Firebaugh Canal Water Dist. v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 04-05-2013
  • Case #: 11-17715
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: District Judge Block for the Court; Circuit Judges Trott and Rawlinson
  • Full Text Opinion

The United States Department of the Interior’s broad discretion precludes claims for inadequate drainage under the San Luis Act, and a failure to provide adequate drainage does not constitute “agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed” under the Administrative Procedure Act.

The United States Department of the Interior (“Interior”) oversees the Central Valley Project, an effort that, under the San Luis Act, transfers water from the northern region of California’s Central Valley to the southern region. The Firebaugh Canal Water District and the Central California Irrigation District (together, “Firebaugh”) alleged that Interior’s failure to adequately drain constituted a trespass and nuisance. For this, Firebaugh sought damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). The district court held that this claim was barred by both the “private analog” requirement and the “discretionary function” exception in the Act. Firebaugh also alleged that Interior’s failure to provide drainage was “final agency action” that was arbitrary and capricious, or, in the alternative, constituted “agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed.” The district court held that under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), the Interior’s “only discrete duty required by law” was to provide drainage within the San Luis Unit (“the Unit,”), and that the Interior’s actions did not “constitute unreasonable delay.” Regarding the FTCA claim, the Ninth Circuit did not find a California tort case on point to activate the “private analog” requirement and instead turned to the “discretionary function” exception. The panel found that providing irrigation water without also providing adequate drainage is a discretionary function left to the Interior, which placed its actions outside the scope of both the APA and the FTCA. The panel established that Firebaugh must show that the Interior had “failed to take a discrete action that [Interior] was legally required to take.” However, the panel determined that Section 5 of the San Luis Act did not require drainage outside the Unit. Concerning drainage within the Unit, the panel agreed with the district court that Interior was “neither withholding nor unreasonably delaying drainage.” AFFIRMED.

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