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NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDN. v. BURFORD

February 10, 1986

NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT F. BURFORD, et al., Defendants


John H. Pratt, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: PRATT

JOHN H. PRATT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

 Background

 On December 4, 1985 we granted a preliminary injunction. The order included a prohibition against defendants' modifying, terminating, or altering any withdrawal, classification or other designation governing protection of the lands in the public domain that was in effect on January 1, 1981 or taking any action inconsistent with such withdrawals, classifications or other designations. It also enjoined all persons holding interests in the lands at issue from taking any action inconsistent with the present status of the lands.

 Since our order of December 4, 1985, the parties have filed several motions. The federal defendants asked us to amend, reconsider and clarify the order. Defendant-intervenor Mountain States Legal Foundation (Mountain States) also moved for reconsideration and, in addition, for either reconsideration of our order denying its earlier motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, certification of the joinder issue to the Court of Appeals. Finally, plaintiff moved to consolidate a hearing on defendants' motions with a hearing on the merits.

 We issued a stay of our preliminary injunction on December 16, 1985. On January 6, 1986, we heard arguments on defendants' motions. At the hearing, the federal defendants submitted a proposed order similar to plaintiff's suggested revision. We then asked the parties to confer and attempt to agree on a draft order. Plaintiff and the federal defendants now offer such an order but disagree on the interpretation of one of its provisions. Mountain States does not join in presenting this order but renews its earlier objections to the issuance of any injunction. We will discuss the various motions pending as well as detail our intention with respect to certain provisions of the new order.

 Discussion

 I. Motions for Reconsideration

 At the outset we deny the federal defendants' request for reconsideration of our issuance of the preliminary injunction. They offer no new points in opposition, and we continue to adhere to our reasoning as set out in the December 4, 1985 Memorandum Opinion. Mountain States, on the other hand, does introduce several new arguments, which we will now address separately.

 A. Lack of Injury to Plaintiff

 Mountain States claims that since the lands at issue were subject to certain commercial exploitation even before defendants' classification terminations and withdrawal revocations, NWF can prove no injury. *fn1" It contends, in essence, that once commercial development was authorized, there could be no further injury to the environmental and aesthetic interests of plaintiff's members. This generalization sweeps too broadly. It fails to distinguish among types of commercial development. The fact that land was previously open to activities such as "dam construction, airports, hydroelectric power sites, and military reservations and target ranges," Mtn. States Reply at 3, hardly eliminates injury when the land is later made available for strip mining. Similarly, there is injury to plaintiff's members ability to use land, once open only to mineral leasing, that becomes subject, through operation of the mining laws, to fee interest transfer. Mountain States has not shown that the prior commercial uses of the lands are identical to those allowed since the withdrawals were revoked and the classifications terminated. We continue to find irreparable injury to plaintiff and reaffirm plaintiff's standing to bring this action.

 Mountain States also raises, for the first time, a claim that this court may not review plaintiff's claims since NWF has not exhausted its administrative remedies. Mountain States concedes that the withdrawal decisions represent final agency actions. Reply at 8 n.5. Thus, its exhaustion argument can focus only on the classification terminations.

 Neither the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, 43 U.S.C. §§ 1701, et seq. (FLPMA), nor the applicable regulations foreclose this court's review of defendants' actions. The statute itself imposes no exhaustion requirement, *fn2" and in fact emphasizes Congress' desire to provide for judicial review of public land adjudication decisions. 43 U.S.C. § 1701(a)(6). Similarly, the regulations appear to vest a right of appeal only in an individual "party" to a discrete classification termination case. 43 C.F.R. § 4.410(a)(1984). NWF was not a "party" to any of defendants' termination decisions.

 Mountain States argues that the regulations pertaining specifically to land classifications establish a right -- and a duty -- to seek administrative review. The regulations provide that classifications may be "changed" using specified procedures, 43 C.F.R. § 2461.4, which include a sixty-day delay after publication of the proposed classification, § 2461.2, and a thirty-day period after final publication for administrative review. § 2461.3. However, the procedures of Subpart 2461 relate only to the process of classifying public lands. They do not appear to address actions terminating such classifications. We do not share Mountain States' confidence that "changing" classifications necessarily includes terminating them. Furthermore, the government never published its proposed decisions, as required by 43 C.F.R. § 2461.2. Pl. Opp. to Mtn. States Motion at 7. It would be anomalous to impose a rigid exhaustion requirement on plaintiff where defendants have not followed or attempted to follow their own procedures. *fn3"

 We note further that mere publication in the Federal Register may not alert even the most careful reader that defendants' classification terminations should inspire protest. As plaintiff noted earlier, the notices in the Federal Register do not indicate "whether environmental impact statements were prepared, whether land use plans supported the action, or whether the action had been sent to the President and Congress for review." Pl. Reply to Def. Opp. to Pl. Motion for Prelim. Inj. at 13. Unlike most challenges to agency action, plaintiff's complaint raises concerns which the agency's notice, on its face, may not have triggered or aroused.

 Even if the regulations normally require administrative review, we do not feel that in the factual context of this case any exhaustion rule limits our jurisdiction. Exhaustion is a flexible requirement, one tailored to "an understanding of its purposes and of the particular administrative scheme involved." McKart v. United States, 395 U.S. 185, 193, 23 L. Ed. 2d 194, 89 S. Ct. 1657 (1969); accord Etelson v. Office of Personnel Management, 221 U.S. App. D.C. 396, 684 F.2d 918, 923 (D.C. Cir. 1982). As the Supreme Court has observed, the requirement of exhaustion allows the agency the opportunity to make a factual record, to exercise its discretion or to apply its expertise. It permits the agency to discover and correct its own errors. It prevents deliberate flouting of administrative processes. Finally, it avoids the necessity of premature judicial intervention. McKart, 395 U.S. at 194-95.

 Thus finding that plaintiff need not have pursued administrative review and that an exhaustion prerequisite would serve no benefit here, we hold that plaintiff may seek judicial review.

 C. Certification of the Joinder Question Under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b)

 Mountain States urges us either to reconsider our denial of its motion to dismiss for failure to join indispensible parties or to certify the issue to the Court of Appeals under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b). We recognize Mountain States' legitimate concern for the interests of the absent parties. However, we see no reason to reverse our original ruling. The effective result of preventing plaintiff from litigating its claims were we to require joinder and the "public rights" exception to normal joinder rules combine to reinforce our holding that the absent parties are not "indispensible."

 Further, we decline to certify the issue under § 1292(b). The statute permits certification when, on issuing an order, the district judge "shall be of the opinion that such an order involves a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation." To begin with, we do not believe there is "substantial ground for difference of opinion" with our conclusion that joinder here is unnecessary. This case clearly fits the doctrine of the "public rights" exception, as established by the Supreme Court in National Licorice Co. v. NLRB, 309 U.S. 350, 84 L. Ed. 799, 60 S. Ct. 569 (1940), and developed in subsequent cases. Contrary to Mountain States' assertion, the potential adverse effect on the absent parties does not reflect a novel application of the doctrine. See, e.g., Jeffries v. Georgia Residential Finance Authority, 678 F.2d 919 (11th Cir. 1982), cert. ...


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