The Equal Access to Justice Act and Federal Land Management: Incentives to Litigate?

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Virginia Tech

The increasing use of litigation as a tool to influence land management decisions has been documented within the Forest Service. The Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which allows successful litigants to recover attorney fees and other legal expenses from the federal government, has come under much scrutiny in discussions surrounding Forest Service litigation. In spite of increasing interest surrounding the relationship between litigation directed at land management agencies and the EAJA, no empirical research had ever attempted to examine this issue. This two part exploratory study used records obtained from land management agencies through the Freedom of Information Act and publicly available tax return records to examine several aspects of the Equal Access to Justice Act's role in land management litigation.

According to agency records, the Forest Service paid out over $6 million in EAJA awards from 1999 through 2005. Agency records also showed that the Bureau of Land Management paid over $2.5 million dollars in EAJA awards from 1991 through 2005. The National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were unable to provide usable records regarding the amount of fees paid by each respective agency. The study also found that the entities receiving the largest number of EAJA awards were all tax-exempt environmental organizations. Interestingly, ten of the fourteen organizations that were examined for having received multiple EAJA awards also appear on Gambino et al.'s (under review) list of frequent Forest Service litigators. While this finding suggests that the EAJA may be providing a monetary incentive for these organizations to institute litigation against land management agencies, further research is needed to understand the degree to which this is happening.

Fee-shifting, Litigation, Forest Service, Public Lands