Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Western Watershed Projects v. Ellis (DOI/BLM)

Oct 9: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 11-35464. Appealed from the United States District Court for the District of Idaho. The Appeals Court explains that this appeal involves an attorneys' fee dispute that added a "rancorous coda" to long-running grazing permit litigation in Idaho that was "all ably overseen by the district court."
    The plaintiff, Western Watersheds Project (WWP), originally filed the action in 2004 challenging the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) renewal of grazing permits in the Jarbidge Resource Area (JRA), covering a large expanse of Southern Idaho. In 2005, the district court ruled in a published opinion that WWP's challenge had merit and that the BLM had violated Federal statutes by inadequately protecting habitat of threatened, endangered, or sensitive species.
    The parties in 2006 entered into what they thought was a settlement of the entire dispute, but in July of 2007 a massive fire changed the situation dramatically. The BLM then allowed grazing on unburned areas to continue, and after taking several months to regroup, began issuing new grazing authorizations. WWP successfully challenged the post-fire grazing decisions and authorizations as inadequately protecting wildlife habitat, but the district court denied WWP's claim for fees, and this appeal followed. The issue before the Appeals Court is whether the district court erred in denying plaintiff WWP fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA).
    WWP's position is that the district court considered only the reasonableness of the underlying agency decision to issue
grazing authorizations after the fire, and did not adequately consider the reasonableness of the litigation strategy defending
that decision. The Appeals Court said, "Our review of the record convinces us that the district court did consider both factors, and we affirm" the district court ruling.
    The Appeals Court explained further, "The district court's explanation addressed WWP's principal argument that the BLM was attempting to defend an interpretation of the RMP that the district court had rejected in its 2005 opinion. In the district court, WWP's attack on both the underlying agency decision and its litigation strategy had the same focus. WWP's argument did not separate the litigation strategy from the grazing decision. We therefore cannot fault the district court for not parsing WWP's argument in the way that WWP asks us to do in this appeal."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Land, #Agriculture, #CA9]
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