United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
P. MEHTA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
nine U.S.-based seafood importers, processors, and
harvesters, instituted this action to challenge and
invalidate the Seafood Traceability Rule, a federal
regulation aimed at remedying “illegal, unreported, and
unregulated” fishing and seafood fraud. See
Seafood Import Monitoring Program, 81 Fed. Reg. 88, 975 (Dec.
9, 2016). As relevant here, before the start of summary
judgment briefing, three environmental groups-Oceana, Inc.,
the Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., and the Center
for Biological Diversity (collectively, the
“Conservation Groups” or
“Groups”)-sought to intervene in the case to
defend the Rule, see Mot. to Intervene, ECF No. 24,
but the court denied their request on April 17, 2017,
see Mem. Op. & Order, ECF No. 44 [hereinafter
April 17 Order].
Conservation Groups noticed their appeal from the April 17
Order, see ECF No. 70, and, while that appeal was
pending, the court granted summary judgment in favor of
Defendants and upheld the Rule, see Order, ECF No.
88. Plaintiffs opted not to appeal that final judgment,
rendering the Conservation Groups' appeal of the April 17
Order moot. Accordingly, upon the Groups' motion, the
D.C. Circuit dismissed the Groups' appeal and remanded
the case to this court with instructions to “consider
the [Groups'] request for vacatur as a motion for relief
from [the April 17 Order] pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.
60(b).” See Mandate, ECF No. 90, Order, ECF
No. 90-1 (quoting U.S. Bancorp Mortg. Co. v. Bonner Mall
P'ship, 513 U.S. 18, 29 (1994)).
before the court is the Conservation Groups' Motion to
Vacate the April 17 Order. See Mot. to Vacate Order
on Mot. to Intervene, ECF No. 92 [hereinafter Groups'
Mot.]. Plaintiffs oppose the motion. Pls.' Mem. in
Opp'n to Mot. to Vacate Order on Mot. to Intervene, ECF
No. 93 [hereinafter Pls.' Opp'n]. The matter is now
ripe for consideration.
Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) “provides courts with
authority adequate to enable them to vacate judgments
whenever such action is appropriate to accomplish
justice.” Liljeberg v. Health Servs. Acquisition
Corp., 486 U.S. 847, 863-64 (1988) (internal quotation
marks omitted). Pursuant to that Rule, a court may, in its
discretion, grant relief from a judgment for “any . . .
reason that justifies relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(6).
“Mootness provides such a reason.” Rubin v.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, 563 F.Supp.2d 38, 40
(D.D.C. 2008). When a civil case becomes moot while awaiting
appellate review, “the established practice in the
federal system is to reverse or vacate the judgment
below.” Sands v. NLRB, 825 F.3d 778, 785 (D.C.
Cir. 2016) (cleaned up). Vacatur “clears the path for
future relitigation of the issues between the parties and
eliminates a judgment, review of which was prevented through
happenstance.” United States v. Munsingwear,
Inc., 340 U.S. 36, 40 (1950).
vacatur is equitable in nature, [courts] look to notions of
fairness when deciding whether to use the remedy.”
Sands, 825 F.3d at 785; see also Bancorp,
513 U.S. at 25 (“A party who seeks review of the merits
of an adverse ruling, but is frustrated by the vagaries of
circumstance, ought not in fairness be forced to acquiesce in
the judgment.”). As such, “[c]ourts usually
vacate a judgment ‘when mootness results from
unilateral action of the party who prevailed below' or
from circumstances beyond the control of the parties.”
Sands, 825 F.3d at 785 (quoting Alvarez v.
Smith, 558 U.S. 87, 98 (2009) (Stevens, J., concurring
in part and dissenting in part)). “By contrast, . . .
when a case becomes moot because the parties reached a
settlement-and the petitioner therefore ‘voluntarily
forfeited' a remedy in court-vacatur is typically
inappropriate.” Id. (citing Bancorp,
513 U.S. at 22-25); see also Rio Grande Silvery Minnow v.
Bureau of Reclamation, 601 F.3d 1096, 1129 n.20 (10th
Cir. 2010) (explaining that Bancorp's rationale,
which addresses appellate court vacatur, likewise
“governs the district court's decision whether to
vacate its own judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.
Conservation Groups contend that because circumstances beyond
their control mooted their appeal of the court's
intervention decision, this court should employ the
“normal rule” and vacate the April 17 Order.
Groups' Mot., Mem. of P. & A., ECF No. 92-1, at 3
(quoting Camreta v. Greene, 563 U.S. 692, 713
(2011)). In response, Plaintiffs say that vacatur is
inappropriate for three reasons: (1) the Conservation Groups
lack Article III standing to pursue any relief in this
matter; (2) the Conservation Groups failed to timely appeal
the court's April 17 Order; and (3) the established
practice of vacatur is unwarranted in a case such as this
one, where the unsuccessful intervenors' side prevailed
on the merits. Pls.' Opp'n at 2. The court considers
Plaintiffs' challenges to vacatur in turn.
court quickly dispenses with Plaintiffs' standing
argument. “[S]tanding is assessed as of the time a suit
commences.” Chamber of Commerce of U.S. v.
EPA, 642 F.3d 192, 199 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting Del
Monte Fresh Produce Co. v. United States, 570 F.3d 316,
324 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (alteration in original)). Although the
court denied intervention based in part on lack of standing,
see April 17 Order at 1-5, there can be no dispute
that the Conservation Groups had Article III standing to
appeal from that adverse ruling, see 15A Charles
Alan Wright, et al., Federal Practice and Procedure
§ 3902 (2d ed.) (“Appeal is taken by one or more
persons who were proper parties in the district court and who
are obviously aggrieved by the judgment. Such appellants have
standing to appeal.”); see also Alt. Research &
Dev. Found. v. Veneman, 262 F.3d 406, 409 (D.C. Cir.
2001) (“[D]enial of intervention as of right is an
appealable, final order regardless of the merits of the claim
for intervention as of right.”). As the Circuit
dismissed the Groups' appeal on mootness grounds but
remanded to consider the question of vacatur, the
Conservation Groups' standing to seek such relief cannot
be in doubt.
nevertheless insist that the Conservation Groups lack
standing because “there is no longer a live district
court case in which to intervene.” Pls.' Opp'n
at 6. But that argument fails because it conflates the
concepts of standing and mootness. To put the difference
succinctly, “[t]he requisite personal interest that
must exist at the commencement of the litigation (standing)
must continue throughout its existence (mootness).”
U.S. Parole Comm'n v. Geraghty, 445 U.S. 388,
397 (1980) (internal quotation marks omitted). Here, the
Groups' appeal from the order denying intervention is
moot, but the Groups' personal stake in the litigation
remains unaltered, particularly since the sole remaining
issue of vacatur directly affects their interests. The
finality of the court's decision on the merits therefore
does not strip the Conservation Groups of standing to pursue
vacatur of the court's April 17 Order.
Plaintiffs argue that the Groups lack standing because they
cannot demonstrate the requisite injury in fact insofar as
they have “failed to discuss how the district
court's decision, which was case- and fact-specific,
would have any adverse precedential effect.” Pls.'
Opp'n at 7. Plaintiffs, however, cite no authority for
the proposition that, to establish standing, a party or
putative intervenor seeking vacatur must show that allowing
the adverse decision to remain will have an “adverse
precedential effect.” See generally Pls.'
Opp'n. That is not surprising. Accepting Plaintiffs'
position would directly contradict the Circuit's
instruction that “typically” the district
court's decision should be vacated when that decision is
no longer amenable to review due to mootness or a lack of
standing. See Maydak v. United States, 630 F.3d 166,
177 (D.C. Cir. 2010). In any ...