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Jackson Hole Alliance for Responsible Planning v. Watt

ELR Citation: 13 ELR 20994
Nos. Nos. C82-0409-B et al., (D. Wyo., 09/08/1983)

In challenges to oil and gas drilling permits and leasing practices on federal lands around Little Granite Creek Canyon, Wyoming, the court dismisses plaintiffs' common law and constitutional claims, leaving for trial claims based on the Mineral Lands Leasing Act (MLA), Endangered Species Act (ESA), and National Environmental Policy Act. The court first dismisses public trust claims against federal defendants, ruling that their duty to protect the national parks is purely statutory. The court then dismisses federal constitutional claims, finding no state action for a Fourteenth Amendment claim, no personal rights or state powers protected under the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, no deprivation of property without due process, and no taking of property requiring compensation. Alternatively, the court notes that the constitutional claims against individual defendants could be dismissed, since as federal officers they have qualified tort immunity for discretionary acts. The court then dismisses state constitutional claims, noting that many of the claims fail for the same reasons that the federal claims do, andall of the claims fail because the state constitution does not limit the powers of the federal government. The court dismisses nuisance claims because plaintiffs have failed to allege the property interest and present injury necessary to support a private nuisance claim or the special injury necessary to support a public nuisance claim. Alternatively, preemption prevents state tort law from limiting acts done under federal authority, and sovereign immunity bars tort claims against federal officers acting within the scope of their authority. Finally, the court rules that plaintiffs' claim that they are guardians of the affected wildlife, plants, and inanimate objects does not raise a cause of action different from those dismissed above.

The court declines to dismiss for lack of standing plaintiffs' claims under the Mineral Lands Leasing Act, holding that although the MLA was intended to encourage mineral development, environmental concerns are also within the zone of interest protected by the Act. Further, the court holds that the MLA's 90-day statute of limitations does not bar plaintioffs' claims, because plaintiffs filed within 90 days of the Interior Board of Land Appeals' ruling on the challenged actions. Finally, the court declines to dimiss Endangered Species Act claims for failure to give the statutory 60-day notice of alleged violation required for citizen suits under §11g of the ESA. The government now has effective notice of the allegations. Also, notice is merely a prerequisite for claiming standing under the ESA, and plaintiffs have alternative bases for claiming standing.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Robert P. Schuster, G. L. Spence
Spence, Moriarty & Schuster
P.O. Box 547, Jackson WY 83001
(307) 733-7290

Karin P. Sheldon, Alan B. Minier
Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Inc.
820 16th St., Suite 514, Denver CO 80202
(303) 892-6031

Steve Jones, Ass't Attorney General
State Capitol, Cheyenne WY 82001
(307) 777-7841

Counsel for Defendants
William E. Murane, Marilyn S. Kite, Susan L. Smith
Holland & Hart
P.O. Box 8749, Denver CO 80201
(303) 575-8000

Richard A. Stacy, U.S. Attorney; Francis Leland Pico
P.O. Box 668, Cheyenne WY 82003
(307) 772-2124

John E. Lindskold
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Denver Fed. Bldg., 1961 Stout St., Denver CO 80294
(303) 327-3627