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Another case dropping off?

A test case on court review of the federal government’s broad plans for reducing the risks of forest fires in California mountains — a case due for review by the Supreme Court at its next Term — is likely to be taken off the Court’s list of granted cases.   The Pacific Rivers Council, an environmental group that won the case in the Ninth Circuit Court, has urged the Court to wipe out that ruling and thus end the case: U.S. Forest Service v. Pacific Rivers Council (docket 12-625).

The group said that “it no longer wishes to litigate this case further,” after losing much of what it had won because of a later ruling by a U.S. District Court.  Because the case was taken to the Supreme Court by the Forest Service, that federal agency might file a response to the group’s motion to vacate the Ninth Circuit Court, but it would not be likely to oppose that outcome.

If the case is dismissed as moot, it would be the second granted case to be removed from next Term’s docket.  On Monday, the Court sent back to the Sixth Circuit Court for a new look a previously granted case on the legal rights of prison inmates challenging their convictions (Burnside v. Walter, 12-7892).

The Justices had agreed on March 18 to hear the Forest Service’s challenge to a Ninth Circuit ruling allowing the Pacific Rivers Council to challenge the environmental impact of a sweeping plan that the Forest Service had made in 2004 on reducing the wildfire risk in eleven national forests in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.  That plan did not deal with site-specific projects, but with longer-term planning initiatives.

The Ninth Circuit, besides finding that the environmental group had “standing” to make that challenge, ruled that the Forest Service had to analyze the environmental impact of its broad programming document on species of fish.   Such an impact had to be evaluated as soon as possible, the Circuit Court decided.   The Forest Service challenged both the “standing” and merits parts of the Circuit Court ruling, and the Supreme Court accepted both for review.

In its motion to vacate, the Pacific Rivers Council noted that the Circuit Court had sent the case back to a district court, and that the district court had decided to go ahead without waiting for Supreme Court to rule on the Forest Service petition.  Then, the motion said, the district court wiped out most of the remedy that the PRC had been seeking in the case.

Telling the Court it no longer wanted to pursue the case, the PRC said that it “would likely face the need for substantial costly and time-consuming additional litigation in order to achieve what it views as meaningful relief.  PRC had therefore determined that it wishes to abandon its claims challenging [the Forest Service’s 2004 plan].  It no longer seeks to obtain the relief that it sought when it filed this case.”

Thus, it asked the Court to vacate the decision of the Circuit Court, and return the case to the district court with instructions to dismiss it as “moot” — that is, no longer a live controversy.   The Court usually grants such requests.

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Another case dropping off?, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 4, 2013, 3:48 PM),