Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: November 27, 2018
  • Case #: 17-71
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other members joined, except KAVANAUGH, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
  • Full Text Opinion

An area designated as a critical habitat under §1533(a)(3)(A)(i) must exist as a habitat for the species listed as endangered, and the Secretary of Interior’s decision not to exclude an area from critical habitat under §1533(b)(2) is subject to judicial review.

The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the dusky gopher frog as an endangered species and designated Petitioner’s property as a critical habitat. Petitioner sued, arguing that their property could not suffice as a habitat for the dusky gopher frog and that the Service used an unreasonable methodology while failing to properly weigh the benefits of listing Petitioner’s property as a critical habitat against the economic impact. The district court determined that Petitioner’s property satisfied the statutory definition of an unoccupied critical habitat and approved of the Service’s methodology. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the definition of a critical habitat does not include habitability and that deference to the agency made the Service’s decision not to exclude Petitioner’s property unreviewable. The Supreme Court reasoned that the courts failed to consider the term "habitat" in its full statutory context and based their decisions solely on a provision defining what makes habitat critical, concluding that a critical habitat must exist as a habitat for the endangered species. The Court also reasoned that statutory language conferred discretion on the Secretary of Interior not to exclude an area from critical habitat but concluded that the language still required consideration of economic impact and relative benefits, which provided a meaningful standard for judicial review. VACATED AND REMANDED.

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