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Southwest Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Babbitt

Citation: 28 ELR 21560
No. 98-15038, 150 F.3d 1152/(9th Cir., 08/06/1998)

The court holds that a Native American tribe is not a necessary party to an environmental group's National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA) suit in which the tribe has a parallel interest to the named defendant. The group sued the U.S. Department of the Interior to halt the filling of the newly completed additional active conservation capacity (AACC) behind the Roosevelt Dam, but the district court dismissed the suit for failure to join the tribe, which has rights to store water in the AACC under a 1988 a greement. The court first holds that the tribe's interest will be represented adequately by the existing parties to the group's suit. It is clear that the federal government would adequately represent the tribe's interest in the adjudication and the underlying merits of the group's suit, and the government's decision not to support the tribe's motion to dismiss the group's suit does not support a finding that the tribe is a necessary party. In addition, contrary to the district court's suggestion, there is no possibility of conflict arising from the federal government's potentially inconsistent responsibilities under its trust obligations and the applicable environmental laws. Because the federal government shares the tribe's strong interest in defeating the group's ESA and NEPA claims and ensuring that the AACC becomes available for use as soon as possible, the government will be an effective representative of the tribe's interests in the adjudication of the group's ESA and NEPA claims. Also, the presence of cities that have made substantial financial contributions to the AACC and are dependant on the additional storage space it will provide further ensures that the tribe will be represented adequately. The cities share the tribe's strong interest in defeating the group's suit and ensuring the AACC is available for use as soon as possible.

The court next holds that the tribe's absence from the suit will not expose the existing parties to the suit to a substantial risk of multiple or otherwise inconsistent obligations. The inconsistent obligations, which the district court concluded could result if the group's suit were allowed to proceed, arise not from the tribe's absence from the suit, but rather from the ambiguity in the 1988 settlement agreement. And the ambiguity in the settlement agreement could result in litigation even if the group's suit was dismissed.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Geoff Hickcox
Kenna & Associates
1300 Meadow Rd., Durango CO 81301
(970) 385-6941

Counsel for Defendants
M. Alice Thurston
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before Browning, Goodwin, and Schroeder, JJ.