Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Shawnee Trail Conservancy v. Department of Agric.

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20020
Nos. No. 99-3364, 222 F.3d 383/(7th Cir., 07/25/2000)

The court upholds a district court dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction of recreational groups' claims that the U.S. Forest Service violated the U.S. Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) when it designated certain areas of the Shawnee National Forest as Research Natural Area (RNA). The court first holds that the district court properly dismissed the groups' claim that the Forest Service lacked the authority under the Constitution to designate certain RNAs. According to the groups, the Forest Service lacked the property rights and authority necessary to restrict use of roads within the RNAs because the roads were subject to public and private easements and rights-of-way that predated creation of the forest. However, suits that require resolution of a disputed claim to real property in which the United States claims an interest must be brought under the Quiet Title Act (QTA). Although the groups do not attempt to quiet title in themselves, they do claim that certain third parties own the land, and not the government. This in itself represents an assertion of title that runs adverse to the government's interest, and the QTA applies anytime that a party seeks a title determination regarding real property in which the United States asserts an interest. Thus, the district court properly dismissed the groups' constitutional claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the groups failed to bring the claim pursuant to the QTA.

The court next holds that the district court properly held that the groups failedto exhaust their administrative remedies before bringing their APA claim, which alleged that the Forest Service acted arbitrarily and capriciously in designating the RNAs. The district court did not err in refusing to apply the futility exception to excuse the groups' failure to exhaust their remedies. While it is true that a previous settlement agreement apparently did not allow the Forest Service to reopen roads in two RNAs, the settlement agreement did not give any party the right to compel the Forest Service's compliance with that obligation. It is possible that had the groups pursued the available remedies of administrative relief, the Forest Service would have altered the decision to designate those RNAs.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
William P. Pendley
Mountain States Legal Foundation
707 17th St., Denver CO 80202
(303) 292-2021

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

Before Ripple and Kanne, JJ.