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AMERICAN FOREST RESOURCE v. SHEA

September 19, 2001

AMERICAN FOREST RESOURCE COUNCIL FKA NORTHWEST FORESTRY ASSOCIATION FKA NORTHWEST FOREST RESOURCE COUNCIL, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
V.
PATRICK SHEA, DIRECTOR, BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jackson, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

The American Forest Resource Council ("AFRC"), a forest products trade association, and 13 co-plaintiffs have revived this long-delayed action against the Director of the Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") and the Secretary of Interior to vitiate the Northwest Forest Plan, a forest management regime enforced by the Department of Interior since April of 1994. The effect of the Plan at issue here is to restrict private timber harvesting and road construction activities on BLM forest lands in the Pacific Northwest to levels vastly below those permitted until approximately 1992.

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.

I.

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 litigation.

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 litigation.

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).

II.

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 ...


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