Western Watersheds v. U.S. Dep't of the Interior

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 04-25-2012
  • Case #: 10-35836
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Schroeder for the Court; Circuit Judge Gould and Chief District Judge Beistline
  • Full Text Opinion

Under 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A) and Hudson , a prevailing party is not entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees incurred in administrative proceedings that concluded before the commencement of the district court action.

The Government appealed an award of attorneys’ fees to the Western Watershed Project (“WWP”), a conservation group in a lengthy dispute over federal grazing permits in Idaho. In 1997, WWP successfully sought an injunction in its suit challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s (“BLM”) issuance of grazing permits. To comply with the injunction, the BLM produced its 2003 Final Decision. WWP filed an administrative appeal challenging the Final Decision, and a fifteen-day evidentiary hearing followed. The Interior Board of Land Appeals (“IBLA”) reversed the administrative law judge’s decision in favor of WWP. The district court reversed the IBLA’s decision, and WWP moved for an award of attorneys’ fees and expenses incurred during the fifteen-day evidentiary hearing under 5 U.S.C. § 504, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d), and the Equal Access to Justice Act. The district court awarded $183,160 to WWP as the prevailing party under § 2412(d)(1)(A) for the administrative proceedings, but denied fees under § 504. Section 2412(d)(1)(A) provides that a “civil action” is not an administrative court proceeding for the purposes of the statute. A narrow exception under Sullivan v. Hudson allows a fee award if the administrative proceeding is “intimately tied to the resolution of the judicial case” and “necessary to the attainment of the results Congress sought to promote by providing for fees.” Further, such fees may be awarded “only when the proceedings have been ordered in a district court action that remains pending until the conclusion of the administrative proceeding.” Because WWP filed the district court action after the administrative proceeding had concluded, the district court erred in awarding attorneys’ fees for the administrative proceeding under § 2412(d)(1)(A) and Hudson. VACATED and REMANDED.

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