Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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Consolidated appeals arose out of the district court’s grant of a preliminary injunction to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The injunction followed the release, without a state permit, of two Mexican gray wolf pups on federal land located in New Mexico by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”). The district court’s order enjoined the Department of the Interior, FWS, and certain individuals in their official capacities from importing or releasing: (1) any Mexican gray wolves into the State without first obtaining the requisite state permits; and (2) any Mexican gray wolf offspring into the State in violation of prior state permits. Interior, FWS, Ryan Zinke, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Interior, Jim Kurth, in his capacity as Acting Director of FWS, Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, in his capacity as Southwest Regional Director for FWS, and intervening defendants Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, and New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, separately filed timely appeals contending the district court abused its discretion in granting the Department a preliminary injunction. After review, the Tenth Circuit determined the Department failed to present sufficient evidence to support a finding that it was likely to suffer irreparable harm absent a preliminary injunction. As a result, the district court abused its discretion in granting the Department’s request for injunctive relief. The Tenth Circuit therefore reversed and vacated the district court’s order enjoining Federal Appellants from importing and releasing: (1) any Mexican gray wolves into the State without first obtaining the requisite state permits; and (2) any Mexican gray wolf offspring into the State in violation of prior state permits. The case was remanded back to the district court for further proceedings. View "NM Dept. of Game & Fish v. Dept. of Interior" on Justia Law

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People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners (“PETPO”) challenged a regulation promulgated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). The challenged regulation prohibited the “take” of the Utah prairie dog, a purely intrastate species, on nonfederal land. The ESA defined “take” as meaning “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect.” The district court granted summary judgment for PETPO on the ground that neither the Commerce Clause nor the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution authorized Congress to regulate take of the Utah prairie dog on nonfederal land. FWS and intervenor-defendant Friends of Animals (“FoA”) appealed the grant of summary judgment, arguing that the challenged regulation was authorized by both the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause, and that PETPO lacked standing. After its review, the Tenth Circuit held that the district court correctly concluded that PETPO had standing, but erred in concluding that Congress lacked authority under the Commerce Clause to regulate (and authorize the Service to regulate) the take of the Utah prairie dog. View "People for Ethical Treatment v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Asarco, LLC appeals the entry of summary judgment against it in its contribution action against Noranda Mining, Inc., under Section 113(f) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act ("CERCLA"). The district court held that Asarco was judicially estopped from pursuing its claim because of representations it made to a bankruptcy court concerning its settlement agreement with the EPA for the site in question. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed, finding that the district court abused its discretion in applying judicial estoppel: "The overall context of the CERCLA settlement approved by the bankruptcy court makes it apparent that Asarco's positions are not clearly inconsistent, that to allow Asarco to pursue its claim would not create the perception that a court was misled, and that Asarco would not necessarily gain an unfair advantage by being allowed to pursue its claim now." View "Asarco v. Noranda Mining" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court’s denial of their request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the drilling of certain oil and gas wells in the Mancos Shale formation of the San Juan Basin in New Mexico. The district court concluded that Plaintiffs had failed to satisfy three of the four elements required to obtain a preliminary injunction: (1) Plaintiffs had not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claims; (2) the balance of harms weighed against Plaintiffs; and (3) Plaintiffs failed to show that the public interest favored an injunction. Finding no reversible error in the district court's denial, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Dine Citizens v. Jewell" on Justia Law

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Petitioners American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, The Cloud Foundation, Return to Freedom, Carol Walker, and Kimerlee Curyl filed this action against Sally Jewell, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, and Neil Kornze, the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), seeking review of BLM’s decision to remove wild horses in certain areas of public land located in southwestern Wyoming within an area known as the “Checkerboard.” The Checkerboard was comprised of over one million acres of generally high desert land, and “derives its name from the pattern of alternating sections of private and public land which it comprises.” Under a 2013 consent decree, BLM agreed to remove all wild horses located on private lands in the Checkerboard. BLM maintained that “due to the unique pattern of land ownership” within the Checkerboard, “and as recognized in the Consent Decree, it is practically infeasible for the BLM to meet its obligations under Section 4 of the [Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act ("the Act")] while removing wild horses solely from the private lands sections of the [C]heckerboard.” Petitioners alleged, in pertinent part, that the removal violated the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA). The district court rejected these claims. Petitioners appealed. The Tenth Circuit reversed, finding it was "improper" for BLM to construe the unambiguous terms “privately owned land” and “private lands,” as used in Section 4 of the Act, to include the public land sections of the Checkerboard. And, in turn, with respect to the FLMPA claims, it was improper for BLM to conduct what it described as a Section 4 gather on the public land sections of the Checkerboard. "By doing so, BLM violated the duties that Section 3 clearly imposes on it with respect to wild horses found on the public land sections of the Checkerboard." The Court reversed the district court and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "American Wild Horse v. Jewell" on Justia Law

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Petitioner State of Wyoming (the State) filed suit against the federal Department of the Interior, the Secretary of the Department, and the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) seeking judicial review of what the State claimed was their failure to comply with non-discretionary obligations imposed upon them by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Specifically, the State alleged that respondents were statutorily obligated, but had failed, to properly manage the overpopulation of wild horses on seven areas of public land in Wyoming. Respondents moved to dismiss the petition for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The district court granted respondents’ motion and dismissed the action. The State appealed. Of particular relevance here, subsection (b) of Section 3 of the Act outlined the Secretary’s duties with respect to inventorying wild horses and dealing with overpopulation issues. The State argued that the subsection served as grounds for the Secretary to act. The Tenth Circuit found that subsection (b)(1)’s use of the phrase “whether action should be taken to remove excess animals” afforded the BLM with discretion to decide whether or not to remove excess animals. "[I]t is indisputable that only the first of these statutory requirements has been met, i.e., the determination of an overpopulation in each of the seven HMAs. Importantly, the second requirement has not been satisfied because the BLM has not determined that action is necessary to remove the excess animals. Consequently, the State cannot establish that the BLM has 'unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed' action that it was required to take under Section 3 of the Act, and thus has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under the APA." View "State of Wyoming v. Dept. of the Interior" on Justia Law

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Sierra Club brought a citizen suit seeking civil penalties against Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company “(OG&E)” for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. Sierra Club claimed that in March and April 2008, OG&E, the owner and operator of a coal-fired power plant in Muskogee, modified a boiler at the plant without first obtaining an emission-regulating permit as required under the Act. Because Sierra Club filed its action more than five years after construction began on the plant, the district court dismissed its claim under Rule 12(b)(6) on statute of limitations grounds. The court also dismissed Sierra Club’s claims for declaratory and injunctive relief because these remedies were predicated on the unavailable claim for civil penalties. Finding no error in the district court's conclusions, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Sierra Club v. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co." on Justia Law

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The water source at the heart of this general stream adjudication was the Nambe-Pojoaque-Tesuque Basin. The State of New Mexico was engaged in individual adjudications with parties who held permits to divert the Basin’s underground water through the use of domestic water wells. Elisa Trujillo held one such domestic well permit. During her individual adjudication, she and the State disputed her water rights. In 2010, the special master granted summary judgment in favor of the State. In 2015, the district court entered an order that adjudicated Trujillo’s water rights based on the special master’s 2010 summary judgment order. Trujillo identified only the 2015 order in her notice of appeal, which was an interlocutory order because the district court had not yet entered a final decision in the general stream adjudication. She presented no developed argument challenging the special master’s summary judgment order that served as a basis for the 2015 order. Instead, the Tenth Circuit found that she spent much of her brief challenging two orders denying her motions to quash a 1983 injunction that placed limits on the State’s issuance of domestic well permits. Finding no reason to overturn the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Trujillo's adjudication. View "New Mexico v. Trujillo" on Justia Law