Case: Western Watersheds Project v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serv.

4:06-cv-00277 | U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho

Filed Date: July 14, 2006

Closed Date: 2010

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Case Summary

On July 14, 2006, Western Watersheds Project, an Idaho environmental non-profit organization, filed this lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho. The plaintiff sought reversal of a January 2005 agency determination that a bird species known as the Greater Sage Grouse did not warrant inclusion as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The plaintiff also brought the claim under the Administrative Procedure and Decl…

On July 14, 2006, Western Watersheds Project, an Idaho environmental non-profit organization, filed this lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho. The plaintiff sought reversal of a January 2005 agency determination that a bird species known as the Greater Sage Grouse did not warrant inclusion as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The plaintiff also brought the claim under the Administrative Procedure and Declaratory Judgment Acts, arguing that the organization's continued interest in studying the bird in its wild habitat was threatened by the bird’s substantially declining population and the defendant’s decision to deny the species protection was arbitrary and politically motivated. The plaintiff sought an order to remand the matter to the defendant agency for reconsideration. The case was assigned to Chief District U.S. Judge B. Lynn Winmill.

According to the complaint, the plaintiff petitioned the defendant in 2003 to list the Sage Grouse as a threatened or endangered species, citing “over one hundred peer-review scientific publications” detailing the destruction of the Sage Grouse’s habitat due to livestock grazing and oil and gas development. In 2005, the defendant responded to the petition with a finding that Sage Grouse would be listed as an endangered species. The complaint alleged that this finding violated the ESA's requirement that such determinations be based on the best available scientific information. The plaintiff asked the court to order that the defendant conduct a new review of Sage Grouse’s status.

Beginning on September 19, 2006, fourteen corporate and government entities began efforts to intervene in the suit on the defendant’s behalf, including the State of Wyoming, the Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. The intervenors argued that new federal regulations protecting the Sage Grouse would burden them with costs of compliance. On March 9, 2007, Judge Winmill denied the motions to intervene in part, ruling that the would-be intervenors could not claim any interest in the litigation given that the plaintiff sought only an administrative re-assessment of the Greater Sage Grouse’s status. However, Judge Winmill granted the motion in part in the event that the plaintiff might pursue a remedy beyond a remand of the administrative decision. Because that could adversely effect the intervenors, they were granted the right to intervene to the extent of challenging a possible proposed remedy. This decision was unsuccessfully appealed to the Ninth Circuit by the intervenors.

On April 9, 2007 and May 21, 2007, the plaintiff and defendant respectively filed cross motions for summary judgment. On December 4, 2007, following a hearing on motions, the court granted summary judgement for the plaintiff, reversing the defendant’s decision to not list the Sage Grouse, and directing defendant agency to further consider whether to list the Sage Grouse pursuant the ESA.

In his opinion, Judge Winmill found that the defendant's review of the Sage Grouse's status had failed to consider the findings of its own scientific experts. Furthermore, a Deputy Assistant Director at the defendant agency had used “intimidation tactics” to influence the results of the agency's scientific inquiries. Judge Winmill therefore found that the agency’s decision had not been based on sound scientific analysis as required by the ESA. 535 F.Supp.2d 1173. The opinion also noted that the same Director had already been found in a separate case to have improperly interfered in an ESA listing determination in Center for Biological Diversity v. FWS, 2005 WL 2000928 (N.D.Cal. 2005). The court declared the defendant's prior determination invalid and remanded the issue to the agency for further consideration in compliance with the ESA.

On January 30, 2008, the parties stipulated to a 90-day deadline (from the date of the court's order) for the defendant's completion of the new review of the Sage Grouse's status. However, the defendant subsequently asked the court for additional time to comply with the court's order, and ultimately obtained several extensions from court.

On December 12, 2008, the parties agreed to a settlement covering plaintiff’s attorney fees and costs, amounting to $135,000, which the court approved.

On March 8, 2010, after receiving several extensions, the defendant reported to the court that it had determined that listing the Sage Grouse under the ESA was warranted. However, despite this finding, the defendant placed the Sage Grouse on its list of "precluded" species, meaning that a bureaucratic backlog and a lack of resources prevented the agency from protecting the species regardless of the threats it faced. Thus the defendant avoided needing to protect the Sage Grouse while conceding the plaintiff’s scientific arguments.

The plaintiff asked for leave to file a supplemental complaint to explain that the defendant’s new determination had been arbitrary and politicized, saying that it placed the Sage Grouse in a “black hole from which few species ever emerge, and under which they receive no ESA protection.” The plaintiff asked the court to order the defendant to review the Sage Grouse's status yet again and requested leave to file an amended supplemental complaint. But on April 27, 2010, Judge Winmill denied the motion. The plaintiff had not alleged that the defendant violated the earlier order or that their second determination was not in compliance with the ESA. The plaintiff would be required to file a new action if they wanted to bring this new claim and the case closed.

Summary Authors

Nathaniel Flack (9/24/2018)

People

For PACER's information on parties and their attorneys, see: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4700904/parties/western-watersheds-project-v-us-fish-and-wildlife-service/


Judge(s)

Winmill, B. Lynn (Idaho)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Lucas, Laurence J. (Idaho)

Tucci, Todd C. (Idaho)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Ferguson, Deborah A (Idaho)

Howell, Coby (Oregon)

Monahan, Timothy J. (Colorado)

Williams, Robert Pendleton (District of Columbia)

Other Attorney(s)

Active

Active

Active

Judge(s)

Winmill, B. Lynn (Idaho)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Lucas, Laurence J. (Idaho)

Tucci, Todd C. (Idaho)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Ferguson, Deborah A (Idaho)

Howell, Coby (Oregon)

Monahan, Timothy J. (Colorado)

Williams, Robert Pendleton (District of Columbia)

Other Attorney(s)

Allen, Gary G. (Idaho)

Brooks, Russell C. (Washington)

Burling, James S. (California)

Franco, Sandra P. (District of Columbia)

Hensley, David Fermin (Idaho)

Jones, Sonya D. (Washington)

Meyer, Christopher H. (Idaho)

Myers, William G. III (District of Columbia)

Nicholas, Robert A. (Wyoming)

Olsen, Nathan M. (Idaho)

Perry, Thomas C (Idaho)

Wigmore, Michael B. (District of Columbia)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Docket [PACER]

Western Watersheds Project vs U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

April 27, 2010 Docket
1

Complaint

Western Watersheds Project v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

July 14, 2006 Complaint
118

Memorandum Decision

Western Watersheds Project v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

535 F.Supp.2d 1173

Dec. 4, 2007 Order/Opinion
180

Joint Stipulation Regarding Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs

Western Watersheds Project v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Dec. 12, 2008 Pleading / Motion / Brief
187

First Supplemental Complaint

Western Watersheds Project v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

March 8, 2010 Complaint

Resources

Title Description External URL

Public-Private Conservation Agreements and the Greater Sage Grouse

Justin R. Pidot

The author, a former attorney with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, discusses litigation related to threatened species relegated to the government's "precluded" list, including the Greater Sage Gr… Oct. 15, 2018

Docket

See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4700904/western-watersheds-project-v-us-fish-and-wildlife-service/

Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

ECF Number Description Date Link
58

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER Granting in part and Denying in Part the Motions to Intervene: 16 Amended MOTION to Intervene filed by Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, 17 MOTION to Intervene filed by State of Wyoming, 24 MOTION to Intervene filed by James E. Risch, 45 MOTION to Intervene filed by Petroleum Association of Wyoming, Wyoming Stock Growers Association, 36 MOTION to Intervene filed by Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, Custer County Farm Bureau, Idaho Cattle Association, Lost Rivers Farm Bureau, Washington County Farm Bureau, Oregon Livestock Producer Association, Nevada Farm Bureau, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, 47 MOTION to Intervene filed by State of Colorado. They are granted to the extent they seek to intervene only fo r the purpose of challenging any proposed remedy beyond a remand to the Service for the purpose of conducting a proper process under the ESA. They are denied in all other respects. Signed by Judge B. Lynn Winmill. (caused to be mailed to non Registered Participants at the addresses listed on the Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF) by ja, )

March 9, 2007 RECAP
118

MEMORANDUM DECISION re: 80 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by Western Watersheds Project. The Court will grant WWPs motion for summary judgment, reverse the FWS's decision, and remand the case to the agency for further consideration. The Cou rt will deny the other motions, and will issue a separate Judgment as required by Rule 58(a)(1). Signed by Judge B. Lynn Winmill. (caused to be mailed to non Registered Participants at the addresses listed on the Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF) by ja, )

Dec. 4, 2007 RECAP
137

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER Deeming as moot 122 MOTION To Alter Or Amend Judgment filed by Western Watersheds Project, Denying 131 MOTION to withdraw Stipulation filed by US Fish and Wildlife Service. The Stipulation 130 is Approved. Signed by Judge B. Lynn Winmill. (caused to be mailed to non Registered Participants at the addresses listed on the Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF) by jm, )

Feb. 29, 2008 RECAP
192

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER denying 188 Motion for leave to file supplemental complaint. It is further ordered that if pla brings a new action raising allegations set forth in the proposed supplemental complaint, it shall be assigned to the undersigned judge for purposes of judicial economy. Signed by Judge B. Lynn Winmill. (caused to be mailed to non Registered Participants at the addresses listed on the Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF) by dks)

April 27, 2010 RECAP

State / Territory: Idaho

Case Type(s):

Environmental Justice

Key Dates

Filing Date: July 14, 2006

Closing Date: 2010

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Environmental non-profit

Plaintiff Type(s):

Non-profit NON-religious organization

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Federal

Case Details

Causes of Action:

Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.

Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201

Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq.

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Complaint (any)

Monetary Relief

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Mixed

Nature of Relief:

Attorneys fees

Declaratory Judgment

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Litigation

Form of Settlement:

Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree

Amount Defendant Pays: $135,000

Order Duration: 2008 - 2010

Issues

General:

Government Services