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Oregon Wild v. Connaughton

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division

January 31, 2014

OREGON WILD, an Oregon nonprofit corporation; SIERRA CLUB, a California nonprofit corporation; and CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY, Plaintiffs,
v.
KENT CONNAUGHTON, Regional Forester, Pacific Northwest Region; and UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE, a federal agency, Defendants, and MT. ASHLAND ASSOCIATION, an Oregon nonprofit corporation, Defendant-Intervenor.

ORDER

OWEN M. FANNER, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Oregon Wild, Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity bring this action against defendants Kent Connaughton, Regional Forester, and the United States Forest Service. Plaintiffs claim the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) in approving the proposed expansion of the Mount Ashland Ski Area (the Project). Mt. Ashland Association has intervened as a defendant.

I conclude defendants are entitled to judgment on plaintiffs' NEPA. claims. I stay plaintiffs' NFMA claims because those claims are also at issue in a pending appeal, " Oregon Wild v. Connaughton, No. 1:05-cv-3004-PA, appeal docketed, No. 12-35845 (9th Cir.).

BACKGROUND

In 2004, after years of studying Mt. Ashland Association's expansion plans for the ski area, the Forest Service issued a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and a Record of. Decision approving the Project.

In 2005, plaintiffs[1] filed an action challenging the 2004 final EIS and Record of Decision. Plaintiffs claimed the Forest Service had violated NEPA and NFMA.

I granted judgment for the defendants. Oregon Natural Res. Council Fund v. Goodman , No. 1:05-cv-3004-PA (lead case), 2007 WL 489272 (D. Or. Feb. 9, 2007). On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. Oregon Natural Res. Council Tund v. Goodman , 505 F.3d 884 (9th Cir. 2007). On remand, the Project was stayed while the Forest Service corrected the errors found by the Ninth Circuit.

In 2011, the Forest Service issued a final supplemental EIS and a supplemental Record of Decision, approving the Project. Plaintiffs then filed this action. While acknowledging the Forest Service has corrected the NEPA violations cited'" by the Ninth Circuit, plaintiffs claim the Forest Service committed further NEPA violations by failing to prepare a supplemental EIS, on six categories of new information. Plaintiffs also raise NFMA claims.

STANDARDS

I. Summary Judgment Standards Do Not Apply

The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. The legal standards for summary judgment motions are "inconsistent with the standards for judicial review of agency action" under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Olenhouse v. Commodity Credit Corp. , 42 F.3d 1560, 1579 (10th Cir. 1994). Nonetheless, the Ninth Circuit endorsed summary judgment motions as "an appropriate mechanism for deciding the legal question of whether the agency could reasonably have found the facts as it did.'" City & County of San Francisco v. United States , 130 F.3d 873, 877 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Occidental Eng'g Co. v. INS , 753 F.2d 766, 770 (9th Cir. 1985)). I consider "summary judgment" to be only a convenient label for the judicial review of challenged agency actions.

II. Judicial Review under the APA

Under the APA, the court determines whether the agency's decision was "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." 5 U.S.C. ยง 706(2)(A). Before a court may overturn an agency decision under the APA's deferential standard of review,

the court must consider whether the decision was based on a consideration of the relevant factors and whether there has been a clear error of judgment. Although this inquiry into the facts is to be searching and careful, the ultimate standard of review is a narrow one. The ...

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