Sierra Club v. Morton

RESPONDENT: Roger C. B. Morton, Secretary of the Interior of the United States
LOCATION: The Mineral King Valley

DOCKET NO.: 70-34
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 405 US 727 (1972)
ARGUED: Nov 17, 1971
DECIDED: Apr 19, 1972
GRANTED: Feb 21, 1971

Erwin N. Griswold - for respondents
Leland R. Selna, Jr. - for petitioner

Facts of the case

The Mineral King Valley was an undeveloped part of the Sequoia National Forest that was mostly used for mining until the 1920s. In the late 1940s, developers began to make bids on the land for recreational developments. Walt Disney Enterprises won a bid to start surveying the valley in the hopes of developing an 80-acre ski resort. The size of the proposed resort would require the construction of a new highway and massive high voltage power lines that would run through the Sequoia National Forest. The Sierra Club kept track of this project for years and hoped to stop it to protect the undeveloped land. The Sierra Club filed preliminary and permanent injunctions against federal officials to prevent them from granting permits for the development of the Mineral King Valley. The district court granted these injunctions. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned the injunctions on the grounds that the Sierra Club did not show that it would be directly affected by the actions of the defendants and therefore did not have standing to sue under the Administrative Procedure Act. Alternatively, the appellate court also held that the Sierra Club had not made an adequate showing of irreparable injury or likelihood of their success on the merits of the case.


Did the Sierra Club adequately establish that it had a sufficient stake in the development of the Mineral King Valley to establish standing for a suit under the Administrative Procedure Act?

Media for Sierra Club v. Morton

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 17, 1971 in Sierra Club v. Morton

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Selna you may proceed.

Leland R. Selna, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice Burger and may it please the Court.

The Sierra Club brought this proceeding against the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior and their assistants to establish that their plans to authorize a huge private recreational development at Mineral King in Sequoia National Game Refuge and for a State Highway across Sequoia National Park to reach that development are -- were illegal.

The club argued that unless temporarily enjoined, the implementation of those plans, would cause a irreparable harm to the special conversation interests of the club and to the public.

The District Court after two days of hearings granted a preliminary injunction.

The Government appealed and the Ninth Circuit reversed, denying the Club standing and then finding District Court error in upholding the Club on the merits.

The order dissolving the injunction has been stayed pending the outcome of this case and this Court granted the Club's petition for certiorari on February 22, 1971.

The case presents several key issues, including first, whether the Sierra Club may have standing for itself and the public to challenge violations of laws which would injure its long held aesthetic and conservational interests in Mineral King and Sequoia National Park.

Second, whether the Secretary of the Interior may permit the State of California to build and operate a new connecting link freeway across Sequoia National Park when it serves no park purpose.

Third, whether Congress has limited the size of long term developments in National Forests, say to 80 acres.

Fourth, whether the Secretary of Agriculture may authorize a huge recreational development in a Game Refuge.

Mineral King is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, approximately 225 miles north of Los Angeles.

It is a portion of the 15,000 acre Game Refuge which Congress created in 1926.

Warren E. Burger:

Now, is the 15,000 acres the large area that you get outlined or is it the white area?

Leland R. Selna, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice, the area that is in white is 15,000 acres, Sequoia National Park surrounds it on the three sides.

Warren E. Burger:

Well, by the distinction now of the colors, is that white area now part of Sequoia National Park?

Leland R. Selna, Jr.:

No it is not Mr. Chief Justice.

It is a Game Refuge and it is part of Sequoia National Forest, but it has a special status which we will come to.

Warren E. Burger:

And the road that you are concerned with will pass from left to right into?

Leland R. Selna, Jr.:

The road -- the smaller road is an existing road.

The road that is in heavier mark is that which is proposed to connect the State Highway here across Sequoia National Park here, dead end of Mineral King here.

Warren E. Burger:

And when you say that it serves no park purpose, do you mean that it is -- its only purpose is to serve the white area which is not part of the park.

Leland R. Selna, Jr.:

That is correct Mr. Chief Justice.

Warren E. Burger:

Maybe an access.

Leland R. Selna, Jr.:

That is correct.

Walt Disney Productions has described Mineral King and I am quoting from the appendix at page 53A.

“as unsurpassed in natural splendor, perhaps more similar to the European Alps than any other area in the United States and generously endowed with lakes, streams, cascades, caverns and matchless mountain visitors.

In 1969, the forest service accepted a proposal from Disney for a huge Resort Development at Mineral King.

Disney would construct hotels, lodges, restaurants, other permanent facilities, so the 14,000 persons could ski at Mineral King at one time.

Some of those permanent features, including ski lifts, parking and sewage disposal facilities and roads, among other things, would not fit on the 80 acres which is the limit of agriculture's term authority under 16 U.S.Code Section 497.