Save The Peaks Coalition v. USFS

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: 02-09-2012
  • Case #: 10-17896
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge M. Smith for the Court; Circuit Judges J. Wallace and Noonan
  • Full Text Opinion

A gross abuse of the judicial process occurs and laches apply when "new" plaintiffs appear four years later after litigation had already been commenced by other plaintiffs, however laches does not apply when defendants cannot demonstrate that they have suffered prejudice.

Four groups of plaintiffs filed suit against Arizona to stop the United States Forest Service ("USFS") from permitting The Arizona Snowbowl Resort Limited Partnership to produce artificial snow using reclaimed water at the Arizona Snowbowl ("Snowbowl") ski area. The district court granted summary judgment to the USFS on all of the plaintiffs’ claims, which included claims under the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4431, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"). On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. A plaintiff in the case, The Navajo Nation, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. While that litigation was pending, a new plaintiff, Save the Peaks, commenced litigation alleging that the USFS violated NEPA because the Final Environmental Impact Statement (“FEIS”) did not contain a reasonable discussion of the probable environmental consequences. The district court granted summary judgment finding "laches barred the Save the Peaks plaintiffs' claims and, alternatively, that even if laches did not apply, the USFS had not violated NEPA or the APA." Save the Peaks appealed. The Ninth Circuit held that laches applied and Save the Peaks lacked "diligence in pursuing their claims" because they were aware of and supported the Navajo Nation litigation, yet didn't join the litigation until four years later. The Ninth Circuit reasoned that the second lawsuit imposed a "significant burden on the defendant of having to defend against claims substantially similar to those presented in the Navajo Nation litigation" and that the lawsuit was a "serious abuse of the judicial process." However, the Court also held that since “neither the USFS nor ASRLP can show prejudice, and that the district court abused its discretion in finding that the Save the Peaks Plaintiffs’ claims are barred by laches.” Secondly, in regard to the merits, the Court held that the USFS adequately considered the "possibility of human ingestion of snow in the FEIS, ensured the scientific integrity of its NEPA analysis, and provided 'high quality environmental information to the public about the safety of exposure to reclaimed water" in accordance with NEPA and the APA. The Ninth Circuit reasoned that the USFS took a "hard look" at the environmental effects related to the use of reclaimed water at Snowbowl. AFFIRMED.

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