Bennett v. Spear Case Brief

Facts of the Case

“The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) requires, inter alia, that the Secretary of the Interior to specify animal species that are “threatened” or “endangered” and designate their “critical habitat,”  and that federal agencies to ensure that any action they authorize, fund, or carry out is not likely to jeopardize a listed species or adversely modify its critical habitat.  After the Bureau of Reclamation notified the Forest Service that the operation of the Klamath Irrigation Project might affect two endangered species of fish, the Service issued a Biological Opinion, concluding that the proposed long-term operation of the project was likely to jeopardize the species and identifying as a reasonable and prudent alternative the maintenance of minimum water levels on certain reservoirs. The Bureau notified the Service that it would operate the project in compliance with the Biological Opinion. Petitioners, irrigation districts receiving project water and operators of ranches in those districts, filed this action against respondents, the Service’s director and regional directors and the Secretary, claiming that the jeopardy determination and imposition of minimum water levels violated, and constituted an implicit critical habitat determination for the species in violation of’s requirement that the designation’s economic impact be considered. They also claimed that the actions violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which prohibits agency actions that are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.. The District Court dismissed the complaint, concluding that petitioners lacked standing because they asserted “recreational, aesthetic, and commercial interests” that did not fall within the zone of interests sought to be protected by the ESA. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the “zone of interests” test–which requires that a plaintiff’s grievance arguably fall within the zone of interests protected or regulated by the statutory provision or constitutional guarantee invoked in the suit–limits the class of persons who may obtain judicial review not only under the APA, but also under the ESA’s citizen-suit provision,