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Supreme Court Rules Against SUWA

POCATELLO, ID (June 15) -- In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court upheld a Utah District Court ruling dismissing claims brought in 1999 by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and other anti-access groups against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The suit targeted BLM's alleged inaction in managing off highway vehicle ("OHV") access. SUWA's demands to immediately close nine popular OHV recreation areas were rejected by the Utah District Court, but that decision was reversed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Both the BLM and the OHV groups petitioned for review with the Supreme Court. The Court granted review and heard argument in March of this year.

"Needless to say, we're delighted", said Bill Dart, Executive Director of the BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC). BRC led a coalition of OHV enthusiast groups who successfully petitioned for defendant-intervenor status to aid BLM's defense of OHV management.

"We are pleased the Justices rejected the 'management through litigation' model that is popular with anti-access groups," Dart added.

The case before the Supreme Court turned on a fairly complex jurisdictional point. The Administrative Procedure Act allows lawsuits to compel nondiscretionary actions that have been unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed. The OHV groups convinced the District Court that SUWA's claims went far beyond this standard and were really attempting to dictate the everyday activity of the BLM. Thus, the case focused on the degree to which private parties dissatisfied with government action can sue the agency under an alternate "failure to act" theory.

Justice Antonin Scalia said SUWA's argument would insert the court into the day-to-day operations of the agency and "would divert BLM's energies from other projects throughout the country that are in fact more pressing. While such a decree might please the environmental plaintiffs in the present case, it would ultimately operate to the detriment of sound environmental management."

"We have raised these arguments with limited success since the mid 1990's, and it is reassuring to see the Court has ultimately agreed with our analysis," noted Paul Turcke, the Boise, Idaho lawyer acting as lead counsel for the OHV groups. "This case was never about limiting legitimate review of formal agency decisions, but will clarify that disgruntled and well-funded special interest groups cannot interfere with the ongoing administrative process simply by claiming the agency is failing to act," Turcke concluded. According to BlueRibbon Coalition sources, there are numerous other cases at various levels of the federal court system that will be affected by this ruling.

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