Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter of Communities for a Great Oregon
|Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter of Communities for a Great Oregon|
|Argued April 17, 1995
Decided June 29, 1995
|Full case name||Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior, et al., Petitioners v. Sweet Home Chapter of Communities for a Great Oregon, et al.|
|Citations||515 U.S. 687 (more)
115 S. Ct. 2407
|Prior history||On writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit|
|The Secretary's definition of "harm," within the meaning of the Endangered Species Act defines "take," as including "significant habitat modification or degradation that actually kills or injures wildlife," was reasonable.|
|Majority||Stevens, joined by O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer|
|Dissent||Scalia, joined by Rehnquist, Thomas|
Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior v. Sweet Home Chapter of Communities for a Great Oregon, 515 U.S. 687 (1995), is a U.S. Supreme Court case, decided by a 6-3 vote, in which the plaintiffs challenged the Department of Interior's (DOI) interpretation of the word 'harm' in the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The Secretary of the Interior and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) director interpreted the word ‘harm’ in the definition of ‘take’ in Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act to mean an act which actually kills or injures wildlife. Under the statutory language of the Interior Department Regulation such act may include significant habitat modification or degradation where it actually kills or injures wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, or sheltering.
- “Except as provided in sections 1535(g)(2) and 1539 of this title, with respect to any endangered species of fish or wildlife listed pursuant to section 1533 of this title it is unlawful for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to:
- (B) ‘take’ any such species within the United States or the territorial sea of the United States.
- Section 3(19) of the Act defines the statutory term ‘take’:
- “The term ‘take’ means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.
The Act does not further define the terms it uses to define ‘take.’ The Interior Department regulations that implement the statute, however, define the statutory term ‘harm’:
- “′Harm′ in the definition of `take′ in the Act means an act which actually kills or injures wildlife. Such act may include significant habitat modification or degradation where it actually kills or injures wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, or sheltering.”
Sweet Home Chapter of Communities for a Great Oregon consisted of various landowners, logging companies, and timber workers in the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast. Plaintiff brought action against the Secretary of the Interior and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) director, challenging the interpretation of the term ‘take’ with regards to the clarification of ‘harm’ in the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The plaintiff argued that the red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis), an endangered species, and the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina), a threatened species, had injured them economically preventing them from conducting commercial business in the forestry industry.
Fish and Wildlife Director, Department of Interior, Secretary Bruce Babbitt's interpretation of the ESA and his definition of the word ‘harm.’
The issue in this case is whether the interpretation of the word 'harm' under section 9(a)(1) on "takings" of the Endangered Species Act includes habitat modification or destruction when it may kill or injure wildlife. The issue in a general sense was whether the statute applies to commercial businesses with the unintended attention directed towards endangered species. If commercial business were to go ahead with their project then it will have an indirect effect on destroying endangered species habitats.
History of Case
The District Court found in favor of the Department of the Interior finding "that Congress intended an expansive interpretation of the word 'take,' an interpretation that encompasses habitat modification." The case Palila v. Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources was also noted using the Secretary's decision to amend the ESA without using the opportunity to change the definition of 'take,' even if it had found the ESA as 'silent or ambiguous' it still upheld the Secretary's reasonable interpretation of the word 'harm.'
The case Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. set the framework for judicial review when interpreting statutes that are considered 'silent or ambiguous.'
The respondents, Sweet Home Chapter of Communities for a Greater Oregon, appealed.
The Court of Appeals initially affirmed the judgment of the District Court, but after granting a rehearing found in favor of Sweet Home Chapter of Communities for a Greater Oregon. Invoking the noscitur a sociis canon of statutory construction, which holds that a word is known by the company it keeps. The court concluded that ‘harm,’ like the other words in the definition of ‘take,’ should be read as applying only to the perpetrator's direct application of force against the animal taken.
The defendants, The Department of the Interior, appealed.
In Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill, the major issue concerned the completion of a dam after discovering the critical habitat of the snail darter. The ESA was amended in 1978 to include the Endangered Species Committee, known as the “God Committee” to provide exemptions to section 7. The God Committee denied an exemption, but a rider to a military appropriations bill exempted the Tellico Dam from the ESA. The decision of this case is significant because it demonstrated that “agencies cannot use cost as an excuse” for not abiding to section 7(a)(2). Additionally, the court’s ruling of the case falls under the “Secretary’s definition of “harm” within the Section 9 taking provision."
Justice Stevens' opinion for the Court
The Supreme Court held that the definition of 'harm' can include “significant habitat modification or degradation where it actually kills or injures wildlife.”
Three reasons for reasonable interpretation:
- The definition of the word "harm" does not specifically include whether harm has to be direct or indirect. This definition includes habitat modification as defined in the context of the ESA.
- Justice Stevens points out that the holding in Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill and the intent of the ESA "was to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost." 115 S. Ct. 2407 (1995), Therefore, the Secretary's regulation addresses the intent of Congress' enactment of the statute.
- In 1982, Congress granted authorization to the Secretary to issue permits under §10 of the ESA for incidental takings. This includes direct and indirect takings because the purpose of the permits would not be logical if it only included direct action under the word "harm."
Court of Appeals reversed.
Justice O'Connor's concurring opinion for the Court
Justice O'Connor states that if significant habitat modification interferes with "breeding, feeding, and sheltering" behaviors and leads to the injury or death of an animal protected under the Endangered Species Act, this qualifies as 'harm'. She further discusses proximate causation," which introduce notions of foreseeability." 'Harm' applies to significant habitat modification, which foreseeably causes the actual injury or death to the red-cockaded woodpecker and northern spotted owl protected under the ESA.
Justice Scalia's dissent
Justice Scalia filed a dissent joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas. The dissent includes the argument that the regulation falls under Chevron deference in the case of Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. The dissent finds three reasons why the regulation does not align with the interpretation of the statute.
- There is no "chain of causality" between the time of habitat modification and the time of injury. The regulation also does not take into consideration the unforeseeable and unintended consequences of actions.
- The definition of an 'act' includes "an act or omission" which was modified by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1981, which the regulation does not state.
- The definition of "take" is a "class of acts done directly and intentionally" to specific animals and not a population. The regulation includes unlawful injuries to populations of species.
The dissent also includes the principle of noscitur a sociis, which is interpreting a list of words that share the same attribute just because the majority of words share an attribute. The word 'harm' is the only word that does not include a direct action to injure or kill endangered species.
This case demonstrated the significance of habitat modification under the ESA. It is the first case that defined the word ‘harm’ under the definition of ‘take.’ The definition “take” applies to actions that have direct contact, minimal or unforeseeable effects to endangered species. The definition of "harm" includes changes in habitat that affect endangered species.
- [515 U.S. 687].
- "Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter of Communities for a Great Oregon". Retrieved 16 April 2011.
- [115 S. Ct. 2407].
- [(7 U.S.C. § 136, 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq. , ESA].
- Doyle, Andrew J. (1996). "SHARING HOME SWEET HOME WITH FEDERALLY PROTECTED WILDLIFE". Stetson Law Review. 889. 25.
- Salzman, Thompson (2010). Environmental Law and Policy. NY: Thomson Reuters/Foundation Press. pp. 292–293. ISBN 978-1-59941-771-4. Retrieved 3 July 2013.
- Department of Justice. "Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter of Communities for a Better Oregon". 515 U.S. at 721-22. Archived from the original on 30 May 2011. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
- The Oyez Project. "Babbitt, Secretary Of Interior v. Sweet Home Chapter Of Communities For A Great Oregon". 515 U.S. 687 (1995). Retrieved 19 April 2011.