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Aina Nui Corp. v. Jewell

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

September 30, 2014

AINA NUI CORPORATION, Plaintiff,
v.
SALLY JEWELL, in her official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior; UNITED STATES FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE; DANIEL ASHE, in his official capacity as Director of the U.S. FWS, Defendants

Page 1111

For Aina Nui Corporation, Plaintiff: James F. Rusk, Robert J. Uram, LEAD ATTORNEYS, PRO HAC VICE, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, San Francisco, CA; Jennifer A. Benck, LEAD ATTORNEY, Carlsmith Ball LLP Honolulu.

For Sally Jewell, in her official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, United States Fish And Wildlife Service, Daniel Ashe, in his official capacity as Director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service within the United States Department of Interior, Defendants: Bridget Kennedy McNeil, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental & Natural Resources Division, Denver, CO.

Page 1112

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF AINA NUI CORPORATION'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND GRANTING FEDERAL DEFENDANTS' CROSS-MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Derrick K. Watson, United States District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Aina Nui Corporation (" ANC" ) challenges the United States Fish and Wildlife

Page 1113

Service's (the " Service" or " FWS" ) designation of a portion of ANC's land holdings on Oahu as critical habitat for species listed as threatened and endangered pursuant to the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1531, et seq. (" ESA" ). ANC contends that the designation violates the ESA, Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 551, et seq. (" APA" ), and National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321, et seq. (" NEPA" ).

Because the Service promulgated the Final Rule in compliance with public notice and comment requirements, designated critical habitat utilizing an ecosystem approach that is consistent with its statutory mandate, and properly determined that a portion of ANC's land holdings is essential to the conservation of species identified in the Final Rule, and because the Service's critical habitat designation is not subject to NEPA review as a matter of law, the Court DENIES ANC's Motion for Summary Judgment and GRANTS Federal Defendants' Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment.

BACKGROUND

I. Critical Habitat Designation Process

A. ESA Overview

Section 4 of the ESA requires the Service to determine when a species is " threatened" or " endangered," designations that trigger various statutory and regulatory protections. 16 U.S.C. § § 1533, 1538. When the Service determines that a particular species is threatened or endangered, Section 4 also requires the Service to designate a " critical habitat" for the species. 16 U.S.C. § 1533(a)(3). Section 3 defines " critical habitat" to include:

(i) the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species, at the time it is listed . . . on which are found those physical or biological features (I) essential to the conservation of the species and (II) which may require special management considerations or protection; and
(ii) specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is listed . . . upon a determination by the Secretary that such areas are essential for the conservation of the species.

16 U.S.C. ยง 1532(5)(A). After identifying the geographic area that meets this two-pronged definition, the Service may nonetheless exclude certain portions of that area " if [it] determines that the benefits of such exclusion outweigh the benefits of specifying such area as part of the critical habitat, unless . . . the failure to designate such area as critical habitat ...


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