SUPREME COURT REJECTS ANTI-ACCESS GROUP'S SUIT AGAINST BLM
Unanimous decision upholds ruling in Utah District Court made by BRC
June 15, 2004 Pocatello Idaho
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court upheld a Utah District Court
ruling dismissing claims brought in 1999 by the Southern Utah Wilderness
Alliance (SUWA) and other anti-access groups against the Bureau of Land
Management (BLM). The suit targeted BLM's alleged inaction in managing off
highway vehicle ("OHV") access. SUWA's demands to immediately close nine
popular OHV recreation areas were rejected by the Utah District Court, but
that decision was reversed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Both the
BLM and the OHV groups petitioned for review with the Supreme Court. The
Court granted review and heard argument in March of this year.
"Needless to say, we're delighted", said Bill Dart, Executive Director of the
BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC). BRC led a coalition of OHV enthusiast groups who
successfully petitioned for defendant-intervenor status to aid BLM's defense
of OHV management.
"We are pleased the Justices rejected the 'management through litigation'
model that is popular with anti-access groups," Dart added.
The case before the Supreme Court turned on a fairly complex jurisdictional
point. The Administrative Procedure Act allows lawsuits to compel
nondiscretionary actions that have been unlawfully withheld or unreasonably
delayed. The OHV groups convinced the District Court that SUWA?s claims went
far beyond this standard and were really attempting to dictate the everyday
activity of the BLM. Thus, the case focused on the degree to which private
parties dissatisfied with government action can sue the agency under an
alternate "failure to act" theory.
Justice Antonin Scalia said SUWA's argument would insert the court into the
day-to-day operations of the agency and "would divert BLM's energies from
other projects throughout the country that are in fact more pressing. While
such a decree might please the environmental plaintiffs in the present case,
it would ultimately operate to the detriment of sound environmental
"We have raised these arguments with limited success since the mid 1990's,
and it is reassuring to see the Court has ultimately agreed with our
analysis," noted Paul Turcke, the Boise, Idaho lawyer acting as lead counsel
for the OHV groups. "This case was never about limiting legitimate review of
formal agency decisions, but will clarify that disgruntled and well-funded
special interest groups cannot interfere with the ongoing administrative
process simply by claiming the agency is failing to act," Turcke concluded.
According to BlueRibbon Coalition sources, there are numerous other cases at
various levels of the federal court system that will be affected by this
The BlueRibbon Coalition is a national recreation group that champions
responsible use of public and private lands, and encourages individual
environmental stewardship. It represents over 10,000 individual members and
1,100 organization and business members, for a combined total of over 600,000
recreationists nationwide. 1-800-258-3742. www.sharetrails.org