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Northern Cheyenne Tribe v. Hodel

ELR Citation: 18 ELR 20865
Nos. No. 86-4389, 851 F.2d 1152/(9th Cir., 03/15/1988, 07/11/1988)

The court holds that the Federal Coal Leasing Amendments Act of 1976 (FCLAA) does not limit the courts' discretion in determining whether to issue an injunction upon finding a violation of the Act. The Secretary of the Interior had offered coal leases for sale in an area surrounding an Indian reservation, basing his decision on an environmental impact statement (EIS) that did not discuss impacts of coal leasing on the tribe. The district court held that sale of the leases thus violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the FCLAA. The court first holds that the district court had the power to amend its summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). The court also holds that a coal company's motion for modification of relief was not an untimely motion to alter or amend judgment under Rule 59(e). The court then rules that Congress did not mandate in the FCLAA that an injunction issue upon a finding of a violation. There is nothing in the Act indicating that Congress intended to restrict the district courts' traditional equitable discretion. The court holds that the district court did not abuse its discretion in amending the injunction to suspend, rather than void, the leases. Although there is always a danger that the Secratary will feel some "bureaucratic commitment" to the leases, the injunction will specifically direct him not to consider prior investments made by the lessees when he reconsiders the lease sale. The court holds, however, that the district court did abuse its discretion in failing to consider the public interest before amending the injunction to suspend the leases. The court holds that the district court improperly failed to order the Secretary either to comply with his own regulations on the competitive leasing of coal deposits in cooperation with Indian tribes or to analyze the site-specific potential environmental impacts of each leased tract. The injunction also should have expressly prohibited the Secretary from considering the energy companies' investments made on the basis of the defective EIS.

The court holds that the tribe is not necessarily entitled to an injunction preventing the operations of one company that was allowed to go forward with mining. Although mining is going forward on the basis of a fundamentally flawed EIS, an injunction does not issue automatically on a showing that an EIS is defective, and the district court has its traditional discretion under the FCLAA to fashion a remedy. Nothing in NEPA, either, indicates any congressional intent to foreclose the courts' discretion. The court holds, however, that the district court abused its discretion by engaging in a balancing of the equities on an inadequate record. The record does not indicate what the costs of an injunction would be to the tribe, the company, or the public. The court orders the district court to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine costs and then to decide, based on the traditional equitable criteria, whether an injunction should issue.

Counsel for Plaintiff-Appellant
Steven H. Chestnut, Marc D. Slonim
Ziontz, Chestnut, Varnell, Berley & Slonim
1230 Fourth & Blanchard Bldg., 2121 Fourth Ave., Seattle WA 98121
(206) 448-1230

Counsel for Defendants-Appellees
Jacques B. Gelin, Michael W. Reed, Robert L. Klarquist, William R. Murray Jr.
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2762

Before Wallace and Norris, JJ