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Western Watersheds Project v. Steven Ellis

March 30, 2011

WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT PLAINTIFF,
v.
STEVEN ELLIS, DIRECTOR, IDAHO STATE OFFICE, BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT; RICK VANDERVOET, JARBIDGE FIELD MANAGER, BLM; BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, AN AGENCY OF THE UNITED STATES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable B. Lynn Winmill Chief U. S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

The Court has before it a motion for attorney fees and costs filed by WWP. The motion is fully briefed and at issue. For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny the motion.

BACKGROUND OF LITIGATION

This case began in 2004, when WWP challenged the BLM's renewal of ten-year grazing permits for 28 allotments in the Jarbidge Resource Area (JRA). In 2005, the Court issued a decision enjoining grazing in those allotments after finding that the renewals violated NEPA, FLPMA, and the JRA RMP. See Western Watersheds Project v. Bennett, 392 F.Supp.2d 1217 (D. Idaho 2005).

The parties thereafter negotiated a Stipulated Settlement Agreement (SSA) that established interim grazing restrictions as the BLM drafted a new RMP. The Court approved the SSA in October 2005, amending the August 2005 injunction to reflect the settlement terms. See SSA (Dkt. 149).

In July of 2006, the parties reached an agreement on attorney fees and costs, and the case was administratively terminated pending completion of the steps required by the SSA. See Order (Dkt. 151). In its present motion for attorney fees, WWP is not seeking any fees up to this point in the litigation, nor are they seeking fees past this point for monitoring the progress of the SSA.

The fees WWP seeks in this motion begin with fees incurred in investigating and challenging BLM decisions made after the massive Murphy Complex Fire in July of 2007. In 2008, WWP filed a motion to reopen the case to challenge these decisions, and also filed a motion to file a supplemental complaint and a motion for injunctive relief as to the allotments governed by the SSA. The Court denied the motions to the degree they sought to challenge decisions in the allotments governed by the SSA. See Memorandum Decision (Dkt. 201). With regard to the 36 allotments not governed by the SSA, the Court rejected the BLM's jurisdictional objections, and granted WWP's motions to reopen and to file a supplemental complaint. The Court denied WWP's motion for injunctive relief, holding that an evidentiary hearing would be necessary.

WWP filed a Revised Supplemental Complaint in 2008 challenging the BLM's decisions (1) to continue grazing at the same levels as before the fire despite the fire's destruction of habitat for sensitive species; (2) to enact criteria for reopening areas closed to grazing; and (3) to construct and repair fences without complying with NEPA, FLPMA, and the RMP. WWP also refiled its motion for injunctive relief.

The Court held a ten-day evidentiary hearing on WWP's motion for injunctive relief and issued an 81-page decision setting forth its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. While the Court refused to enjoin grazing as requested by WWP, it did enjoin the BLM from "interpreting the 1987 RMP in any manner other than imposing requirements (1) to maintain or enhance existing and potential populations of the sensitive species within the planning area, and (2) to ensure that wildlife goals and watershed needs will be satisfied prior to allowing increases in livestock use." See Findings & Conclusions (Dkt. 363) at p. 78. The Court granted in part the BLM's motion for summary judgment to the extent that it sought summary judgment on WWP's request for a total ban on grazing.

WWP argues that it is the prevailing party and that it is entitled to fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA).

ANALYSIS

Prevailing Party

Under the EAJA, a court "shall award to a prevailing party" fees and other expenses incurred "in any civil action . . . unless the court finds that the position of the United States was substantially justified or that special circumstances make an award unjust." See 28 U.S.C. ยง 2412(d)(1)(A). To be a prevailing party, a litigant must "achieve a material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties, and the alteration must be judicially sanctioned." America Cargo Transport, Inc., v. U.S., 625 F.3d 1176, 1182 (9th Cir. 2010). Under this definition, WWP is a prevailing party. The Court's Findings of Fact and Conclusions ...


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