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United States v. Carpenter

Citation: 33 ELR 20017
No. No. 01-16326, 298 F.3d 1122/(9th Cir., 08/12/2002)

The court reverses a district court's denial on timeliness grounds of environmental groups' motion to intervene in a suit between the United States and a county regarding the status of a U.S. Forest Service (Forest Service) road. In 1999, the Forest Service sued a citizen group to prevent it from restoring the road, which ran along the habitat of the threatened bull trout. The court joined the county as a party that claimed rights to the road and ordered the United States and the county to mediate the dispute. The mediation was confidential and eventually led to a tentative agreement where the United States agreed that it would not contest that the county had a right of way to the road, and the county agreed that any work it did on the road would be done with Forest Service approval and in compliance with federal environmental laws. When the agreement was reached, the confidentiality was lifted. The groups subsequently sought intervention, but the district court held that their intervention was untimely, coming 18 months after commencement of the Forest Service suit. The court holds that the district court erred. Until parties have notice that the government may not be representing their interests, parties are entitled to rely on the presumption that their interests are being represented by the government. The groups acted as soon as they had notice the proposed settlement was contrary to their interests. The mediation proceedings had been conducted under an order of confidentiality and the settlement negotiations were not conducted in court. By entering confidential settlement discussions, the government does not give notice that it may not be adequately representing the interests of any group of citizens. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded the district court decision with instructions to allow the groups to intervene.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Blaine T. Welch
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Las Vegas NV 89101
(702) 486-2850

Counsel for Defendant
Eric E. Huber
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund
1631 Glenarm Pl., Ste. 300, Denver CO 80202
(303) 623-9466