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 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
On August 6, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit granted a petition setting aside an Incidental Take Statement (ITS) of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) which had been issued under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in connection with the approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 600-mile natural gas pipeline proposed to run through parts of West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. Sierra Club, et al., v. U.S. Dep’t of the Interior, Nos. 18-1082 & 18-1083 (4th Cir. Aug. 6, 2018). Continue reading Fourth Circuit Vacates Incidental Take Statement for Gas Pipeline
On July 30, 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a notice in the Federal Register withdrawing the agency’s Endangered Species Act Compensatory Mitigation Policy (CMP) issued in December 2016. The policy withdrawal is effective immediately. Continue reading Fish and Wildlife Service Withdraws ESA Compensatory Mitigation Policy
by John M. Simpson
The U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico recently entered summary judgment against the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other plaintiffs in a case brought under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) alleging that regulations issued by the New Mexico State Game Commission authorizing the recreational trapping of cougars (Cougar Rule) will cause a “take” of Mexican gray wolves in violation of the ESA. Humane Soc’y of the U.S. v. Kienzle, 2018 WL 3429924 (D.N. M. July 16, 2018). Continue reading Court Grants Summary Judgment Against HSUS in Endangered Species Act Case
On July 24, 2018, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) published a final rule in the Federal Register designating critical habitat for the Main Hawaiian Islands insular false killer whale distinct population segment. The rule becomes effective on August 23, 2018. Continue reading Fisheries Service Designates Critical Habitat for False Killer Whale Population
by John M. Simpson
On July 19, 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced three proposed rulemakings that would revise the regulations pursuant to which the Services have implemented the Endangered Species Act (ESA). These initiatives were the result of public comments solicited by the Services in response to Executive Order 13777, 82 Fed. Reg. 31576 (July 7, 2017), which sought comments on how federal agencies could improve the effectiveness and efficiency of federal regulations and the regulatory process. Continue reading Wildlife Agencies Announce Proposed Endangered Species Act Regulations