Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hells Canyon Preservation v. U.S. Forest Service

Jan 25: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 07-35456. Plaintiffs-Appellants Hells Canyon Preservation Council and The Wilderness Society (collectively, HCPC or plaintiffs) brought suit against the United States Forest Service (Forest Service or Service), seeking a judgment declaring: (1) that the Forest Service has failed to retain the original map of the Wilderness in violation of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area Act, 16 U.S.C. § 460gg(b); (2) that the Forest Service’s description of the wilderness boundary is arbitrary and capricious in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A); and (3) that the Forest Service’s failure to close the Lord Flat Trail to motorized vehicle use is an “agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed” under 5 U.S.C. § 706(1).

Plaintiffs also seek an injunction to close the Lord Flat Trail to motorized vehicle use. The district court held that each of plaintiffs’ claims was barred by the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA’s) six-year statute of limitations. The Ninth Circuit majority said in a split decision, "Although we rely on different reasoning, we affirm the judgment of the district court." In conclusion the majority ruled, "Over a three-year period, between 1978 and 1981, the Forest Service considered the evidence, consulted the controlling statutes, and then acted to comply with the Wilderness Act by publishing the boundary description. From that time, plaintiffs had six years in which to air their disagreement. They did not. We see no reason to entertain their attempt to revive their disagreement by labeling the Forest Service’s actions as an ongoing failure to act."

In the partial dissent, one of the Justice's ruled, "I concur in the majority’s analysis of the first two claims. Plaintiffs do not have standing to challenge the Forest Service’s failure to retain the original map of the Hells Canyon Wilderness area. Maj. op. Part II-A. And Plaintiffs’ claim that the boundary description is arbitrary and capricious is barred by the six-year statute of limitations. Maj. op. Part II-B. I respectfully dissent, however, from the majority’s analysis of the third claim. Maj. op. Part II-C. . . In my view, Plaintiffs have asserted a viable claim to “compel agency action unlawfully withheld” under 5 U.S.C. § 706(1)."

Access the complete opinion and dissent (
click here).

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