CA Oyster Farm Fails to Impress Supreme Court
WASHINGTON (CN) - The Supreme Court refused Monday to intervene in the government's plans to shut down a California oyster farm that produces nearly half of the state's supply.
Farmers have been harvesting oysters along the shores of Drakes Estero, a series of estuarial bays in Marin County, Calif., for more than 80 years. A decade after Congress created the Point Reyes National Seashore in 1962, Drakes Bay's predecessor, the Johnson Oyster Co., sold the 5 acre farm to the United States.
In doing so, Johnson Oyster purposely retained a 40-year reservation of use and occupancy, which stipulated that the National Park Service could extend the farm's special-use permit once the reservation expired.
On the eve of the reservation's expiration, then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar denied Drakes Bay owner Kevin Lunny the 10-year special-use permit that would let him continue cultivating approximately 1,060 acres of underwater oyster beds.
Lunny and Drakes Bay sued , seeking a restraining order to keep them in business. They claimed Salazar's decision relied on flawed science, and violated the National Environmental Policy Act and various regulations.
They also argued that closing Drakes Bay would put 31 people out of work and jeopardize 40 percent of the California oyster supply.
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers refused to block the government's decision and a divided three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit affirmed this past September, vacating a temporary injunction.
"We have jurisdiction to consider whether the Secretary violated 'constitutional, statutory, regulatory or other legal mandates or restrictions,' and we agree with the district court that Drakes Bay is not likely to succeed in proving any such violations here," Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote for 2-1 majority.
"Drakes Bay's disagreement with the value judgments made by the Secretary is not a legitimate basis on which to set aside the decision," McKeown explained. "Once we determine, as we have, that the secretary did not violate any statutory mandate, it is not our province to intercede in his discretionary decision."
Public interest in eating local oysters does not outweigh environmental factors, the court added.
Judge Paul Watford wrote in dissent that the Department of the Interior "misinterpreted" Congress' intent when it designated Drakes Estero - the site of the oyster farm - as a "potential wilderness addition" in the Point Reyes Wilderness Act.
Congress overrode this misinterpretation when it amended the law in 2009, Watford said.
"In the 2012 decision challenged here, the secretary nonetheless denied Drakes Bay's permit request based primarily on the very same misinterpretation of the Point Reyes Wilderness Act that Congress thought it had overridden," he wrote. "As a result, I think Drakes Bay is likely to prevail on its claim that the Secretary's decision is arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise not in accordance with law."
The Supreme Court denied the farm's petition for a writ of certiorari without comment, as is its custom, Monday.