." The "prevailing party" issue is important because Congress has passed many statutes to allow parties who sue the United States to recover attorney’s fees in certain circumstances, but only if they are the “prevailing parties” in the lawsuit. The Appeals Court cites: Buckhannon Bd. v. W.Va. Dep’t of Health and Human Res., 532 U.S. 598, 600 (2001).

Plaintiffs Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Cascadia Wildlands Project, and Umpqua Watersheds (Klamath) sued the Bureau of Land Management of the United States Department of the Interior (BLM), alleging that a planned timber sale in the Willy Slide area of the Medford District, among other decisions, violated the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and the Forest Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). Klamath sought “a preliminary injunction; a declaration that the challenged decision violated certain laws; a permanent injunction against the project until the BLM complied with those laws; and an award of costs and
attorneys fees.”

In this case, which has many nuisances, the Appeals Court rules, "In summary, we conclude that Klamath is not a prevailing party in this case because neither the stipulated order, the magistrate judge’s F&R, nor the binding ruling in Boody, a separate case, amounts to a 'material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties' that is 'judicially sanctioned,' as required in Buckhannon. For the foregoing reasons, the district court’s grant of attorney’s fees and costs to Klamath is reversed and vacated. The case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Access the complete opinion (
click here).