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Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Ctr. v. Babbitt

ELR Citation: 30 ELR 20767
Nos. No. CV99-1044-ST, 105 F. Supp. 2d 1132/(D. Or., 06/12/2000)

The court holds that environmental groups are entitled to an award of attorney fees under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in connection with their lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) for failing to timely publish final rules for one endangered butterfly and five endangered plants. After the groups filed their suit but before the court addressed the merits, DOI published the final rules, and the groups' suit was rendered moot. DOI, therefore, argued that the groups were not entitled to attorney fees.

The court first holds that the groups are entitled to attorney fees as prevailing parties. The groups filed suit in order to force DOI to make and publish final rules for six species, and DOI subsequently did so. Therefore, the relief sought was of the same general type as the relief actually obtained. Further, because the groups' lawsuit served as a catalyst for DOI's actions, a causal connection exists between the relief obtained and the groups' suit. DOI appeared to expedite the final rule process for at least one of the species at issue, and evidence leads to a reasonable inference that DOI manipulated the process for all six species due to the groups' suit. Moreover, the groups submitted evidence casting doubt on DOI's claim that the timetable for publication of the rules was driven by budgetary constraints and staffing limitations and not the group's lawsuit. Additional evidence also indicates that DOI's ESA listing actions are substantially influenced by litigation, and DOI failed to submit evidence to the contrary. In addition, the groups had a legal basis for bringing their claim. The court next holds that the groups need not show that they made a substantial contribution to the purposes of the ESA. Even were they required to do so, they have substantially contributed to the goals of the ESA. Last, the court grants DOI extra time to negotiate with the groups as to the amount of the attorney fee award. Extra time will allow DOI an opportunity to respond to the hourly rates and numbers requested by the groups.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Andrew M. Hitchings
DeCuir & Somach
400 Capitol Mall, Ste. 1900, Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 446-7979

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