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Front Range Equine Rescue v. Bureau of Land Management

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 28, 2017



          William J. Martinez, United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Front Range Equine Rescue seeks judicial review of a decision of the Interior Board of Land Appeals (“IBLA”), a body within the U.S. Department of the Interior (“Interior Department”) that hears administrative appeals from certain decisions made by the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) (together, “Respondents”).

         Underlying this dispute, although not directly before the Court, is a BLM decision to eliminate (by relocation) a certain herd of wild horses in western Colorado, allegedly in violation of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (“Wild Horse Act”), 16 U.S.C. §§ 1331 et seq., and the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq. Petitioner appealed this decision to the IBLA, but the IBLA dismissed the appeal for lack of standing under Interior Department regulations specifically governing standing to appeal to the IBLA. That finding-a lack of regulatory standing- is what Petitioner challenges in this action.

         For the reasons explained below, the Court requires further briefing. Stated plainly, it is not clear why Petitioner needs to bring this challenge. If the IBLA has rejected Petitioner's standing to pursue the Interior Department's internal administrative appeals process, the Court cannot see why this does not establish the futility of administrative exhaustion, thus giving Petitioner the opportunity to file a challenge in district court to BLM's decision to eliminate the wild horse herd. Thus, the Court requires briefing on why it should not grant Petitioner leave to amend its complaint to state a direct challenge to BLM's decision, thus mooting the question of whether the IBLA properly denied regulatory standing.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Through the Wild Horse Act, Congress declared that wild horses are “an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.” 16 U.S.C. § 1331. “All wild free-roaming horses” are therefore “under the jurisdiction of the Secretary [of the Interior] for the purpose of management and protection.” Id. § 1333(a).

         One of the Interior Department's duties under the Wild Horse Act is to prevent overpopulation of wild horses. Id. § 1333(b)(1). If, based on various information sources, the Interior Department finds that overpopulation exists, it is required to “remove excess animals from the range so as to achieve appropriate management levels.” Id. § 1333(b)(2).

         Rio Blanco County, Colorado, contains a section of wild horse habitat that BLM has named the “West Douglas Herd Area.” (Administrative Record (ECF No. 13) (“R.”) at 7974.) In July 2015, BLM determined that all of the approximately 350 horses in and near the West Douglas Herd Area were “excess horses.” (R. at 7975.) Later that same month, the Field Manager for the BLM field office in charge of the West Douglas Herd Area issued a Decision Record approving a plan to capture and relocate all of those horses. (R. at 7964-70.)

         In August 2015, Petitioner appealed that Decision Record to the IBLA. (R. at 8728.) The Interior Department filed a motion with the IBLA to dismiss that appeal for lack of standing under the following Interior Department regulation:

(a) Any party to a case who is adversely affected by a decision of the [BLM] . . . has the right to appeal to the [IBLA] . . .
* * *
(d) A party to a case is adversely affected, as set forth in paragraph (a) of this section, when that party has a legally cognizable interest, and the decision on appeal has caused or is substantially likely to cause injury to that interest.

43 C.F.R. § 4.410. Specifically, the Interior Department argued that Petitioner had failed to show that it was adversely affected by the Decision Record. (R. at 9273.)

         In response, Petitioner argued that it had “organizational standing” under Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363 (1982). (R. at 9345-46.) In brief, Havens held that a fair housing organization had standing in its own right to challenge alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act (i.e., without regard to whether it had associational standing to bring such a challenge) because those alleged violations had ‚Äúperceptibly impaired [the organization's] ability to provide counseling and referral services for low-and moderate-income homeseekers . . . . Such concrete and demonstrable injury to the organization's activities-with the consequent ...

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