Northern Spotted Owl v. Hodel
716 F.Supp. 479 (W.D.Wash. 1988)

  • In order to receive any protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (16 U.S.C. 1351), a species must first be officially listed as being endangered.
    • The official list is at 50 C.F.R. 17.11-17-12.
  • Environmental groups petitioned the Dept. of Interior (DOI) to list the Northern Spotted Owl as an endangered species.
    • ESA 4(a)(3) instructs DOI to determine whether any species have become endangered or threatened due to habitat destruction, overutilization, disease or predation, or other natural or manmade factors.
    • DOI had no interest in giving the owl ESA protection because that would interfere with a lot of logging that they had approved in Washington State.
  • DOI dragged its feet for a while, but eventually conducted a review and issued a finding that listing the owl was "not warranted at this time."
    • DOI came to this conclusion despite the fact that the majority of scientific evidence supported listing the owl as an endangered species.
    • DOI didn't explain the reasons for their decision other than to say that their 'expertise' supported their conclusions.
  • The environmental groups sued, claiming that DOI's decision should be overturned because it was arbitrary and capricious.
    • See Administrative Procedure Act (APA) (5 U.S.C. 706(2)(A)), which allows courts to overturn arbitrary and capricious actions.
  • The Trial Court reversed DOI's decisions and remanded the issue.
    • The Trial Court acknowledged that the courts were to give Administrative Agencies such as DOI judicial deference.
    • However, the Court noted that the DOI's ruling did not include any analysis or provided any grounds for their decision.
      • The Court was unable to rule on whether DOI's action was arbitrary and capricious until they knew the reasons for DOI's action.
      • " The Court will reject conclusory assertions of agency 'expertise' where the agency spurns unrebutted expert opinions without itself offering a credible alternative explanation."
        • Btw, DOI was unable to find a single expert willing to testify at trial that the owl was not endangered.
    • The Court remanded do DOI to provide an analysis explaining the grounds of their decision.
  • On remand, DOI reversed their position and listed the owl as a threatened species.