Articles Tagged with Endangered Species Act

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The federal courts have issued some significant environmental law rulings in the past few days.

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club, Inc.
On March 4, 2021, the court held that the deliberative process privilege of the Freedom of Information Act shields from disclosure in-house draft governmental biological opinions that are both “predecisional” and deliberative. According to the court, these opinions, opining on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) effects on aquatic species of a proposed federal rule affecting cooling water intake structures—which was promulgated in 2019—are exempt from disclosure because they do not reflect a “final” agency opinion. Indeed, these ESA-required opinions reflect a preliminary view, and the Services did not treat them as being the final or last word on the project’s desirability. The Sierra Club, invoking the FOIA, sought many records generated by the rulemaking proceeding, and received thousands of pages. However, the Service declined to release the draft biological opinions that were created in connection with the ESA consultative process.

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The last few weeks have yielded a number of interesting developments in the Federal courts.

FEDERAL COURTS OF APPEAL

In re Flint Water Cases
Several local and State of Michigan officials, including the former governor, requested dismissal from the civil litigation seeking damages for the massive failure of Flint, Michigan’s public drinking water system. On August 5, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed that the plaintiffs, residents of Flint, have successfully pled a case that the conduct of the defendants so “shocked the conscience” that a claim for a violation of their substantive due process rights was appropriately alleged. The defendants, including the former governor, argued that they were entitled to a qualified immunity defense. The court rejected this argument on the basis of the earlier decisions made by the court in this matter. Judge Sutton concurred because he was bound by this precedent, but remarked that the evidence for the governor’s culpability was very thin; he was not intimately connected to the extraordinary error in judgment. The majority was very upset with this concurrence as indicted by their own opinion.

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The Fifth Circuit released three new decisions last Friday.

On May 29, 2020. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit released three opinions in environmental cases: Stratta, et al. v. Roe, Director of the Brazos Valley Groundwater District; Environmental Integrity Project, et al. v. EPA; and American Stewards of Liberty, et al,. v. U.S. Department of the Interior.

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