San Luis v. Locke

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 12-22-2014
  • Case #: 12-15144
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Tallman for the Court; Circuit Judge Rawlinson and District Judge Rice
  • Full Text Opinion

A reviewing court must uphold agency action unless it is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law; Under this standard, an agency action is sustained if the agency has articulated a rational connection between the facts found and the conclusions made.

California's Central Valley is naturally an "arid or semi-arid" area. To help the Central Valley sustain the agriculture that is demanded, "the federal and state governments have invested enormous sums of money developing infrastructure to pump water out of the rivers that crisscross the Valley’s floor . . . [for] agricultural and domestic consumers in California." However, extracting water alters "the rivers’ natural state and threaten[s] the viability of the species that depend on them." The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation (“Reclamation”) had the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) evaluate "the impact of continuing water extraction in the Central Valley." Within a Biological Opinion (“BiOp”), NMFS "determined that Reclamation’s proposed project would jeopardize some of the Delta’s endangered Salmonids," and therefore suggested "to change the way it pumps water out of the Valley’s rivers." Several environmental and fishing groups sued several water authorities to stop that change. The district court granted summary judgment after determining "that NMFS had violated the Administrative Procedure Act’s (“APA”) arbitrary or capricious standard when developing much of the BiOp." The environmental and fishing groups appealed, and the Ninth Circuit reviewed the BiOp under the APA standard. This standard "requires a reviewing court to uphold agency action unless it is 'arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.'" The panel upheld the BiOp "in its entirety" because "NMFS relied on the factors that Congress intended it to consider, considered all important aspects of the problem, and offered explanations for its decisions that are in line with the evidence." The panel also found that the district court "engaged in an in-depth substantive review of the science supporting the BiOp," which did not provide the proper APA deference to NMFS. REVERSED in part, AFFIRMED in part, and REMANDED.

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