(CN) – A dozen environmental groups cannot collect attorneys’ fees for their challenge of a national forest management rule, because they dropped suit after the U.S. Department of Agriculture withdrew the contested rule, the 9th Circuit ruled.
The Citizens for Better Forestry and 11 other environmental groups sued the agency in 2001, challenging a new rule governing the Forest Service’s administration and management of National Forest land.
After reviewing the rule, the Forest Service agreed to replace it in 2001. The government then moved for summary judgment based on lack of standing, and the plaintiffs sought an injunction.
The district court, siding with the agency, dismissed the claims, a decision the 9th Circuit reversed and remanded.
Before the lower court could reconsider the case, the government withdrew the contested rule. The plaintiffs agreed to dismiss their case and moved for attorneys’ fees, arguing that their lawsuit prompted the rule change.
“But the Supreme Court has made it clear that being a catalyst for such change is not enough to support a claim for attorneys’ fees,” Judge Clifton wrote for the 2-1 majority.
In dissent, Judge Hug argued that the 9th Circuit’s first ruling on the case amounted to declaratory relief. The court only remanded for consideration of the additional injunction request, Hug said.
“Our ruling that the USDA had violated (the National Environmental Policy Act) was equivalent to a declaratory judgment and did provide the relief Citizens had sought,” Hug concluded.