Friday, November 1, 2013

Summers v. Earth Island Institute case brief

Summers v. Earth Island Institute case brief summary
555 U.S. 488 (1990)

Certiorari was granted on defendant United States Forest Service official's appeal of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit's affirmance, in favor of respondent environmental groups, of a nationwide injunction against application of 36 C.F.R. §§ 215.4(a),215.12(f), which exempted small fire remediation projects from impact statements and assessment. A finding of no standing as to other regulations was not appealed.

  • The Forest Service Decisionmaking and Appeals Reform Act (Act) required the United States Forest Service (USFS) (defendant) to establish a notice, comment, and appeal process for proposed USFS actions which implemented certain land and resource management plans. 
  • USFS later created a regulation which exempted small fire-rehabilitation and timber-salvage projects from the notice, comment, and appeal process that the agency used for more significant land management decisions. 
  • In 2002, a fire had burned a significant portion of the Sequoia National Forest. 
  • USFS later issued a decision memo which approved the Burnt Ridge Project, a salvage sale of timber on 238 acres damaged by the fire. 
  • Based on its categorical exclusion of salvage sales of less than 250 acres, the USFS did not provide any notice, period for public comment, or an appeals process. 
  • A group of organizations dedicated to protecting the environment (P) challenged USFS’s failure to apply the Act’s requirements to the Burnt Ridge Project. 
  • A federal district court granted a preliminary injunction against the salvage-timber sale, and the parties settled their dispute over the Burnt Ridge Project. 
  • The plaintiffs then sought to prevent the USFS from again enforcing its regulation excepting certain projects from the Act’s procedural requirements.
  • The district court adjudicated the merits of the plaintiffs’ challenge, and the court of appeals later affirmed. 
  • The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari on the issue of standing.

  • While the threatened injury as to §§ 215.4(a), 215.12(f), involved one project, after a preliminary injunction issued, the parties settled the case on that project. 
  • Thus, there was no standing to challenge the regulations in the abstract. Allowing such standing would fly in the face of U.S. Const. art. III's injury-in-fact requirement. 
  • It was much more (or much less) than a mere failure to provide the name of each project affecting an affiant member's interests; it was a failure to allege that applying the regulations to any particular project would impede a specific and concrete plan of that member's to enjoy the National Forests. 
  • A deprivation of a procedural right without some concrete interest being affected by the deprivation was insufficient. 
  • Standing had existed as to the one project due to claims that the abridged procedures precluded opposing a project that threatened to impinge on such concrete plans. 
  • But that area was off the table due to the settlement. 
  • Organizational members who had suffered the requisite harm had to be identified and Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(d), 21, did not permit consideration of affidavits filed after judgment entered and an appeal was filed.

The Ninth Circuit's judgment was reversed with regard to the nationwide injunction against 36 C.F.R. §§ 215.4(a), 215.12(f), but the judgment was affirmed as to the finding that challenges to the remaining regulations, not at issue with regard to the burn area in question, and which had not been appealed, were not ripe. 5-4 decision; 1 concurrence; 1 dissent.

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

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