The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jackson, District Judge.
The case is currently before the Court on the government's motion for
summary judgment: the plaintiffs' claims are barred, the government
contends, by the doctrine of res judicata, because the issues raised were
litigated — or could have been litigated — in related cases
decided by District Judge William L. Dwyer in the Western District of
Washington, later affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth
Circuit. For the reasons to follow, this Court concludes that the lead
plaintiff, AFRC, is clearly barred by res judicata in this action, being a
direct successor-in-interest to an actual participant in the Western
District of Washington litigation, and that AFRC's co-plaintiffs are
barred under a corollary known as the "doctrine of virtual
representation" because their interests were adequately represented by
the AFRC's predecessor in the previous litigation.
The origins of this controversy stretch back over a decade and several
presidential administrations. As described by Judge Dwyer in detail in
Seattle Audubon Society v. Lyons, 871 F. Supp. 1291 (W.D.Wash. 1994),
aff'd sub nom. Seattle Audubon Soc'y v. Moseley, 80 F.3d 1401 (9th Cir.
1996) (hereinafter the "Seattle litigation"), it commenced with actions
by allied environmental organizations against the federal government, in
a series of cases that have come to be known by the sobriquet "the owls
cases," seeking to protect the habitat of the northern spotted owl in the
Pacific Northwest from indiscriminate timber-cutting. The lead
environmental litigant was the Seattle Audubon Society, and the cases
were consolidated under Judge Dwyer as the nucleus of the Seattle
At the outset of the legal imbroglio, the Seattle Audubon Society and
its confederates charged the government with a failure to comply with
national environmental laws in managing federal forest lands. Judge Dwyer
basically agreed with the environmental plaintiffs and enjoined further
logging on the lands until the government brought its land management
practices into compliance with applicable environmental statutes,
whereupon AFRC's predecessor, Northwest Forest Resource Council
("NFRC"), a not-for-profit trade association (representing, however, the
for-profit interests of the timber and forest products industries in the
Pacific Northwest) entered the Seattle litigation as an
intervenor-defendant in defense of the status quo.
While the government strove to develop a management plan acceptable to
Judge Dwyer, the change in administrations altered the direction of its
efforts. An inter-agency task force known as the Forest Ecosystem
Management Assessment Team ("FEMAT") was convened to, inter alia, address
the problems Judge Dwyer had identified with the old forest management
plan. FEMAT held lengthy hearings to consider various alternatives, the
process culminating in a new forest management plan ("Northwest Forest
Plan" or "Plan") jointly adopted by the Forest Service ("USFS") and the
Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") on April 13, 1994.*fn1
The Northwest Forest Plan substantially curtailed logging on public lands
by private concerns.
After the Northwest Forest Plan had been adopted, NFRC and other
pro-industry co-parties promptly challenged it by filing the instant case
and a related case, Northwest Forest Council v. Thomas, Civil Action No.
94-1032 (D.D.C. filed May 11, 1994), in the U.S. District Court for the
District of Columbia. A confederacy of Oregon counties simultaneously
filed Association of O & C Counties v. Babbitt, Civil Action No.
94-1044 (D.D.C. filed May 12, 1994), which also challenged the Plan on
various theories of arbitrary and capricious agency action.
This Court acted on these cases in a series of rulings. To conserve
judicial resources and forestall the prospect of potentially inconsistent
judgments, on June 30, 1994, the Court transferred the Thomas case to the
Western District of Washington, but stayed this case and the O & C
Counties case — neither of which was eligible for transfer —
to await the outcome of the earlier-filed consolidated Seattle
The combination of the Thomas transfer and the two stays caused a
complex chain-reaction amongst the several cases. NFRC voluntarily
dismissed the Thomas case rather than have it heard in the Western
District of Washington. The government then filed a cross-claim against
NFRC (a co-defendant in the Seattle litigation) for a declaratory
judgment to the effect that neither this case nor the claims made in the
now-defunct Thomas case had merit. NFRC responded with a petition to this
Court for an injunction prohibiting the government from prosecuting its
cross-claim in the Seattle litigation. The Court declined to rule on the
petition, allowing the matter to become moot on December 21, 1994, when
Judge Dwyer issued an order awarding the government summary judgment, and
disposing of the cross-claim in the process, by declaring that the
Northwest Forest Plan met the standards established by applicable
environmental laws in all respects. See Lyons, 871 F. Supp. at 1325. On
February 15, 1995, Judge Dwyer concluded the Seattle litigation with an
entry of judgment upholding the Northwest Forest Plan.
On February 28, 1995, NFRC moved to lift the stay in this case, but
this Court extended the stay until the Ninth Circuit had affirmed Judge
Dwyer's decision in the Seattle litigation on April 10, 1996. After the
Ninth Circuit issued its opinion, the Court dismissed this case on stare
decisis grounds on May 22, 1996. Plaintiffs appealed, and on March 7,
1997, the D.C. Circuit rejected stare decisis as a ground of decision,
reversed the dismissal, and remanded the case with instructions to the
Court to determine whether plaintiffs' claims in the case are barred by
principles of issue or claim preclusion. See Northwest Forest Resource
Council v. Dombeck, 107 F.3d 897, 901 (D.C.Cir. 1997).
The doctrine of res judicata bars a party from re-litigating claims
that were, or could have been, asserted in the initial action. See Allen
v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94, 101 S.Ct. 411, 66 L.Ed.2d 308 (1980). "The
doctrine of res judicata serves vital interests in the administration of
justice" by "prevent[ing] repetitious litigation involving the same
causes of action or the same issues." I.A.M. Nat'l Pension Fund, Benefit
Plan A v. Indus. Gear Mfg. Co., 723 F.2d 944, 946, 950 (D.C.Cir. 1983).
For res judicata to apply, the following elements must be satisfied: "(1)
an identity of parties in both suits; (2) a judgment rendered by a court
of competent ...