Sunday, October 27, 2013

Norton v. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance case brief summary

Norton v. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance case brief summary
542 U.S. 55 (2004)

Respondent environmental organizations sued petitioner United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and others, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for the BLM's failure to act to protect public lands from damage caused by off-road vehicle (ORV) use. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that the BLM could be compelled under 5 U.S.C.S. § 706(1) to comply with its nonimpairment obligation. Certiorari was granted.

  • The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) (defendant) is required to manage public funds pursuant to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA). 
  • The FLPMA established a policy that is in favor of retaining public lands for “multiple use management.” 
  • The term “multiple use management” describes BLM’s task of striking a balance between the many competing uses to which land can be put. 
  • Under the FLPMA, designated wilderness areas generally may not have any commercial enterprise, permanent road, motorized vehicles, and/or manmade structures. 
  • Pursuant to the statute, the Secretary of the Department of Interior (Secretary, defendant) identified certain areas—known as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs)—to be subjected to further examination and further comment to evaluate their suitability for a wilderness designation. 
  • An area in Utah was recommended as suitable for a wilderness designation, but Congress failed to act upon the recommendation. 
  • The FLPMA provides that, in such a situation, the Secretary is to continue to manage the land in a manner that does not impair its suitability for preservation as wilderness. Off-road vehicles (ORVs) were being used on the land. 
  • The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other organizations (plaintiffs) sued BLM, its Director, and the Secretary, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for BLM’s failure to act to protect public lands in Utah from damage caused by the use of ORVs. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.
  • A claim under 5 U.S.C.S. § 706(1) could proceed only where a plaintiff asserted that an agency failed to take a discrete agency action that it was required to take. 
  • In this case, the claim that the BLM violated its 43 U.S.C.S. § 1782(c) mandate to continue to manage wilderness study areas so as not to impair the suitability of such areas for preservation as wilderness was not subject to review under § 706(1) because it left the BLM a great deal of discretion in deciding how to achieve it. 
  • Thus, the statute did not mandate the total exclusion of ORV use with the clarity necessary to support judicial action. 
  • Moreover, the land use plan statements that the BLM would conduct use supervision and monitoring in designated areas were not legally binding commitments enforceable under § 706(1).
  • Finally, the increased ORV use did not require a hard look under 42 U.S.C.S. § 4332 because the major federal action was the approval of the land use plan, which was completed when the plan was approved. 
  • Thus, there was no ongoing major federal action that required supplementation of the environmental impact statement.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Recommended Supplements for Administrative Law Examples & Explanations: Administrative Law, Fourth Edition
Administrative Law and Process: In a Nutshell (Nutshell Series)

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