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October 4, 2019
On December 4, 2017, Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP), along with other conservation organizations, filed a federal action in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. The suit sought a judicial decision that would overturn President Trump’s proclamation shrinking Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument by nearly 50%.
In the summer of 2018, the Department of the Interior (DOI) filed a motion with the court asking that our lawsuit be dismissed. Filing a Motion to Dismiss is a standard step taken by many defendants in federal cases. The argument made in a motion to dismiss is that even if everything the plaintiffs say is assumed to be true, as a matter of they still have not presented a case that can be considered by the court.
Unfortunately, a decision was necessary on this motion before the case could proceed further.
Finally, on September 30, 2019, the court denied the motion to dismiss, removing the roadblock to further action in the case.
Our hope is that the court will move rapidly to the consideration of the motion for summary judgment which we filed in January 2018. In that motion, we ask the court to rule as a matter of law that Pres. Trump’s proclamation shrinking the monument was an illegal act, not permitted under the Antiquities Act.
The court has scheduled a status conference for the case on October 7, 2019, directing the attorneys of all parties to be present and prepared to discuss the adoption of an expedited, coordinated schedule for moving the case forward. The language of the order denying the Motion to Dismiss suggests that the court may have additional questions about the “standing” of one or more of the environmental organizations. “Standing” is a legal term that refers to technical facts that must be included in a complaint in order to authorize a court to consider and rule on a given case.
Grand Staircase Escalante Partners and all the other environmental plaintiffs hope to quickly get past these questions and to move rapidly into the summary judgment phase of the case.
President Trump’s Proclamation became effective upon signing on December 4, 2017. As of that date the existing Clinton GSENM ceased to exist. The new Trump version of GSENM took its place, consisting of three new “units”, shrunken sections of the old Monument. The BLM immediately began managing according to the Trump Proclamation. Legal challenges were filed the same day, but those challenges did not prevent the Trump monument from becoming the controlling legal structure.
December 20, 2018
The most recent activity in the legal action filed by GSEP challenging Pres. Trump’s order shrinking GSENM occurred on Dec. 13, when government attorneys filed their final legal memorandum supporting the government’s request that the case be dismissed. Briefing on the Motion to Dismiss is now complete. Our attorneys have requested oral argument on the motion. We hope that the court will issue a decision denying the motion early in 2019, allowing our case to go forward. The court’s decision on the motion to dismiss will be an important step in our case. If the motion is denied, as we hope, the decision will signal that the court is open to the arguments we have advanced in our motion for summary judgment, filed in January 2018. If the motion is granted, an appeal to the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals is likely. The grounds advanced by the government in support of their motion to dismiss are technical and complex, and turn largely on the contention that GSEP and the other conservation plaintiffs filed too early, because none of the organizations had suffered on the day the case filed the type of harm that creates standing for a federal action. GSEP firmly believes that it has satisfied the applicable standards, and has standing to pursue the relief we seek, a decision overturning the Trump proclamation.
October 1, 2018
September 24, 2018
We have learned that the lawsuits around the reduction of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will remain in Washington D.C. Grand Staircase Escalante Partners is pleased that this issue of national concern will be held in Washington D.C. We look forward to our attorneys at Covington and Burling being able to present the case as to why these drastic and consequential reductions are illegal.
March 26, 2018
Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP), the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology (SPV), and the Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF), along with eleven other plaintiffs in the court action challenging the Pres. Trump’s attack on the Utah monuments, continue to wait for a decision by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan on a pending motion to transfer the case to Utah.
Consideration of other pending motions, including Partners Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, will be delayed until the motion transfer is decided. Given the crowded dockets in federal court, delays are not unusual.
One immediate concern is the re-filing of expired mineral claims on lands within the original boundaries of GSENM; another is action by local counties to hire professional employees to market potential oil, gas and mineral resources within the excluded GSENM lands. The plaintiff organizations are working hard to monitor these developments.
H.R. 4558, introduced by Utah Rep. Stewart, and H.R. 4532, introduced by Utah Rep. John Curtis, to ratify the administration’s actions against the Utah Monuments, remain stalled in the House Natural Resources Committee.
On March 28 and 29, 2018 public meetings will be held in Kanab and Escalante as part of the scoping process for four new Resource Management Plans (RMP’s), one for each of the three new units, and one for the excluded lands. Interested citizens will be able to file comments at the meetings. The DOI refused to hold public meetings at urban locations in Utah, or to delay the process until the legality of the administration’s actions are determined by court decision.
March 5, 2018
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.