Ozark Society Lacks Standing To Pursue Injunctive Relief


In Ouachita Watch League, et al., v. U.S. Forest Service, et al., decided May 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction an appeal of the District Court’s ruling that the plaintiff environmental groups could not obtain injunctive relief to stop further mineral leasing in the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas. It reasoned that insofar as the organizational plaintiffs relied on the generalized affidavit of the President of the Ozark Society to establish standing,  the affidavit fails to allege that a “particular member has a specific plan to use that forest” and consequently “there is no case or controversy before us, and we lack authority to adjudicate this dispute.”

In 2005, the U.S. Forest Service (Service) issued a revised forest management plan for the Ozark and St. Francis National Forests that was accompanied by an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS noted at the time that there were 49 active gas wells operating in the forest, and perhaps 15-20 new wells would be drilled in the next 10 years. However, with the discovery of natural gas in north central Arkansas, the Service received information from the Bureau of Land Management that as many as 1730 new wells would be drilled. A Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement was issued in 2010, but the Service concluded that the existing EIS need not be revised.

The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit challenging this decision. The District Court, while finding that the plaintiffs had standing, otherwise denied relief. It later granted the federal agencies’ summary judgment motion for four reasons.

On appeal, analyzing whether the plaintiffs have standing, the Court of Appeals summarized

Having a ‘specific and concrete plan . . . to enjoy the national forests’ distinguishes a particular harm to a recreational interest from mere generalized harm. When the plaintiff is a group, this plan must belong to an identified group member, not merely to the group at large. The burden of establishing the specific plan of an individual member to enjoy the forest—in other words, the burden to establish standing—rests on the party asking a federal court to adjudicate its dispute.  (Citations omitted).

The plaintiffs have “alleged only that as a group it regularly uses the Ozark National Forest and that one identified member has used it in the past. This is short of the mark.”  The affidavit simply fell short.