By Michelle Pardo
Question: What do you get when you cross an Austin Blind salamander, a Barton Springs salamander, a golden-cheeked warbler, and a Texas highway project?
Answer: An Endangered Species lawsuit.
On February 28, 2019, environmental advocacy group Save Our Springs (SOS) and frequent litigator Center for Biological Diversity (Center) sent a 60-Day Notice of Intent to Sue letter to the Texas Department of Transportation (TexDOT), the US Department of Interior and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which is a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The ESA is a federal law that prohibits the “taking” of threatened and endangered species, 16 USC § 1538; “take” has means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, would, kill, trap, capture or collect (or attempt such conduct).
The environmental groups claim that the construction of the MoPac Intersections Project, a federally-funded highway project for which the TexDOT is the lead agency, risks an illegal “take” of three endangered species. According to the city of Austin’s official government website, the Austin Blind Salamander gets its name because it does not have “image-forming eyes”, a result of living in its dark, underground habitat in the waters of Barton Springs. The aptly-named Barton Springs salamander shares this same habitat. The other critter named in the potential lawsuit – the golden-cheeked warbler – was one of the eight endangered species protected by the first major urban habitat plan in the country. The groups claim that tree removal due to construction impacts the warbler’s nesting and foraging behaviors. Continue reading The Case of the Austin Blind Salamander
by John M. Simpson.
As recently reported by the BBC, and by other media outlets, PETA went off the rails on Friday by disparaging the name of Steve Irwin on the occasion of what would have been his 57th birthday. Irwin was a wildlife conservationist, enthusiast and television performer well known for his interesting and often breath-taking interactions with wildlife, crocodiles in particular. Irwin died in 2006 after a fatal interaction with a stingray during a wildlife program shoot. Continue reading PETA Jumps the Shark with Steve Irwin Tweets
by Michelle C. Pardo
You may have heard the well-known proverb, “a man who is his own lawyer has a fool for his client.” It stands for the concept that while individuals in our country are free to represent him or herself in a criminal or civil trial – acting pro se – many caution that this is not the wisest course.
The issue is even more precarious when an attorney attempts to participate as a fact witness in a case he or she has brought. Rule 3.7 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct (a rule substantially echoed in many jurisdictions) states that “[a] lawyer shall not act as advocate at a trial in which the lawyer is likely to be a necessary witness.” This rule applies absent certain narrow circumstances, such as the testimony relates to an uncontested issue or the nature and value of legal services. The reason for the rule is straightforward: combining roles of advocate and witness can prejudice the court and the opposing party and create a conflict of interest between lawyer and client.
Friends of Animals, an animal rights organization headquartered in Connecticut, recently was called out by a federal judge in Oregon when its in-house counsel, Michael Harris, tried to serve as a declarant in support of Friends of Animals’ summary judgment motion. The declaration was intended to establish the requisite “injury in fact” for Friends of Animals’ members to establish a critical element of “standing” – the threshold inquiry that permits a litigant to have an injury remedied by the federal courts. Continue reading The Pitfalls of Serving as Activist Attorney and Client: Should We Give A Hoot?
By John M. Simpson.
On November 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in a closely watched Endangered Species Act (ESA) case involving the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s (FWS’s) designation of “critical habitat” for an endangered species known as the “dusky gopher frog” (Rana sevosa). Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serv., 586 U.S. ___, No. 17-71 (Nov. 27, 2018). The Court reversed the Fifth Circuit’s decision which had upheld the FWS designation. Continue reading U.S. Supreme Court Decides Dusky Gopher Frog Case
by John M. Simpson.
A petition for rehearing filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was recently denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in an Endangered Species Act (ESA) case involving a killer whale (Orcinus orca) maintained by the Miami Seaquarium. The denial left standing a significant ruling by the court under the ESA. PETA v. Miami Seaquarium, 879 F.3d 1142 (11th Cir. 2018). Continue reading PETA Strikes Out Again in Eleventh Circuit
by Michelle C. Pardo
An Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuit against the City of New Bedford will continue after a federal district judge in Massachusetts denied the defendant’s efforts to dismiss plaintiff Joyce Rowley’s lawsuit. The City of New Bedford runs the Buttonwood Park Zoo, which has been home to two Asian elephants, Ruth and Emily, for decades. Plaintiff Rowley runs an organization called Friends of Ruth & Emily Inc., which is dedicated to retiring Asian elephants Ruth and Emily to “a warm climate sanctuary to live out their days in peace, dignity, and freedom”. In the last 25 months, it’s “Go Fund Me” page has raised just $10,025 of the requested $25,000 “to get justice” for the elephants. Continue reading Asian Elephant Case Against Buttonwood Park Zoo Continues
by John M. Simpson.
In a move that could have significant effect with respect to the federal wildlife laws and regulations administered by the Department of the Interior, the Secretary of the Interior recently reaffirmed “the authority of the States to exercise their broad trustee and police powers as stewards of the Nation’s fish and wildlife species on public lands and waters under the jurisdiction of the Department.” This action, stated in a September 10, 2018 memorandum to “Heads of Bureaus and Offices,” cited to the Department’s policy on state-federal relationships, 43 C.F.R., Part 24, and stressed that “State authority regarding fish and resident wildlife remains the comprehensive backdrop applicable in the absence of specific, overriding Federal law. This 35-year-old rule is more relevant today than ever.” Continue reading Interior Secretary Underscores State Role in Fish and Wildlife Regulation
by John M. Simpson.
A recent action by the Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) illustrates how seriously the agency takes incidents of “harassing” protected species. According to a NOAA report, the agency fined a tourist $1,500 for “harassing” a monk seal and sea turtle on the Hawaiian island of Kau’i. Continue reading Petting a Protected Species Can Cost You
By John M. Simpson
A federal district court in New Hampshire recently dismissed a citizen suit making novel claims under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because the plaintiff could not prove that he had provided the required 60-day notice to the defendants prior to suit. Strahan v. Nielsen, 2018 WL 3966318 (D.N.H. Aug. 17, 2018). Continue reading Endangered Species Act Case Founders on Lack of 60-Day Notice
by John M. Simpson
Recent news reports have detailed an experience related by Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York in which an unspecified member of his family reportedly retrieved a bald eagle feather during a canoe trip on Lake Saranac. The reports have generated discussion as to the legal issues surrounding the possession of a bald eagle feather. Continue reading Legal Eagles?