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Animal Lovers Volunteer Ass'n v. Carlucci

Citation: 19 ELR 20537
No. Nos. 86-6428, -6679, 867 F.2d 1224/(9th Cir., 02/09/1989)

The court holds that an environmental group that has so far obtained only part of the relief that it requested may be awarded attorneys fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). Plaintiff environmental group had challenged a decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to eradicate the red fox population of the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, seeking a declaratory judgment that the FWS environmental assessment did not support a finding of no significant impact and an injunction prohibiting eradication of the foxes until an environmental impact statement (EIS) is prepared. The court of appeals, in an earlier decision, granted plaintiff's request for declaratory relief, but remanded for a determination of whether injunctive relief should be granted. The court first holds that plaintiffs are prevailing parties within the meaning of the EAJA, since they succeeded on a significant issue in the litigation. That the dispute between the parties may continue does not preclude a fee award. Thecourt next holds that the government has failed to show that its position was substantially justified, since the decision to forego an EIS was not reasonable, and that there are no special circumstances that would make an award of fees unjust. The court allows plaintiff's request that its attorneys fees be allowed to exceed the EAJA's $75 per hour cap. Although plaintiff has not established that its counsel has specialized in environmental work or otherwise has faced unusual circumstances, an inflation adjustment is warranted. To withhold an inflation adjustment without reason would undermine the purpose of the EAJA to remove the financial disincentive to challenge wrongful government action.

Counsel for Plaintiffs-Appellants
Timothy T. Coates
Grienes, Martin, Stein & Richland
9601 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 544, Beverly Hills CA 90210
(213) 859-7811

Counsel for Defendants-Appellees
Maria A. Iizuka
Appellate Section, Land and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2753

Before Browning, Nelson, and Canby Jr., JJ.