Territory Samoa v. Nat'l Marine Fisheries Serv.

Decision Date20 March 2017
Docket NumberCIVIL 16-00095 LEK
PartiesTERRITORY OF AMERICAN SAMOA, Plaintiff, v. NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE; UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE; NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION; PENNY PRITZKER, Secretary of Commerce; KITTY SIMONDS, Executive Director of Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council; EILEEN SOBECK, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, MICHAEL D. TOSATTO, Regional Administrator for NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service Pacific Islands Regional Office, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Hawaii

On July 25, 2016, Plaintiff Territory of American Samoa ("Plaintiff") filed its Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion"). [Dkt. no. 23.] On October 24, 2016, Defendants National Marine Fisheries Service ("NMFS"); United States Department of Commerce ("DOC"); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ("NOAA"); Penny Pritzker, in her official capacity as the Secretary of Commerce; Kitty Simonds, in her official capacity as Executive Director of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council ("the Council"); Eileen Sobeck, in her official capacity as Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NMFS; and Michael D. Tosatto, in his official capacity as Regional Administrator, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office (all collectively, "Defendants") filed their combined memorandum in opposition to the Motion and Counter-Motion for Summary Judgment ("Counter-Motion"). [Dkt. no. 28.] Plaintiff filed its combined reply in support of the Motion and memorandum in opposition to the Counter-Motion ("Plaintiff's Reply") on December 8, 2016, and Defendants filed their reply in support of the Counter-Motion ("Defendants' Reply") on January 19, 2017. [Dkt. nos. 35, 39.]

These matters came on for hearing on February 13, 2017. After careful consideration of the motions, supporting and opposing memoranda, the arguments of counsel, and the relevant legal authority, Plaintiff's Motion is HEREBY GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART and Defendants' Counter-Motion is HEREBY DENIED for the reasons set forth below. Specifically, this Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion as to Count I and CONCLUDES that the rule at issue in this case is invalid. In light of the ruling on Count I, this Court DISMISSES Plaintiff's remaining claims as moot.


Plaintiff filed its Complaint on March 4, 2016, pursuant to, inter alia, the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-06, and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act ("MSA"), 16 U.S.C. § 1855(f). [Complaint at ¶ 7.] Plaintiff seeks an order setting aside NMFS, NOAA, and DOC's Final rule regarding Pacific Island Pelagic Fisheries; Exemption for Large U.S. Longline Vessels to Fish in Portions of the American Samoa Large Vessel Prohibited Area, 81 Fed. Reg. 5619 (Feb. 3, 2016). The rule reduces the size of the Large Vessel Prohibited Area in American Samoa ("LVPA" and "2016 LVPA Rule"). Plaintiff argues that the rule violates the deeds of cession of American Samoa, which constitutes a violation of the MSA. [Complaint at ¶ 6.] Plaintiff alleges that:

In promulgating this rule, NMFS acted arbitrarily by asserting a rationale to support the new rule that is contrary to the evidence in the record. NMFS also abused its discretion by failing to review, address, or consider the Deeds of Cession as required under the MSA and the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA").


Plaintiff asserts the following claims: violation of the MSA by failing to ensure that the rules promulgated are consistent with the deeds of cession ("Count I"); [id. at ¶¶ 49-56;] breach of fiduciary duty, in violation of APA, § 706(2)(a) ("Count II"); [id. at ¶¶ 57-61;] failure by NMFS to conductadequate review of the deeds of cession before promulgating the 2016 LVPA Rule and failure by the Council to provide training on the deeds of cession, both in violation of the MSA, 16 U.S.C. § 1854, and APA § 706(2)(a) ("Count III"); [id. at ¶¶ 62-68;] and arbitrary and capricious action, in violation of APA § 706(2)(a) ("Count IV") [id. at ¶¶ 69-71].

Plaintiff seeks the following relief: 1) an order vacating and setting aside the 2016 LVPA Rule; 2) a declaratory judgment that a) the rule violates the MSA and APA because it is inconsistent with the deeds of cession, b) the rule is a breach of the United States' fiduciary duty to the people of American Samoa, c) NMFS violated the MSA and the APA by failing to review and address the deeds of cession, and d) NMFS acted arbitrarily and capriciously because it relied on a rationale that was contrary to the evidence before it; 3) any appropriate injunctive relief; 4) reasonable attorneys' fees and costs; and 5) any other appropriate relief. [Id. at pgs. 20-21.]

Defendants filed their answer to the Amended Complaint on April 28, 2016. [Dkt. no. 18.]

I. Legal and Historical Background

The Ninth Circuit has stated:

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act ("MSA"), 16 U.S.C. §§ 1801-1884, "was enacted to establish a federal-regional partnership to manage fishery resources." Nat'lRes. Def. Council, Inc. v. Daley, 209 F.3d 747, 749 (D.C. Cir. 2000). Under the MSA, the federal government exercises "sovereign rights and exclusive fishery management authority over all fish, and all Continental Shelf fishery resources, within the exclusive economic zone" ("EEZ"), 16 U.S.C. § 1811(a), which extends from the seaward boundary of each coastal state[1] to 200 miles offshore, id. § 1802(11); City of Charleston v. A Fisherman's Best, Inc., 310 F.3d 155, 160 (4th Cir. 2002). The MSA expressly preserves the jurisdiction of the states over fishery management within their boundaries. See 16 U.S.C. § 1856(a)(1).
To manage fishing in the EEZ, the MSA calls for the creation of regional Fishery Management Councils ("FMCs"), composed of state and federal officials and experts appointed by the Secretary of the National Marine Fisheries Service ("NMFS"). 16 U.S.C. § 1852(b)(1)-(2). With the cooperation of "the States, the fishing industry, consumer and environmental organizations, and other interested persons," id. § 1801(b)(5), the NMFS and FMCs develop and promulgate Fishery Management Plans ("FMPs") to "achieve and maintain, on a continuing basis, the optimum yield from each fishery," id.§ 1801(b)(4). In the MSA, "optimum yield" means the amount of fish that "will provide the greatest overall benefit to the Nation, particularly with respect to food production and recreational opportunities, and taking into account the protection of marine ecosystems." Id. § 1802(33); see also 50 C.F.R. § 600.310(e)(3).

Chinatown Neighborhood Ass'n v. Harris, 794 F.3d 1136, 1139-40 (9th Cir. 2015) (footnotes omitted), cert. denied, 136 S. Ct. 2448 (2016). The Council is the regional council for Hawai`i,American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. 16 U.S.C. § 1852(a)(1)(H). The Council's thirteen voting members include fishery management officials representing those areas, and eight citizens appointed by the Secretary from those areas. [Counter-Motion at 6 n.3 (citing 16 U.S.C. § 1852(a)(1)(H)).]

The FMPs and FMP amendments that the regional councils prepare must be reviewed and approved by NMFS, and must comply with the requirements of 16 U.S.C. § 1853(a) and applicable laws. See 16 U.S.C. § 1854(a)(1)-(3). In addition, regional councils can propose regulations or modifications to regulations that are necessary to implement an FMP or an FMP amendment, and the Secretary can prepare an FMP or an FMP amendment. See §§ 1853(c), 1854(c). Section 1854(c) states, in pertinent part:

(6) The Secretary may propose regulations in the Federal Register to implement any plan or amendment prepared by the Secretary. In the case of a plan or amendment to which paragraph (4)(A) applies, such regulations shall be submitted to the Council with such plan or amendment. The comment period on proposed regulations shall be 60 days, except that the Secretary may shorten the comment period on minor revisions to existing regulations.
(7) The Secretary shall promulgate final regulations within 30 days after the end of the comment period under paragraph (6). The Secretary must publish in the Federal Register an explanation of any substantive differences between the proposed and final rules. All final regulations must be consistent with the fishery management plan, with the national standards and other provisions of this chapter, and with anyother applicable law.

The ten "national standards for fishery conservation and management" are set forth in 16 U.S.C. § 1851(a).

Regulations promulgated pursuant to the MSA are subject to judicial review under certain provisions of the APA. 16 U.S.C. § 1855(f). Section 1855(f)(1)(B) states that "the appropriate court shall only set aside any such regulation or action on a ground specified in section 706(2)(A), (B), (C), or (D) of" the APA.

B. Cession

American Samoa is an unincorporated and unorganized United States territory. [Complaint at ¶ 8; Answer at ¶ 8 (admitting those portions of Plaintiff's ¶ 8).] The parties agree that: "At the turn of the 20th Century, the United States Government entered into and executed two separate Deeds of Cession between the United States Government and the leaders of the islands of Tutuila, Aunu`u, Ofu, Olosega, Ta`u and Rose Island." [Complaint at ¶ 16; Answer at ¶ 16.] One is the Tutuila and Aunu`u Deed of Cession, dated April 17, 1900, and the other is the Manu`a Deed of Cession, dated July 14, 1904 (collectively "the Deeds of Cession"). The Deeds of Cession ceded certain lands and surrounding bodies of water to the United States. [Complaint at ¶¶ 17-18; Answer at ¶¶ 17-18 (admitting portions of Plaintiff's ¶¶ 17-18).]

On October 24, 2016, Defendants filed a Motion for Judicial Notice Pursuant to FRE 201(b)(2) ("RJN")....

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