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Humane Society of the United States v. Pritzker

ELR Citation: 44 ELR 20247
Nos. 11-1414, (D.D.C., 11/14/2014) (Rothstein, J.)

A district court vacated and remanded the National Marine Fisheries Service's (NMFS') decision denying environmental and animal rights groups' petitions to list the porbeagle shark as endangered or threatened under the ESA. When NMFS receives a petition to list a species, it must make an initial finding within 90 days. If the 90-day finding determines that the petition "presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted," the Secretary then moves to the second step of the listing process, the "12-month decision," under which a stricter evidentiary standard applies. In this case, the groups argued that NMFS improperly applied the more stringent 12-month determination standard to their petitions at the 90-day finding stage, and the court agreed. NMFS erred in its conclusion that, at the 90-day finding stage, “conflicting evidence” permitted it to determine that the groups had failed to prevent substantial evidence. At the 90-day stage, some level of uncertainty should not negate the general finding of the assessment that porbeagle sharks were in decline. NMFS' own conclusion regarding the need for more thorough analysis suggests that a reasonable person might conclude that a more in-depth status review was warranted. As such, NMFS acted arbitrarily and capriciously in applying an inappropriately stringent evidentiary requirement at the 90-day stage. The court therefore vacated NMFS’s decision and remanded it to the agency to reconsider the petitions in light of the court's ruling.