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Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Fla. v. Southern Everglades Restoration Alliance

Citation: 33 ELR 20024
No. No. 01-16226, 304 F.3d 1076/(11th Cir., 09/04/2002)

The court reverses and remands a district court decision dismissing a Native American tribe's claim that the Southern Everglades Restoration Alliance (SERA) had violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and that its actions, including advice to federal agencies, were void. The SERA was a group funded in part by federal agencies to assist in the restoration of the Everglades. The tribe claimed that the SERA was an advisory committee within the FACA, and, as such, was subject to the Act's requirements. After the tribe filed its claims, the SERA disbanded, but the tribe also sought to enjoin several federal agencies' use of the SERA's advice. The district court held that the tribe had standing to bring the lawsuit, but held that the SERA did not fall within the plain meaning of the FACA definition of "advisory committee." The court first holds, however, that applying the plain meaning rule of statutory construction, the SERA is an advisory committee within the meaning of the FACA. The Act defines an advisory committee as any committee, board, commission, council, conference, panel, task force, or other similar group that is established or utilized by the president or an agency in the interest of obtaining advice or recommendation for one or more federal agencies or officers. The SERA was an entity established by federal agencies in the interest of obtaining advice or recommendation and coordination regarding their respective activities, especially projects relating to the Everglades. Thus, the SERA was an advisory committee. The court next holds that the district court erred when it held that the FACA only applies to those groups or entities that present a danger of undue influence by special interests, which the district court determined to be committees, unlike the SERA, that had at least one nongovernmental entity representing private interests. Any interest in protecting the government's decisionmaking from undue influence of special interests does not trump the plain language of the FACA. The court finally holds that the tribe alleged sufficient injury to qualify for standing, but the tribe's claims against the nonexistent SERA and its former executive director are moot.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Sonia E. O'Donnell
Lehtinen, O'Donnell, Vargas & Reiner
7700 N. Kendall Dr., Miami FL 33156
(305) 279-1166

Counsel for Defendant
Philip M. Burlington
Caruso, Burlington, Bohn & Compiani
1615 Forum Pl., Ste. 3-A, Palm Beach FL 33401
(561) 686-8010