Mountain States Legal Foundation celebrated a victory Monday, when a pair of consolidated grizzly bear-related cases that plaintiffs wanted heard by a federal court in distant Washington, D.C., were transferred to Wyoming’s Federal District Court for resolution. That’s where the cases rightfully belonged, argued MSLF, which supported the venue change because it believes such cases should be heard closest to where the impacts of any final rulings will be felt.
“The DC Court recognized with this ruling the matters of great local importance, like local grazing issues, should be decided locally and that the courts of DC do not have any special advantage in deciding such cases, said MSLF General Counsel Zhonette M. Brown. “The DC Court also rejected the environmentalists’ invitation to turn this into a ‘national’ more than ‘local’ matter just because federal statutes are involved.”
The consolidated cases involved are Center for Biological Diversity v. David L. Bernhardt and Western Watersheds Project v. David L. Bernhardt.
U.S. District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta was convinced by the Wyoming ranchers MSLF represents that the Cowboy State was a better venue for the case because most of the research and government actions related to the litigation occurred there.
“In administrative law cases, like this one, courts focus on where the decision-making process occurred to determine where the claim arose,” noted the Judge. “As noted, the challenged agency decision-making here all occurred in Wyoming.” The court found that “the local interest” in “having local controversies decided at home,” along with the fact that Wyoming has a direct stake in the outcome, weighed heavily in favor of a venue change.
The court gently chided the plaintiffs for attempting to “nationalize” the controversy by bringing the cases to DC. “But as Defendants correctly point out, the mere fact that a case involves a protected species does not transform a local controversy into one of national significance.” Though it involves a threatened species, “this case is decidedly a more local controversy than a national one,” wrote Judge Mehta.
The merits of the case will be heard once the new judge sets a schedule.