U.S. Forest Service v. Pacific Rivers Council

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: March 18, 2013
  • Case #: 12-623
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Court Below: Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 689 F.3d 1012 (2012)
  • Full Text Opinion

(1) Whether a plaintiff has Article III standing if it failed to establish a specific imminent threatened injury from its contact with the forest area affected by United States Forest Service proposals; (2) whether a plaintiff's claim is ripe if it can still object once it identified a specific injurious project; and (3) whether the National Environmental Policy Act requires the United States Forest Service to analyze all potential environmental effects as soon as reasonably possible.

In January 2001, Petitioner issued an Environmental Impact Statement (2001 EIS) recommending amendments to forest plans in the national forests of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In 2004, Petitioner issued a supplemental EIS (2004 EIS) recommending significant changes to the 2001 EIS. Respondent, an environmental organization, brought suit alleging the 2004 EIS is inconsistent with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act, and that the 2004 EIS does not adequately analyze environmental impacts to fish and amphibians. The trial court granted Petitioner's motion for summary judgment.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reviewed de novo, reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded. The court found that Respondent had Article III standing because its injury was concrete and particularized since it is likely to come into contact with areas affected by the implementation of the 2004 EIS. Further, the court found Petitioner acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner when it failed to analyze the impact on fish in the 2004 EIS, and rejected Petitioner’s argument that incorporation of the 2001 EIS by reference satisfied NEPA’s hard-look requirement. The court upheld the 2004 EIS with regard to its analysis on amphibians.

On appeal, Petitioner argues that Respondent lacks Article III standing because it fails to identify how one of the projects under the 2004 EIS would injure one of its members. Also, Petitioner argues that Respondent’s claim is not ripe because it can still object to the 2004 EIS through administrative channels once a specific injurious project has been identified. Finally, Petitioner argues that the court erred in requiring analysis of all potential effects because courts should not impose obligations not found in governing statutes or regulations.

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