On February 14 and 15, 2018, several new pleadings were filed with the federal district court in Washington D.C.
February 2, 2018–Escalante, Utah
On Thursday, February 1, 2018 the lawyers representing Partners filed with the court a memorandum of law opposing the government’s motion to transfer the case to the Utah Federal District Court. Under the standard rules of court, the government is allowed seven days in which to file a reply brief, though it is possible that the government will ask for extra briefing time, and in that event it is likely that the request for additional time will be granted. Once the briefing is completed, the motion to transfer will be ready for consideration and decision by the court. Whether or not to allow oral argument before the court on the motion is up to the discretion of the court.
The government’s argument in favor of transfer is organized around the claim that the case is a purely local matter involving only the interests present in Utah. Our opposing arguments develop the contrary view, that the issues in the case are of national importance, raise specific issues of federal statutory law and constitutional issues which stand to impact the entire nation. According to the December 4, 2017 executive order modifying GSENM, today the lands excised from the monument are officially reopened to mineral claims and oil and gas leasing. Those interested in supporting the effort to restore the original boundaries of GSENM should consider getting involved in the effort to monitor and report on these activities. Find information about the TerraTRUTH monitoring app here.
January 31–Escalante, Utah
Federal District Court Judge Chutkan held a status conference on January 31, 2018 involving the two Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument cases assigned to her. The two cases were both initiated on December 4, 2017, the date the new proclamation was issued. In the first case filed, the plaintiffs are eleven environmental organizations. In the second case, filed shortly thereafter, the plaintiffs are Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, and the Conservation Land Foundation.
At the January 31, 2018 status conference the two cases were consolidated to facilitate management of the cases by J. Chutkan, and the case will appear on the court docket as “Wilderness Society v. Trump”.
Although the cases have been consolidated, an expected development, all parties retain separate rights of appeal, independent time for oral argument, and the ability to present separate arguments.
At the conference, the lawyers for Partners, were able to express the sense of urgency we feel as a result of the approaching February 2, 2018 date for reopening excised monument lands to mineral and energy leasing. J. Chutkan indicated she appreciated that urgency, and would address the preliminary motions to transfer the case to Utah as quickly as possible, so as to be able to address Partners’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, previously filed with the court.
January 26, 2018—Escalante, Utah
Our lawsuit began with the filing of a complaint by the plaintiffs, in this case Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, and the Conservation Land Foundation, on December 4, 2017. The defendants, here the President and the Department of the Interior, were served with the complaint and summons, which directed the defendants to file a response be filed with the court within sixty days days.
In our case, the government defendants asked the court to give them additional time in which to file a response, and the court has granted that request. The government response will now be due on March 6, 2018. Motions for additional time are generally granted as a matter of course.
The government defendants have also asked Judge Chutkan to transfer the case to the federal district court in Utah, and that issue is now being briefed by the parties. The judge has directed that additional briefing on our Motion for Partial Summary Judgment be postponed until she has had an opportunity to decide the transfer motion. This postponement was expected, because no judge wants to get too deeply into the merits of a case if the case is going to be transferred to another judge.
Judge Chutkan has scheduled a status conference for Wednesday January 31,2018, for both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante cases. Status conferences are a regular feature of federal litigation. Basically, at a status conference the lawyers for all the parties appear in court, and the judge explains to the lawyers how the court wants to manage the litigation process. This usually involves setting deadlines for completing briefing on pending motions, the completion of the discovery process, the filing of dispositive motions, and setting a trial date. During the discussion, the lawyers have an opportunity to tell the judge how much time it will take to get the necessary preparation work done. The first matter of importance before J. Chutkan will be reaching a decision on the motions filed to transfer all of the cases to Utah. It is possible that J. Chutkan will indicate to the lawyers how she intends to proceed on that question.