Forest Guardians v. Babbitt, No. 97-2370

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore PORFILIO, EBEL and KELLY; EBEL
Citation164 F.3d 1261
Parties29 Envtl. L. Rep. 20,351, 1999 CJ C.A.R. 100 FOREST GUARDIANS, a non-profit New Mexico corporation, and Defenders of Wildlife, a non-profit Washington, D.C. corporation, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Bruce BABBITT, Secretary of the Interior, Defendant-Appellee.
Decision Date22 December 1998
Docket NumberNo. 97-2370

Page 1261

164 F.3d 1261
29 Envtl. L. Rep. 20,351, 1999 CJ C.A.R. 100
FOREST GUARDIANS, a non-profit New Mexico corporation, and
Defenders of Wildlife, a non-profit Washington,
D.C. corporation, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Bruce BABBITT, Secretary of the Interior, Defendant-Appellee.
No. 97-2370.
United States Court of Appeals,
Tenth Circuit.
Dec. 22, 1998.

Page 1263

Matt Kenna, Kenna & Hickcox, Durango, Colorado, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

James C. Kilbourne, Attorney, Department of Justice (Lois J. Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General; John J. Kelly, United States Attorney; John W. Zavitz, Assistant United States Attorney; Ellen J. Durkee, Attorney, Department of Justice; and Warigia Bowman, Attorney, Department of Justice, with him on the briefs), Washington, D.C., for Defendant-Appellee.

Before PORFILIO, EBEL and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

EBEL, Circuit Judge.

In 1991, the administrative process was set in motion to list the Rio Grande silvery minnow as an endangered species and designate its critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and its subsequent amendments ("ESA" or "Act"). In July 1994, the Secretary of the Interior ("Secretary") listed the fish as an endangered species, but failed to issue a rule regarding its critical habitat. By statute, a final rule designating the silvery minnow's critical habitat was due March 1, 1995. That date passed without a critical habitat designation, and to date the Secretary has not designated the critical habitat for the silvery minnow. On April 4, 1997, two environmental organizations brought an action in federal district court to compel the Secretary to designate the critical habitat for the silvery minnow within 30 days. The Secretary, while admitting that he had violated the timing requirements of the ESA, asked the district court to stay the action until October 1999. The Secretary explained that it was impossible for him to meet all of the ESA deadlines because of a backlog created by a 13-month spending moratorium imposed by Congress which lasted from April 1995 through April 1996. Despite the fact that the Secretary's duty to designate critical habitat inured before Congress enacted the moratorium and that the Secretary had not fulfilled his duty in the two-and-one-half years since the moratorium expired, the district court credited the Secretary's impossibility argument, denied the plaintiffs' motion to review agency action, and granted the Secretary's motion to stay the case until October 1999. Because the Secretary failed to comply with a mandatory, non-discretionary duty unambiguously imposed by the ESA, and because the Administrative Procedure Act requires courts to compel agency action unlawfully withheld, we reverse the district court.

I. BACKGROUND

The Rio Grande silvery minnow (Hybognathus amarus ) is a stout silver fish with emerald reflections reaching lengths of up to 3 1/2 inches. Historically, it was one of the most abundant and widespread fishes in the Rio Grande basin. See Final Rule To List the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow as an Endangered Species, 59 Fed.Reg. 36, 988, 36,988 (1994) [hereinafter "Final Rule"]. Over the past 30 years, however, due in large part to dam construction and dewatering of a large percentage of its habitat, the silvery minnow's presence has been reduced to 5% of its historic range. See id. The fish can now be found only along a 170-mile stretch of the middle Rio Grande, extending from the

Page 1264

Cochiti Dam, in Sandoval County, New Mexico to the headwaters of the Elephant Butte Reservoir, in Socorro County, New Mexico. See id.

On March 1, 1993, the Fish and Wildlife Service 1 ("FSW" or "Service") published a proposed rule to list the Rio Grande silvery minnow as endangered and to designate its critical habitat. 2 See Proposed Rule to List the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow as Endangered, With Critical Habitat, 58 Fed.Reg. 11,821, 11,822 (1993). After publishing the proposed rule, the ESA required the Service to issue a final rule regarding the silvery minnow's endangered status and its critical habitat within one year--in this case, by March 1, 1994. See Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1533(b)(6)(A) [hereinafter "ESA"].

The Service failed to meet its March 1, 1994 deadline. Over four months later, on July 20, 1994, the Service published a final rule listing the Rio Grande silvery minnow as an endangered species. See Final Rule, 59 Fed.Reg. at 36,988. In its July 20 final rule, the Service explained that it could not make a concurrent designation of the silvery minnow's critical habitat as the ESA strongly encourages. See ESA, 16 U.S.C. § 1533(a)(3) ("The Secretary ... to the maximum extent prudent and determinable ... shall, concurrently with making a determination ... that a species is an endangered species ... designate any habitat of such species which is then considered to be critical habitat...."). Instead, the Service concluded that the silvery minnow's critical habitat was "not then determinable," and thereby extended its deadline to make a critical habitat determination under Section 4(b)(6)(C) of the Act. See Final Rule, 59 Fed.Reg. at 36,994. 3 Accordingly, the Service announced that "[t]he final decision on designation of critical habitat for the Rio Grande silvery minnow must be made by March 1, 1995, pursuant to section 4(b)(6)(C)(ii) of the Act." 4 Id. The March 1, 1995 deadline passed without action by the Service, and now, more than three-and-one-half years later, the Service still has not made a final determination of the silvery minnow's critical habitat.

On April 4, 1997, Forest Guardians and Defenders of Wildlife (together "plaintiffs") filed suit against the Secretary, alleging that his failure to designate the silvery minnow's critical habitat violated the ESA. Plaintiffs sought both a declaration that the Secretary was in violation of the ESA and an injunction compelling the Secretary to issue a final rule on designation of critical habitat for the silvery minnow within 30 days of the court's order. In his answer, the Secretary admitted

Page 1265

his failure to comply with his statutory duty to designate critical habitat for the silvery minnow, but defended his inaction on the ground that "no resources are available at this time to complete a critical habitat determination for the silvery minnow."

On July 14, 1997, plaintiffs filed a motion captioned Motion for Review of Agency Decision, seeking review of the Secretary's failure to issue a final decision on the silvery minnow's critical habitat. This motion expressly requested that the court declare the Secretary in violation of his non-discretionary ESA duties and order him to carry out his duties within 30 days. That same day, the Secretary filed his opposition to the plaintiffs' motion along with a motion to stay the proceedings until October 30, 1999.

The Secretary opposed plaintiffs' motion to compel a critical habitat designation essentially on the grounds of fiscal impracticability. The Secretary argued that a funding moratorium instituted by Congress in 1995 had prevented him from making any critical habitat determinations or listing any species as endangered or threatened, 5 thus creating an enormous backlog of overdue non-discretionary duties.

Beginning in April 1995 Congress passed a number of spending moratoria, prohibiting the Service from listing species as endangered or threatened and prohibiting the designation of critical habitats for species already listed. 6 This moratorium on expenditures for critical habitat determinations lasted through September 30, 1995, the end of the Fiscal Year ("FY") 1995. From the beginning of FY 1996--October 1, 1995--until April 26, 1996, the moratorium in Pub.L. No. 104-6 was continued by over a dozen resolutions and the Acting Director of the Service was forced to reassign listing staff to other duties. See 61 Fed.Reg. 24,722, 24,723 (1996) (describing spending moratoria imposed by Congress and Service response). Because of the moratoria, between October 1995 and April 1996, the Service expended only $233,000 on the entire nationwide listing program--a modest sum compared to the nearly $4 million it received for the first six months of FY 1995.

On April 26, 1996, Congress passed an appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior for FY 1996. See Omnibus Consolidated Rescissions and Appropriations Act of 1996, Pub.L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996). The bill continued the 1995 moratorium, but contained a provision permitting the President to waive the moratorium. President Clinton waived the moratorium the day he signed the bill into law. The appropriation bill provided the Service with approximately $4 million to carry out its listing and critical habitat designations for the balance of FY 1996.

Due to these budgetary restrictions, when the Service received its funding in April 1996, it was faced with a backlog of 243 proposed species listings on which it was required to make a final determination. 7 See 61 Fed.Reg. 24,722, 24,724 (1996). Concluding that it could not feasibly complete all of its Section 4 duties in a timely manner, the Service, after notice and comment, published a rule

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establishing a priority system for eliminating its backlog. See id. at 24,727-24,728. The Service dubbed its hierarchy the Final Listing Priority Guidance ("LPG").

The LPG established a three-tier system for eliminating the Service's backlog. Critical habitat designations were relegated to the third tier, based on the Service's conclusion that critical habitat designation provided only a limited increase in protection to a species already listed as endangered or threatened. See 61 Fed.Reg. at 24,727-24,728. Because the Service received only $5 million for Section 4 activities for FY 1997--approximately $2.5 million less than President Clinton requested from Congress--the Service, again after notice and comment, extended the LPG. See 61 Fed.Reg. 64,475,...

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22 practice notes
  • Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. v. Fox, No. 94 Civ. 8424(PKL).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • May 2, 2000
    ...law of the District of Columbia Circuit, as elaborated below and as followed by several circuits. See, e.g., Forest Guardians v. Babbitt, 164 F.3d 1261, 1272-73 (10th Cir.1998); Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union v. OSHA, 145 F.3d 120, 123 (3d Cir.1998); Independence Mining Co. v. Babbitt......
  • Rodriguez v. Nielsen, 16-CV-7092 (MKB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • September 30, 2018
    ...components of § 706(1) — 'unreasonably delayed' and 'unlawfully withheld' — are mutually exclusive." (citing Forest Guardians v. Babbitt, 164 F.3d 1261, 1272 (10th Cir. 1998))), aff'd in part, vacated in part on other grounds sub nom. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc. v. Muszynski, 268 F.3d 91 (......
  • Yu v. Brown, No. CIV 97-1491 MV/WED.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • January 28, 1999
    ...out, the APA prohibits both agency action unlawfully withheld and agency action unreasonably delayed. Forest Guardians v. Babbitt, 164 F.3d 1261, 1269 (10th Cir.1998). Thus, the APA gives rise to a legally enforceable right to the completion of administrative agency action within a reasonab......
  • Californians for Renewable Energy v. U.S. Envtl. Prot. Agency & Scott Pruitt, Case No: C 15-3292 SBA
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • March 30, 2018
    ...(N.D. Cal. 2001), aff'd sub nom. San Francisco BayKeeper v. Whitman, 297 F.3d 877 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing Forest Guardians v. Babbitt, 164 F.3d 1261, 1272 (10th Cir. 1998)). An agency action may be deemed "unreasonably delayed" where the governing statute does not require action by a date c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
22 cases
  • Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. v. Fox, No. 94 Civ. 8424(PKL).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • May 2, 2000
    ...law of the District of Columbia Circuit, as elaborated below and as followed by several circuits. See, e.g., Forest Guardians v. Babbitt, 164 F.3d 1261, 1272-73 (10th Cir.1998); Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union v. OSHA, 145 F.3d 120, 123 (3d Cir.1998); Independence Mining Co. v. Babbitt......
  • Rodriguez v. Nielsen, 16-CV-7092 (MKB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • September 30, 2018
    ...components of § 706(1) — 'unreasonably delayed' and 'unlawfully withheld' — are mutually exclusive." (citing Forest Guardians v. Babbitt, 164 F.3d 1261, 1272 (10th Cir. 1998))), aff'd in part, vacated in part on other grounds sub nom. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc. v. Muszynski, 268 F.3d 91 (......
  • Yu v. Brown, No. CIV 97-1491 MV/WED.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • January 28, 1999
    ...out, the APA prohibits both agency action unlawfully withheld and agency action unreasonably delayed. Forest Guardians v. Babbitt, 164 F.3d 1261, 1269 (10th Cir.1998). Thus, the APA gives rise to a legally enforceable right to the completion of administrative agency action within a reasonab......
  • Californians for Renewable Energy v. U.S. Envtl. Prot. Agency & Scott Pruitt, Case No: C 15-3292 SBA
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • March 30, 2018
    ...(N.D. Cal. 2001), aff'd sub nom. San Francisco BayKeeper v. Whitman, 297 F.3d 877 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing Forest Guardians v. Babbitt, 164 F.3d 1261, 1272 (10th Cir. 1998)). An agency action may be deemed "unreasonably delayed" where the governing statute does not require action by a date c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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