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Western Watersheds Project v. Michael

ELR Citation: 46 ELR 20023
Nos. 15-CV-0I69-SWS, (D. Wyo., 12/28/2015) (Skavdahl, J.)

A district court held that environmental and animal rights groups may challenge the constitutionality of two trespass statutes passed by the Wyoming legislature in 2015. Under the statutes—one imposing criminal liability and the other imposing civil—a person will be held liable if he or she: (1) enters open land to collect resource data without an ownership interest, authorization, or permission; (2) records or preserves data about the land or land use; and (3) intends to submit or actually submits such data to a governmental agency. The groups argued the statutes will prevent them from collecting data relating to land use and submitting it to governmental agencies as they have done in past efforts to protect and advocate for animals and the environment. They filed suit against several state defendants, including the governor, claiming the statutes violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. They also claimed the statutes are preempted by federal law. On the defendants' motions to dismiss, the court dismissed the groups' claims against the governor because he has no enforcement authority under the statutes. The court also dismissed their preemption claims because the groups failed to provide adequate legal or factual support. But the groups may go forward with the rest of their claims. The groups sufficiently demonstrated that the civil trespass statute poses a credible threat that would reasonably cause them to refrain from constitutionally protected activities. Likewise, the groups sufficiently stated a claim upon which relief may be granted on their Equal Protection and Free Speech claims. And while the court did not rule on the merits at this stage of the litigation, the court stated it had serious concerns and questions as to the constitutionality of the two statutes.