Home » Case Summaries » 2002 » Idaho Watersheds Project v. Hahn

 
 

Idaho Watersheds Project v. Hahn

 

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), individual ranchers, and Owyhee Resource Area Permittees (ORAP), a cattle rancher organization, appealed the district court’s order of a permanent injunction requiring environmental review of sixty-eight grazing permits in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),[1] scheduling the re-issuance of the permits, and creating interim grazing conditions in the Owyhee Resource Area. In 1997, after changes to BLM regulations, the agency issued sixty-eight grazing permits, relying on a 1981 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to comply with NEPA. Idaho Watersheds Project and Committee for Idaho’s High Desert sued BLM in district court. The district court found that this sixteen-year old EIS was inadequate to constitute the necessary “hard look” as required by NEPA[2] and imposed the injunction. On appeal to the Ninth Circuit, BLM, the individual ranchers, and ORAP contested issues surrounding the injunction and the court’s jurisdiction. The Ninth Circuit
found that it did have jurisdiction and affirmed the district court’s permanent injunction.

The Ninth Circuit first responded to the environmental groups’ challenge that the court did not have jurisdiction over the appeal because the partial summary judgment was not a final order. The court found that it had jurisdiction to hear the appeal because it could review the injunctive order and “28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1) confers jurisdiction not only over orders concerning injunctions, but also over matters inextricably bound up with the injunctive order.”[3] Because the district court made the necessary reviewability decisions before reaching the injunctive relief, those decisions were “inextricably bound up” with the injunctive relief and therefore were appealable.[4]

Second, the court addressed BLM’s and the ranchers’ claim that the district court erred in allowing judicial review because the environmental groups had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies as required by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).[5] Under the APA,[6] the Ninth Circuit examined whether the BLM’s regulations “effectively render inoperative the challenged decision pending appeal.”[7] BLM regulations allowed parties to ask for a stay pending administrative appeal, but the court explained that if the stay was rejected then a federal court could review the decision. In addition, even if BLM stayed the decision, the Ninth Circuit found that two possible exceptions to the stay of grazing essentially did not “render inoperative” the decision.[8] First, if grazing had not been authorized in the year before the challenged year, then the challenged decision continued to be in effect despite the stay.[9] The court held that this was an obvious continuation of the decision. Second, if grazing had been authorized in the year before the challenged year, then grazing would continue at that previous year’s level.[10] The court found that, in this case, this second exception would allow for grazing practices that the BLM had already determined were harmful to the environment. Additionally, under the second exception to the stay provision these harmful practices would be allowed to continue for as long as the administrative appeal persisted. Thus, the second exception also did not make inoperative the actions that the environmental groups were challenging. Because the court found the facts of this case fit either of the two exceptions to the stay provision, the granting of a stay
would not “render inoperative” the decision, and exhaustion of administrative remedies was not required.

Third, an individual rancher, Petan, argued that the district court should not have reviewed the case because BLM’s decisions were not final. The Ninth Circuit found that this argument confused exhaustion and finality. Following the distinction made in Darby v. Cisneros [11] that a final decision involves a “definitive position . . . that inflicts an actual, concrete injury,” the court found that a “definitive position” was reached in the issuing of the sixty-eight permits.[12]

Fourth, the ranchers argued that one of the environmental groups waived its claims by filing and then dismissing its administrative appeal. Although the other environmental group did not appeal within the agency and therefore the decision in the case would not be affected by the Ninth Circuit’s decision, the court found that the filing and subsequent dismissal did not affect reviewability. Distinguishing another Ninth Circuit case, Acura of Bellevue v. Reich,[13] the court found that, because the appeal had been dismissed, the appeal did not “render[] the initial agency decision nonfinal for purposes of the APA.”[14]

Fifth, ten ranchers and ORAP argued that because the ranchers had administrative appeals pending on the issue of whether the permits were too restrictive when the environmental groups filed in federal court, the agency actions were not final under the APA.[15] However, the ranchers did not raise the argument below and therefore waived it. To avoid the waiver issue, they framed their argument as one of subject matter jurisdiction. They argued that without a final agency action, the court lacked jurisdiction.[16] The Ninth Circuit found that the absence of APA requirements, like finality, did not deprive the court of subject matter jurisdiction because 28 U.S.C. section 1331[17] grants subject matter jurisdiction, not the APA. Because it was not a question of subject matter jurisdiction, the ranchers had waived their finality argument.

Sixth, the ranchers contested the district court’s issuance of interim injunctive measures without an evidentiary hearing. The Ninth Circuit distinguished the case law that supported the ranchers’ argument[18] because the district court’s interim injunction was significantly different from other permanent injunctions that do require evidentiary hearings. The court found that, in this case, the district court implemented the injunctive measures suggested by BLM as opposed to those put forth by the environmental groups and the ranchers. Also, because the interim measures were temporary until a permanent injunction could be developed through extensive fact finding, an extensive evidentiary hearing for interim measures would have rendered their intermediary nature useless.

Finally, ORAP claimed that the district court made errors in its issuance of the injunction. The Ninth Circuit rejected the argument that the district court had incorrectly used a mandamus standard instead of a traditional injunctive standard because the remedy satisfied both standards. The court found that the district court had correctly applied the mandamus standard, deferring to BLM’s expertise in fashioning an injunction. In addition, the Ninth Circuit found that the district court had appropriately “balance[d] the equities” and given “due regard to the public interest” under the traditional injunction standard because the district court took a middle ground in designing a remedy.[19] Then the Ninth Circuit found that the district court made sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law because its findings were clear enough for the Ninth Circuit to determine the basis of the decision. The Ninth Circuit found that the court had neither abused its discretion nor made the terms of the injunction too vague because the district court had allowed BLM to construct the terms of the injunction and it seemed clear on its face. Thus, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s “fair and balanced interim remedy.”[20]


[1] National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4370e (2000).

[2] See, e.g., Price Rd. Neighborhood Ass’n v. United States Dep’t of Transp., 113 F.3d 1505, 1509 (9th Cir. 1997) (finding that “NEPA requires an agency to take a ‘hard look’ at the potential environmental consequences of proposed projects before taking action”).

[3] Idaho Watersheds Project v. Hahn, 307 F.3d 815, 824 (9th Cir. 2002).

[4] Id.

[5] 5 U.S.C. §§ 551-559, 701-706, 1305, 3105, 3344, 4301, 5335, 5372, 7521 (2000).

[6] Id. § 704 (2000) (examining reviewability of agency actions).

[7] Idaho Watersheds Project, 307 F.3d at 825 (citing Darby v. Cisneros, 509 U.S. 137, 157 (1993)).

[8] Id.

[9] See 43 C.F.R. § 4160.3(d) (2002). The court mentions that the correct provision may be section 4160.3(e) but continues to reference section 4160.3(d), because the parties had cited that section in their briefs and both sections provide for continued grazing levels during a stay. Idaho Watersheds Project, 307 F.3d at 826.

[10] Idaho Watersheds Project, 307 F.3d at 826.

[11] 509 U.S. 137 (1993).

[12] Idaho Watersheds Project, 307 F.3d at 828.

[13] 90 F.3d 1403 (9th Cir. 1996).

[14] Idaho Watersheds Project, 307 F.3d at 829.

[15] 5 U.S.C. § 704 (2000).

[16] The ranchers based their claim on Ma v. Reno, 114 F.3d 128, 131 (9th Cir. 1997), but the Ninth Circuit discredited that case in a footnote. Idaho Watersheds Project, 307 F.3d at 830.

[17] 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (2000) (granting federal courts original jurisdiction over federal question claims).

[18] See, e.g., United States v. Microsoft, 253 F.3d 34, 101-03 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (holding that an evidentiary hearing is required unless waived or the facts are not in dispute).

[19] Idaho Watersheds Project, 307 F.3d at 833.

[20] Id. at 835.

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