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In Defense of Animals v. Salazar

May 24, 2010

IN DEFENSE OF ANIMALS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
KEN SALAZAR, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

OPINION

This matter is before the Court on four separate cross-motions for summary judgment filed, respectively, by (1) plaintiffs In Defense of Animals, Craig C. Downer, and Terri Farley; (2) defendants Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, and various employees of the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management ("BLM"); (3) defendant-intervenor Safari Club International; and (4) defendant-intervenor the Department of Wildlife of the state of Nevada. The Court heard oral argument on the motions on May 6, 2010.

After carefully considering the arguments presented by counsel both at oral argument and in the parties' memoranda, the relevant legal authorities, the administrative record, and the record in this case as a whole, the Court concludes that two of the claims brought by the plaintiffs are moot, and that the plaintiffs lack standing to pursue their other claims.*fn1 The Court therefore will deny all four pending motions for summary judgment and dismiss the plaintiffs' second amended complaint.

I. BACKGROUND

As more fully described in the Court's Opinion denying the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, this action concerns the decision of the Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") to remove between two- and three-thousand wild horses from the Calico Mountains Complex ("the Complex"), a 550,000-acre expanse of land located in Nevada's Humboldt and Washoe counties. See In Defense of Animals v. Salazar, 675 F. Supp. 2d 89, 91-92 (D.D.C. 2009). Under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1331 et seq. ("Wild Horse Act"), BLM is tasked with "protect[ing] and manag[ing] wild free-roaming horses and burros as components of the public lands... in a manner that is designed to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands." 16 U.S.C. § 1333(a). As part of that obligation, BLM is required by statute to "determine appropriate management levels of wild free-roaming horses and burros... and determine whether appropriate management levels should be achieved by the removal or destruction of excess animals, or other options (such as sterilization, or natural controls on population levels)." Id. § 1333(b)(1). "Where [BLM] determines... that an overpopulation [of wild horses or burros] exists on a given area of the public lands and that action is necessary to remove excess animals, [it] shall immediately remove excess animals from the range so as to achieve appropriate management levels." Id. § 1333(b)(2).

In 2009, estimating that the number of horses in the Calico Mountains Complex exceeded the designated appropriate management level by over 2,000 horses, BLM developed a plan to round up or "gather" "excess" horses from the Complex and place them in temporary holding corrals. A.R. at 7016. Once placed in short-term holding facilities or temporary corrals located within or just outside the Complex, individual horses would be "inspected by facility staff and on-site contract [v]eterinarians to observe health and ensure the animals ha[d] been cared for humanely." Id. at 7017. Animals in poor physical condition might be euthanized. Id. Remaining excess horses "would be transported to BLM facilities for adoption, sale, or long-term holding." Id. Such long-term holding facilities are located in Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. In Defense of Animals v. Salazar, 675 F. Supp. 2d at 92. Pursuant to BLM's gather plan, if BLM gathered too many horses - more than the number that needed to be removed in order to reach an appropriate management level - non-excess horses would be released back to the range. A.R. at 7018.

The plaintiffs filed this lawsuit in December of 2009, seeking a preliminary injunction that would prevent the occurrence of the proposed roundup. Plaintiffs asserted that the method of gathering, sorting, and removing excess horses proposed by BLM violated the Wild Horse Act and should be enjoined under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 701 et seq. See 1st Am. Compl. ¶¶ 45-48, 55-58. They also contended that placing healthy, unadopted horses in long-term holding facilities for indefinite periods of time was not permitted under the terms of the Wild Horse Act. Id. ¶¶ 49-54.

In an Opinion issued on December 23, 2009, the Court denied the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, allowing the proposed roundup of excess horses to move forward. It concluded that the plaintiffs were not likely to succeed on their claims that the method of gathering the horses proposed by BLM was contrary to the Wild Horse Act and so concluded that the gather should not be prevented. In Defense of Animals v. Salazar, 675 F. Supp. 2d at 95-98. At the same time, the Court suggested that the plaintiffs might prevail on their claim that long-term holding of excess horses was not authorized by the Wild Horse Act, which appears to provide only two means of dealing with unadopted, healthy excess horses: euthanization and sale, possibly for slaughter. Id. at 99-102. The Court nevertheless denied the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction related to that claim because it concluded that the plaintiffs had failed to establish that they would suffer an imminent and tangible irreparable injury in the absence of an injunction. Id. at 102-03.

After the Court denied the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, the Court allowed Safari Club International and Nevada's Department of Wildlife to intervene as defendants. Also after the Court's initial ruling, the plaintiffs amended their complaint to add a claim under the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4231 et seq. ("NEPA"). See 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 74-77. They contended that the Environmental Assessment prepared by BLM in anticipation of the gather of horses from the Complex had unlawfully failed to consider the impact of long-term holding on the removed horses themselves. Id. ¶ 75.

BLM conducted the proposed gather of horses from the Complex between December 28, 2009 and February 5, 2010. PMSJ at 1; DMSJ at 10. Approximately 2,000 wild horses were herded together and placed in a temporary holding facility in Fallon, Nevada, where they will remain at least until May 26, 2010, after which they may be relocated to long-term holding facilities in the Midwest. PMSJ at 1, 9 n.7.

II. DISCUSSION

The current iterations of the plaintiffs' claims fall into two categories: those claims that challenge the legality of the means by which the gather of horses from the Complex was conducted, see 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 60-63, 70-73, and those asserting that the relocation of excess horses to long-term holding facilities in Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota violates the Wild Horse Act and/or was insufficiently considered by the agency in violation of NEPA. See id. ¶¶ 64-69, 74-77. Because the gather in question has already occurred, the first category of claims is now moot and thus is not justiciable. Because the plaintiffs have failed to establish a causal link between their asserted injury and BLM's use of long-term holding facilities, they lack standing to bring the second set of claims.

A. Claims Challenging the Gather

"It is a basic constitutional requirement that a dispute before a federal court be 'an actual controversy... extant at all stages of review, [and] not merely at the time the complaint is filed.'" Newdow v. Roberts, No. 09-5126, slip. op. at 9 (D.C. Cir. May 7, 2010) (quoting Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 459 n.10 (1974)) (alterations in original). "'[W]hen the issues presented [in a case] are no longer 'live' or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome,'" the case is moot and hence non-justiciable. Ramirez v. U.S Customs & Border Protection, Civil Action. No. 07-65, 2010 WL 1783265, at *8 (D.D.C. May 5, 2010) (quoting U.S. Parole Comm'n v. Geraghty, 445 U.S. 388, 396 (1980)). In the same vein, "[i]f events ...


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