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United States v. Dahl

 

Biking enthusiast Dahl challenged a United States Forest Service (USFS) fee for recreational use of a national forest. The district court convicted him for failure to pay the recreational fee and ordered payment of the fee plus a special assessment. Dahl appealed and the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part.

Dahl frequently biked in the Los Padres National Forest in California, but failed to purchase an Adventure Pass for his vehicle parked within the forest. The pass was required under the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program[1] enacted by Congress in 1996 as part of the appropriations act. In 1998 and 1999 Dahl received eleven written warnings before being issued a citation for failure to pay the recreational fee on October 24, 1999. When Dahl refused to pay, the government charged him with a violation of 36 C.F.R. § 261.15,[2] and the district court convicted him of a Class B misdemeanor. Dahl appealed the conviction on the basis that the fee program was invalid on several grounds. The Ninth Circuit rejected all of them.

First, Dahl challenged the fee program based on USFS’s categorization of all four national forests in Southern California as a single area for the fee program. While Dahl argued this was against legislative intent, the Ninth Circuit found he presented no evidence supporting this argument.

Next, Dahl argued that the recreational fee program conflicted with his freedom to bike on forest roads under 16 U.S.C. section 460l-6a. In addition, he argued that the fee constituted an amendment or repeal of 16 U.S.C. section 460l-6a. The Ninth Circuit found no conflict between the two statutory provisions because the appropriations act required fee collection regardless of other legislation.[3] Based on this language, the fee program was read to be consistent with other laws. The court also dismissed Dahl’s argument that section 315 repealed or amended 16 U.S.C. section 460l-6a by implication, relying on a Supreme Court case that held that such a repeal or amendment exists only where the legislative intent is clear.[4] Finding no clear legislative intent for amendment or repeal, the Ninth Circuit found no merit to this argument. Alternatively, Dahl argued that if 16 U.S.C. section 460l-6a and section 315(b) of the Act were separate provisions, his conviction was void because the regulation he was charged under only applied to section 460l-6a. The Ninth Circuit denied this argument because 36 C.F.R. section 261.15 allowed prosecution for failure to pay any fee, not only those arising under 16 U.S.C. section 460l-6a.

Dahl also challenged the fee program on the basis of improper delegation of authority and vagueness. He argued that USFS had too much discretion under the fee program. The Ninth Circuit decided that, based on the guidelines Congress set out for USFS in the Act, the authority delegated to the agency was permissible. In addressing Dahl’s argument that the term “recreation” was too vague under the fee program, the Ninth Circuit applied the standard laid out in City of Chicago v. Morales,[5] determining that the term, as applied to mountain biking, sufficiently put the public on notice as to what actions were included.

Dahl’s final argument offered that under 36 C.F.R. section 261.15 the Class B Misdemeanor conviction was improper. The Ninth Circuit agreed, because under the regulation no fine over one hundred dollars or any imprisonment could be imposed. Based on federal statute,[6] an offense without possibility of imprisonment qualified only as an infraction. Thus, the Ninth Circuit upheld the conviction, but remanded to amend the judgment to be an infraction rather than a Class B Misdemeanor.


[1] Omnibus Consolidated Rescissions and Appropriations Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-134, § 315, 110 Stat. 1321, 1321-200-02 (codified as amended 16 U.S.C. § 460l-6a note (2000)).

[2] 36 C.F.R. § 261.15 (2002) (providing that failing to pay a required fee for entrance to, or use of, a federal site is prohibited and punishable by a fine).

[3] Pub. L. No. 104-134 § 315(b), 110 Stat. at 1321-201.

[4] Posadas v. Nat’l. City Bank, 296 U.S. 497, 503 (1936).

[5] 527 U.S. 41, 56 (1999).

[6] 18 U.S.C. § 3559(a)(9) (2000).

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