9 ELR 20617 | Environmental Law Reporter | copyright © 1979 | All rights reserved

California v. Kleppe

No. 76-2807 (9th Cir. July 9, 1979)

The court affirms the district court's dismissal, based on res judicata, of a suit challenging sales of oil and gas leases on the outer continental shelf (OCS) off southern California. In 1974, appellant sought to block appellees' accelerated OCS development program, particularly Lease Sale No. 35, on grounds of noncompliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. After failing in the first lawsuit, appellant challenged Lease Sale No. 35 again, asserting claims under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Upholding the lower court's decision that the issue of the validity of the lease sale was decided in the prior lawsuit, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals holds that the two lawsuits involved the same "cause of action" for res judicata purposes, even though violations of different statutes were alleged. All underlying grounds of the second suit were available and should have been raised in the first action.

Counsel for Appellant
Anita Rund, Deputy Attorney General
800 Tishman Bldg., 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angels CA 90010
(213) 736-2304

Counsel for Appellees
Jacques B. Gelin, Deputy Solicitor
Department of the Interior, Washington DC 20240
(202) 343-5985

Philip Verleger
McCutchen, Black, Verleger & Shea
3435 Wilshire Blvd., 30th floor, Los Angeles CA 90010
(213) 381-3411

Merrill and Hug, JJ. and Bohanon,* D.J.

[9 ELR 20617]


Appellants herein, the people of the State of California (California), charge Secretary of Interior Thomas S. Kleppe and his department (Interior) with numerous breaches of statutory duties as to sales of outer continental shelf (OCS) oil and gas leases, including Lease Sale No. 35 offshore southern California. Relying on res judicata, the district court dismissed the case because the claims sought to be asserted had been, or could and should have been litigated in People of the State of California v. Morton, 404 F. Supp. 26 [6 ELR 20088] (C.D. Calif. 1975) (Morton). We affirm.

In July 1973, Interior published an OCS leasing schedule which included a proposed date of August 1974 for Lease Sale No. 35. In September 1973, such sale was postponed until May 1975. In January 1974, Interior invited private industry to nominate offshore areas for inclusion in the sale. Interior's intention to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) as to the lease program's proposed acceleration was announced in May 1974, and Interior's tentative tract selection for Lease Sale No. 35 followed on August 12.

On August 15, 1974, California filed its complaint in the Morton case seeking, inter alia, an injunction prohibiting Interior from proceeding further with the accelerated OCS leasing program, especially Lease Sale No. 35, previous to completing its EIS. Interior's final programmatic EIS on the accelerated leasing program was made available on July 7, 1975. In September 1975, discovery in Morton was concluded. A proposed pretrial conference order was entered on October 1, and the pretrial conference was held October 6. On October 31, Interior announced that Lease Sale No. 35 would be conducted December 31, 1975.

Trial in the Morton case occurred on November 7, 1975, and Judge David W. Williams entered a memorandum opinion and order in Interior's favor on November 17. Four days later judgment was entered, and on the same day this action was filed in the District of Columbia, challenging both Interior's decision to hold Lease Sale No. 35, and certain of the lease's terms and conditions. Interior, on December 3, 1975, and intervenor Western Oil & Gas Association, on January 12, 1976, filed motions to dismiss or, alternatively, to transfer the case to the United States Court for the Central District of California; transfer was effected by order of March 21, 1976.

On July 19, 1976, Judge Malcolm L. Lucas of the United States District Court, Central District of California, granted motions to dismiss on the basis of res judicata, holding that plaintiffs were "seeking to have the Court determine the validity of the Secretary of Interior's decision to go forward with Outer Continental Shelf Lease Sale No. 35 as a part of the nationwide accelerated offshore lease program," and that "Judge Williams has already determined that decision was a valid one in the prior [Morton] lawsuit."

A plaintiff cannot splinter his claim into multiple suits, or present only a portion of the grounds upon which his demand rests, saving the rest for a second suit should the first fail. Baltimore Steamship Company v. Phillips, 274 U.S. 316 (1927). A judgment rendered on the merits is an absolute bar to a subsequent action between the same parties upon the same claim or demand. 1B MOORE'S FEDERAL PRACTICE, P0.405[1]; Lawlor v. National Screen Service Corp., 349 U.S. 322, 326 (1955). Following such a judgment, a plaintiff is foreclosed from relitigating not only those matters actually raised in support of his claim or demand, but also all other matters which might have been raised for that purpose. Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Sunnen, 333 U.S. 591, 597 (1948); Heiser v. Woodruff, 327 U.S. 726, 735 (1946); Flynn v. State Board of Chiropractic Examiners, 418 F.2d 668 (9th Cir. 1969).

The res judicata principle exists in some form in every known system of jurisprudence. It rests on the state's interests in orderly terminating litigation, in achieving certainty in legal relations, and in safeguarding a defendant against being "vexed twice for the same cause." Liddell v. Smith, 345 F.2d 491 (7th Cir. 1965).

A judgment's res judicata effect depends upon whether the second suit involves the same cause of action. Baltimore Steamship Company v. Phillips, supra at 319; Carr v. United States, 507 F.2d 191, 193 (5th Cir. 1975). While the term "cause of action" has various meanings, as applied to the doctrine of res judicata it refers to the right or obligation sought to be enforced, not the remedy or relief sought. Ideal Hardware & Supply Co. v. Department of Employment, 114 Cal. App. 2d 443, 448, 250 P.2d 353, 356 (1952).

In Morton, California sought to "enjoin, or at least delay, the leasing of (areas offshore southern California)." People of State of California v. Morton, supra at 29.At issue was Interior's alleged noncompliance with the EIS requirements of the National [9 ELR 20618] Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) relative to the accelerated OCS leasing program, including Lease Sale No. 35. The court reviewed the two relevant EISs and found them "comprehensive and analytical and in full compliance with § 102 of NEPA." Morton, supra at 33.

Now appellants seek judicial enforcement of their alleged right to require Interior: (1) to include provisions in OCS leases allowing their termination when shown to be environmentally hazardous, and (2) to conduct preliminary explorations to ascertain the lease's "fair market value." Appellants assert that the "primary" statutory basis for their new claims is the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, 43 U.S.C. §§ 1331-1356, and departmental regulations issued pursuant thereto. The fact that different statute are reied on, however, does not render the claims different "causes of action" for purposes of res judicata. Williamson v. Columbia Gas & Electric Corp., 186 F.2d 464, 468 (3d Cir. 1950), cert. denied 341 U.S. 921.

The so-called modern or liberal approach to pleadings emphasizes the presentation of all issues in one suit, so as to avoid separate or piecemeal trials. Malfitano v. King Line, Ltd., 198 F. Supp. 399, 401 (S.D.N.Y. 1961). Resultantly, a review of the relevant case law establishes that the present meaning of "cause of action" for res judicata purposes is much broader than formerly. Williamson v. Columbia Gas & Electric Corp., supra at 469.

California's arguments favoring this second suit against Interior on the issue of Lease Sale No. 35 would justify a lengthy series of successive suits which would fetter all effective agency action.

California's fundamental cause of action both in Morton and herein was one of requiring Interior's compliance with NEPA and all other relevant federal statutes, previous to conducting Lease Sale No. 35. All underlying grounds of the complaint were available in Morton and should have been raised. Relitigation herein of this same cause of action is now barred.


* Honorable Luther Bohanon, Senior United States District Judge, Northern, Eastern and Western Districts of Oklahoma, sitting by designation.

9 ELR 20617 | Environmental Law Reporter | copyright © 1979 | All rights reserved