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Kleissler v. U.S. Forest Serv.

Citation: 29 ELR 20152
No. 98-3137, 157 F.3d 964/47 ERC 1524/(3d Cir., 09/30/1998)

The court holds that local school districts, municipalities, and timber companies may intervene as of right in litigation brought by plaintiff-environmentalists to restrict logging activities in the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania. The court first notes that the parties do not dispute the timeliness of the motion to leave to intervene. The court then holds that the relief sought by plaintiffs — an injunction to bar logging (at least until the National Environmental Policy Act process is completed) — would have an immediate, adverse financial effect on the school districts and the municipalities. The court further holds that the school districts and municipalities have direct interests in this litigation because state law commands the commonwealth, through its political subdivisions, to forward to them federal grant money generated through timber harvesting each year, money that they will lose, at least temporarily and perhaps permanently, if plaintiffs are successful in this lawsuit. To suspend the flow of revenue to the school districts and municipalities for even a limited period of time would affect spending for essential school activities and public projects. Therefore, the interests jeopardized, which are protected by state law, are direct, substantial, and of adequate public interest as to justify intervention.

The court also holds that the interests of the timber companies are direct, not remote. Timber companies have direct and substantial interests in a lawsuit aimed at halting logging or, at a minimum, reducing the efficiency of their method of timber cutting. Here, they have more than mere attenuated economic interests because their longstanding dependence on contractual relations with the U.S. Forest Service is unique to them. The court then rejects plaintiffs' assertion that the proposed intervenors' interests are adequately protected by the government defendant. In a companion case, Curry v. United States, 988 F. Supp. 541 (W.D. Pa. 1997), the Forest Service chose not to appeal an adverse ruling in connection with timber sales in other projects in the Allegheny National Forest. Consequently, that litigation gave legitimate pause to the lumber companies' confidence in adequate representation by the Forest Service. In addition, the government represents numerous complex and conflicting interests in matters of this nature. The straightforward business interests asserted by intervenors here may become lost in the thicket of sometimes inconsistent government policies. The court also rejects plaintiffs' argument that the interests of permitted intervenors, two logging companies with existing contracts, are aligned with those of the proposed intervenors. It does not strain the imagination to conjure up situations in which the permitted intervenors may face the irresistible temptation to work out settlements that benefit themselves and not other, competing timber companies. Compromises of that nature might also harm the school districts and municipalities, which have interests inextricably intertwined with, but distinct from, those of the timber companies. Furthermore, the "wait and see" approach may work in some cases, but, on balance, intervenors and the public interest in efficient handling of litigation are better served by prompt action on an intervention motion.

A concurring judge believes that an increasingly clear, if flexible, standard has developed in the Third Circuit's intervention as of right case law, which the court should adhere to in this case and in future intervention situations, and which requires a searching analysis of each of the elements required for intervention as of right. Nevertheless, this jurisprudence, while not necessarily followed in the majority opinion, leads to the same result.

Counsel for Appellees
William V. Luneberg
3900 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh PA 15260

Counsel for Appellants
James E. Scheuermann
Kirkpatrick & Lockhart
1500 Oliver Bldg., Pittsburgh PA 15222
(412) 355-6500

Before Becker and Aldisert, JJ.