Bennett v. Spear

LOCATION: Attorney General Office

DOCKET NO.: 95-813
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 520 US 154 (1997)
ARGUED: Nov 13, 1996
DECIDED: Mar 19, 1997

Edwin S. Kneedler - Argued the cause for the respondents
Gregory K. Wilkerson - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Gregory K. Wilkinson - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case

When the Fish and Wildlife Service was notified that the operation of the Klamath Irrigation Project might affect two endangered species of fish, it concluded that the proposed long-term operation of the project was likely to jeopardize the species and decided to maintain minimum levels of water in certain reservoirs. The petitioners, irrigation districts receiving project water and operators of ranches in those districts, filed suit against the Service's director, regional directors, and the Secretary, claiming the determination and imposition of minimum water levels violated the Endangered Species Act's requirement that the designated area's economic impact be considered. The District Court dismissed the compliant because it lacked standing; economic interests were not enough to constitute a lawsuit in this matter. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


Can private parties who claim they have suffered economic harm from enforcement of the Endangered Species Act sue to reverse regulation?

Media for Bennett v. Spear

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 13, 1996 in Bennett v. Spear

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning in No. 95-813, Brad Bennett v. Michael Spear.

Mr. Wilkinson.

Gregory K. Wilkinson:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case arises from the Ninth Circuit and raises the question whether farmers and irrigation districts that receive water pursuant to Federal contracts have standing to complain when their water supplies are cut, their crops threatened, and their land devalued as a consequence of Government conduct alleged to violate the provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

William H. Rehnquist:

We're talking about the granting of a motion to dismiss here, aren't we?

Gregory K. Wilkinson:

That's correct.

William H. Rehnquist:

So, we're talking about the... how you construe allegations in a complaint basically.

Gregory K. Wilkinson:

In part, that's... yes, absolutely correct.

According to the Ninth Circuit, the answer to the question I posed is no because petitioners' competitive, economic-based interest in the water places them outside a zone of interest protected by the ESA.

We believe this ruling goes well beyond the bounds of any standing decision of this Court, and notably, neither the Government nor any amicus attempts to defend it.

If prudential considerations apply at all to actions commenced under the citizen suit provision of the ESA, they are more than satisfied by the petitioners in this case.

Their water supply contracts and the claims they alleged in their complaint place them well within any zone of interest either protected or regulated by the ESA--

And for the same reason, petitioners also have a right to review under the Administrative Procedure Act since they are persons adversely affected or aggrieved within the meaning of the relevant statute, namely, the ESA.

Finally, unless the ruling of the Ninth circuit is reversed, we believe there will be at least three farreaching and negative effects from it.

First, there will exist a prudential standing scheme under the ESA that overtly discriminates against economically based plaintiffs.

Second, because the courthouse doors will be closed to everyone except environmental plaintiffs, there will be one-sided enforcement of the ESA.

Finally, the result of that one-sided enforcement we believe will be skewed implementation of the act that continually presses the Government forward to a position of over-regulation instead of the balance sought by Congress when it has committed the act.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Wilkinson--

Gregory K. Wilkinson:

Yes, Your Honor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--the Solicitor General in response apparently chooses not to address the merits, but does raise an issue about whether the petitioners have Article III standing and an issue about whether the claims are cognizable under the statutory scheme.

Were those arguments raised below in response to the motion to dismiss?

Gregory K. Wilkinson:

Justice O'Connor, the Article III arguments were raised below.

However, they were not decided by either of the courts below.

The cognizability claims in our view were never raised below, nor were they raised in the cert op. And accordingly, in our view rule--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

You mean in response to the petition on certiorari?

Gregory K. Wilkinson:

--That's correct, yes.

And consequently, it would be our view that those cognizability issues are not properly before you.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And do we have before us today any issue on the APA claim?

Gregory K. Wilkinson:

The APA arguments as well were not raised below in our view by the Government, and consequently also are not properly before you today.

Antonin Scalia:

Mr. Wilkinson, jurisdictional issues are always properly before us.