A caption this week caught my attention: Sierra Club v. EPA. The reason is not because it is an unusual caption. Just the opposite. Since I started D.C. Circuit Review – Reviewed in August 2015, I’ve seen six published cases with that same name, including this week’s.* That realization got me thinking: In the history of the D.C. Circuit, how many published cases are called Sierra Club v. EPA? Using Westlaw and moving quickly (so I may have missed a couple), I count 25. That count doesn’t include all relevant cases. Sometimes, for instance, Sierra Club is a petitioner but not the first listed. And some cases are not captioned “Sierra Club v. EPA,” but instead “Sierra Club v. [Administrator’s last name].” But I like focusing on Sierra Club v. EPA.
So here is this week’s question: What is the most common case name in the D.C. Circuit? “Cobell” isn’t a bad guess, but the defendant changed too often. Readers — do you have any other ideas? (For what it is worth, I haven’t checked them all, but my guess is United States v. Smith.)
To be sure, a case name is relatively trivial. But it isn’t entirely irrelevant; it gives a sense of the court. And Sierra Club v. EPA is a very “D.C. Circuit” caption. Those two parties have been litigating against each other in the D.C. Circuit for a very long time. This week’s Sierra Club v. EPA is a good example. Judge Williams (joined by Judges Griffith and Wilkins) addressed a 2016 EPA rule that “(1) tightened procedures for state changes to annual monitoring network plans, (2) authorized limited reductions in required sampling frequency, and (3) proposed revisions to certain quality assurance requirements related to monitoring for Prevention of Significant Deterioration.” Sierra Club challenged that rule for three reasons. Two, however, are jurisdictionally barred; one part of the rule “did no more than echo a prior EPA regulation,” and so cannot be challenged under the reopening doctrine, and Sierra Club “lacks standing to attack the sampling frequency changes” because its theory “stacks speculation upon hypothetical upon speculation.” The Court did address one issue on the merits, however. In the final rule, EPA “inaccurately stated that it had received only favorable comments on its proposed changes.” Does that obvious error require remand? No, said the Court, quoting … Sierra Club v. United States, 353 F.3d 976, 986 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (Roberts, J.) (“[A] failure to respond to comments is significant only insofar as it demonstrates that the agency’s decision was not based on a consideration of the relevant factors.”).
On the subject of environmental litigation, court watchers should read National Parks Conservation Association v. Semonite, which partially grants panel rehearing of a decision from a couple of months ago. But along the way, the Court had some interesting things to say. Consider:
Interesting. (An aside: I bet Judge Randolph has a solution in mind for the broader vacatur-versus-remand question.)
My personal favorite decision this week is CREW v. Trump — because it is about mandamus! When I first started blogging, I had a tough choice to make. Should I focus on mandamus or the D.C. Circuit? My idea was to name my posts “Mandamus Watch” and to blog whenever any circuit court grants or denies a writ of mandamus. I decided to go with D.C. Circuit Review – Reviewed instead. That probably was the right call, but I wonder what I would have found if I had begun systematically tracking mandamus decisions. Well, this week we have a D.C. Circuit mandamus decision, so we get the best of both worlds. What’s the case about? Here is how Judge Tatel (joined by Judges Pillard and Edwards) opened the Court’s opinion:
There is a fair bit going on in this case, but here is a particularly important paragraph:
Judge Katsas, joined by Judges Rogers and Millett, wrote the opinion in Trudel v. SunTrust Bank, which concerns “accounting and fraudulent-concealment claims arising from the loss of funds deposited into a Florida bank account more than two decades ago.” This is a great case if you are interested in the relationship between Federal Rule 59 and Federal Rule 15. (I’ll leave it that; if that sentence interests you, you already clicked on the opinion and started reading. And if that sentence doesn’t interest you, well, nothing I can say will change your mind.)
Finally, we come to D.C. Healthcare Systems, Inc. v. District of Columbia, which is about — I kid you not — the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. This doctrine bars a party from seeking review of a state judgment in federal court (other than via appellate review, of course, in the Supreme Court). Chief Judge Garland, joined by Judges Griffith and Pillard, concluded that the district court erred by using that doctrine where the claims at issue were independent from those litigated in D.C. court. The facts are complicated, but this will give you a flavor of the analysis:
Hmmm. Perhaps the D.C. Circuit has decided a Sierra Club case about Rooker Feldman. Alas, when I use Westlaw’s D.C. Circuit database, the following search comes up empty: TI(“sierra club”) & “rooker feldman.”
But what about this search? TI(“sierra club”) & “mandamus.” That seems like a hunt for the next time we have a case captioned Sierra Club v. EPA. Enjoy the weekend.
* Well, six if you count Sierra Club de Puerto Rico v. EPA, which I do. I also treat EPA, U.S. EPA, and Environmental Protection Agency as interchangeable.
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