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Animal Legal Defense Fund v. United States

United States District Court, D. Oregon

July 31, 2019

ANIMAL LEGAL DEFENSE FUND, et al., Plaintiffs,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.


          Michael J. McShane United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs are two nonprofit organizations and six individuals who claim that climate change-and the government's failure to protect them from the effects of climate change-has violated their constitutional right to a safe and sustainable environment. See Pl.'s First Am. Compl. for Declaratory and Inj. Relief 2 and 6, ECF No. 28 (“FAC”). Plaintiffs urge this Court to engage in “nothing short of revolutionary thinking” by recognizing “a right to wilderness” under the First, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Pl.'s Resp. 2 and 58-71, ECF No. 72. Plaintiffs further ask that the Court order government actors to adopt certain policies in order to combat climate change. FAC 71-73.

         Defendants are the United States of America, as well as several federal agencies and their respective administrators, who move to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Defs.' Mot. i, ECF No. 66.[1] Defendants urge the Court to restrain itself from dictating environmental policy by creating a “right to wilderness” and argue that Plaintiffs lack standing to bring such broad claims. Id. at 7-43. In the alternative, Defendants move the Court to stay this case pending the Ninth Circuit's resolution of the pending appeal in Juliana v. United States, No. 6:15-cv-1517-AA, 2018 WL 6303774 (D. Or. Nov. 21, 2018), appeal docketed, No. 18-36082 (9th Cir. Dec. 27, 2018). Id. at 43-45.

         Because the harm Plaintiffs seek to redress is a diffuse, global phenomenon that affects every citizen of the world, Plaintiffs' harm is not individualized and they lack standing. Additionally, the lower courts-bound by rule of law-are not the forum for the “revolutionary” thinking that Plaintiffs articulately espouse in their briefing. Indeed, this Court has previously declined invitations to create new fundamental rights that are not enumerated in the constitution or found in Supreme Court precedent. See, e.g., Geiger v. Kitzhaber, 994 F.Supp.2d 1128, 1140- 41 (D. Or. May 19, 2014) (declining to recognize a fundamental right to same sex marriage, instead ruling on equal protection grounds). I continue to do so here. Because there exists no clearly established “right to wilderness, ” Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         Because Plaintiffs lack standing and fail to state a claim, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 66, is GRANTED.


         Plaintiffs' claims arise from their “fear for their own and others' physical and mental wellbeing as a result of climate change-related impacts on federally-owned and managed public lands.” Id. at 4-5. According to Plaintiffs, climate change is causing “increased frequency and severity of rockslides, avalanches, flash flooding, and wildfires, as well as reduction in stream water flow, snow pack, and native edible plants.” FAC 5. Plaintiffs allege that, because of “national policies that promote, subsidize, and develop carbon-intensive industries” and “increase population and consumption, ” the government is primarily responsible for exposing them to dangerous conditions on federal lands resulting from climate change. Id. Plaintiffs also argue that the government's failure to act has and will continue to cause them grave injury. Id. at 6. Plaintiffs ask this Court to, among other things, direct the government to “phase out fossil fuel extraction, animal agriculture, and commercial logging of old-growth forests on federal lands, ” consider impacts on wilderness in making family planning policy decisions, declare Executive Order 13783 unconstitutional, and appoint a special master to review and designate wilderness areas. FAC 71-73.

         STANDARDS I. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(1)

         A motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) challenges the subject matter jurisdiction of a federal court. A federal court has no jurisdiction to resolve any claim for which a plaintiff lacks standing. Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975); Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992). At minimum, standing requires a plaintiff to show she has “suffered some actual or threatened injury as a result of the putatively illegal conduct of the defendant, and that the injury ‘fairly can be traced to the challenged action' and ‘is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision.'” Valley Forge Christian Coll. v. Ams. United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 472 (1982) (citations omitted). “The party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing these elements.” Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561.

         II. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter that “state[s] a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is plausible on its face when the factual allegations allow the court to infer the defendant's liability based on the alleged conduct. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009). The factual allegations must present more than “the mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. at 678. When considering a motion to dismiss, the court must accept all allegations of material fact as true and construe those facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Burget v. Lokelani Bernice Pauahi Bishop Trust, 200 F.3d 661, 663 (9th Cir. 2000). However, the court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. If the complaint is dismissed, leave to amend should be granted unless “the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts.” Doe v. United States, 58 F.3d 494, 497 (9th Cir. 1995).


         Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiffs' action for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defs.' Mot. i; see Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Because Plaintiffs must first establish constitutional standing before this Court may entertain the merits of their claims, I address that issue first.

         I. Subject ...

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