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Earth Island Inst. v. Albright

ELR Citation: 28 ELR 21421
Nos. 97-1085, -1086, 147 F.3d 1352/(Fed. Cir., 06/04/1998) Vacated & remanded

The court vacates two Court of International Trade orders that were issued after an environmental group withdrew its motion to enforce the Court of International Trade's ruling pertaining to the enforcement of turtle excluder device regulations under §609 of the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Justice, State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 1990. The motion was filed in connection with the group's challenge of the State Department's implementation of a 1989 law designed to ensure that shrimp entering the United States were caught in trawls equipped with turtle excluder devices. The group voluntarily withdrew their motion to enforce judgment, but the trial court treated its withdrawal as a petition to withdraw, which the court denied. The trial court then granted the group's motion to enforce judgment and the group's request for attorneys fees.

The court first holds that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to issue its orders granting the group's motion to enforce judgment. When the group expressly withdrew its motion, nothing remained in the case for the trial court to resolve. The controversy between the parties ceased. Moreover, once the group withdrew its motion, the trial court had no authority to rule on it and should have dismissed the motion. Without a live case or controversy, the trial court lacked jurisdiction. Next, the court holds that the trial court erroneously awarded attorneys fees to the group under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA does not authorize, and cannot support an award of fees for this action. Even if the turtle excluder device regulations were part of the ESA, this case—a challenge to the agency's implementation of the ESA—could not arise under the ESA or gain entitlement to attorneys fees under the ESA citizen suit provisions. The U.S. Supreme Court has clarified that the ESA offers no independent jurisdiction to challenge a federal agency's implementation of the Act. Last, the court remands to the trial court a determination of whether an award of fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act would be appropriate.

[Prior decisions in this litigation are published at 23 ELR 21553 and 27 ELR 20408.]

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Joshua R. Floum
Legal Strategies Group
5905 Christie Ave., Emeryville CA 94608
(510) 450-9600

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

Before Rich and Newman, JJ.