The Endangered Species Act (ESA) allows private individuals and organizations to file citizen suits against the federal government for the following reasons:
Individuals or organizations must be adversely affected by violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) before they can file suit. They must also provide a 60-day notice to the potential violators of the Endangered Species Act, such as the Secretary of the Interior Department, before filing a lawsuit. The notices allow the law’s potential violators to address and correct any potential violations. Some environmental groups, such as the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), have filed suit against the Fish and Wildlife Service, arguing that the agency failed to enforce provisions of the ESA. Under federal law, the service must perform certain actions before specific statutory deadlines. If a deadline is missed, an individual or organization can sue the government for its alleged failure to follow the law. For example, if the service does not respond within 90 days to a private organization’s petition requesting that a species be listed as endangered or threatened, the organization may sue the service for missing the statutory deadline. Citizen suits may also be filed to reverse specific federal regulations. The 1997 U.S. Supreme Court case Bennett v. Spear upheld this right. For example, individuals can challenge the Fish and Wildlife Service’s regulation of an endangered specie’s habitat. In these cases, litigants must persuade a court that they were harmed economically and that the service failed to consider relevant economic impacts.
When litigation occurs
Individuals and groups can legally challenge final listing decisions, which are official decisions to list a species as endangered or threatened. Listing an animal or plant provides the species with certain federal protections. Individuals and groups can also challenge warranted but precluded findings, which are decisions to list an animal or plant as endangered or threatened at a later date due to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s higher priority listing actions. Some environmental organizations have sued the federal government for the deferred listing of a species they argued should be listed sooner.
A final listing decision goes into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. Legal challenges to a final listing decision succeed when a court determines that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s actions were arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with federal law.
Under the Endangered Species Act, courts may award attorney fees and paid litigation costs on behalf of individuals or groups that succeed or partially succeed in a legal case. Individuals or groups must pay attorney costs if the court considers their lawsuit frivolous. The court determines if an award is appropriate, and the U.S. Treasury Department pays on behalf of the losing federal agency. Based on data it received from the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee reported that around 500 lawsuits related to endangered species were filed against the federal government between 2009 and 2012. Under the Endangered Species Act, courts may also award attorney fees and paid litigation costs on behalf of individuals or groups that succeed or partially succeed in a legal case. Individuals or groups must pay attorney costs if the court considers their lawsuit frivolous.
An April 2012 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office claimed that litigation costs paid on behalf of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Endangered Species Act totaled $21.2 million in 238 payments between March 2001 and September 2010. On behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (involving the Endangered Species Act), federally paid litigation costs were $1.6 million in 16 separate payments between March 2001 and September 2010. The average payment of attorneys fees and costs in cases brought under the Endangered Species Act was $24,671