Wednesday, May 27, 2015
The D.C. Circuit ruled in National Association of Home Builders v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge settlement terms between the Service and environmental groups that would set designation of endangered species back on pace. The ruling means that the case is dismissed and should put the Service back on course to meet settlement deadlines for designating endangered species.
The case arose out of a ten-year backlog at the Service in designating endangered species. (The backlog grew out of a regulatory designation, "warranted-but-precluded," that allowed the Service to back-burner formal designation of a particular species as endangered. Some 250 species were on the list.) Environmental groups sued to get the Service moving, and the Service entered into settlement agreements designed to put the designation back on pace. But then Homebuilders sued (under the ESA's citizen suit provision and the APA) to stop the implementation of the settlement agreements--to stop the Service from putting endangered species designation back on pace.
The court said that Homebuilders lacked standing. The court ruled that Homebuilders lacked procedural standing (on the theory that the organization and its members didn't have a chance to comment on the settlement agreements), because under circuit law there's no procedural right to comment at the warranted-but-precluded stage. That's because nothing requires notice-and-comment at this stage, nothing gives Homebuilders a statutory right to sue, and Homebuilders couldn't show that the procedures were designed to protect its interests.
The court also ruled that Homebuilders couldn't identify a particular harm. Homebuilders sued to stop the settlement agreement, not to stop a designation of any particular species. And the court said that the settlement agreement simply required the Service to make a decision (one way or the other) within a timeline, and not necessarily to designate any particular species as endangered.
Finally, the court rejected Homebuilders' claim that the settlement would harm members, because members put resources into protected certain species, and designation would moot those efforts. The court said that these efforts were dictated by state and local law, or by members' independent efforts (designed to persuade the Service that a particular species didn't need protection, because it was already protected). Because the efforts weren't Service-mandated, they weren't "fairly traceable" to the Service's challenged actions.