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Kaktovik, Village of v. Watt

Citation: 12 ELR 21103
No. Nos. 81-1753, -1774, 689 F.2d 222/17 ERC 2097/(D.C. Cir., 10/01/1982) Attorneys fees award rev'd

The D.C. Circuit reverses the district court's award of attorneys fees for a case in which the D.C. Circuit rejected Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA) challenges to oil and gas leasing in the Beaufort Sea, 10 ELR 20832. Applying the principles established in three earlier attorneys fees decisions, 12 ELR 20213, 20218, and 20315, the court rules that the award of fees is not "appropriate" within the meaning of the statutes' attorneys fees provisions since the litigation did not substantially contribute to the goals of the statutes. While the primary goals of the statutes involved in the earlier decisions were environmental, the primary goal of the OCSLA, while modified by the ESA, is to promote energy development. In addition, the adverse economic and development effects of the delay caused by the lawsuit outweighed the benefits to the public. The contribution was less than substantial because the issues raised by the lawsuit were neither important, novel, nor complex. The marginal threat to the bowhead whale resulting from the challenged leasing is not as important as the issues raised in the earlier cases and analogous claims had already been determined in previous suits. Furthermore, while plaintiffs need not prevail to be awarded attorneys fees, the failure to prevail may be taken into account. The court also rules that a settlement agreement made prior to the attorneys fees suit is unenforceable. Applying contract principles, the court concludes that appellants' request to litigate the attorneys fees issues instead of trying to enforce the agreement operated as a rescission of the agreement.

One judge of the three-judge panel concurred in the rulings that appellants are not entitled to attorneys fees under the OCSLA or the ESA. But he would find that appellants failed to meet the burden of showing that they had brought an "exceptional" case because the legal issues were already resolved in an earlier First Circuit decision, 9 ELR 20162. In his view, it was unnecessary to reach the question of the goals of the statutes. However, he dissents to the ruling on the settlement agreement because he does not agree that the record indicates that appellants consented to a rescission of the contract and would therefore enforce the agreement.

Counsel for Appellants
Kathryn A. Oberly
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2716

Counsel for Appellees
Bruce J. Terris, Nathalie V. Black, James M. Hecker
Terris & Sunderland
1526 18th St. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 332-1882

Clifton E. Curtis
1332 15th St. NW, Washington DC 20005
(202) 483-2905

Patrick A. Parenteau
National Wildlife Federation
1412 16th St. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 797-6800

Counsel for Amici Curiae Atlantic Richfield Co. et al.
E. Edward Bruce, Richard A. Meserve
Covington & Burling
P.O. Box 7566, Washington DC 20044
(202) 662-6000

Before: ROBB and WILKEY, Circuit Judges, and HAROLD H. GREENE,* United States District Judge for the District of Columbia.