A federal judge has dismissed an Oregon ranch’s lawsuit against the federal government over grazing without granting its request for about $18,000 in attorney fees.
In 2017, Cahill Ranches of Adel, Ore., filed a complaint against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s decision to end grazing on more than 8,000 acres of public property.
Under the Obama administration, the agency had decided to block cattle from the Sucker Creek Pasture of the Rahilly-Gravelly Allotment to study how their absence would affect vegetation in the area.
The ranch’s lawsuit sought to overturn that decision, arguing the prohibition was unnecessary and would increase fire risks.
However, the litigation was voluntarily put on hold after the Trump administration decided to reconsider how the pasture should be managed.
Earlier this year, the BLM issued a new “resource management plan” for the area that re-authorized grazing, which prompted Cahill Ranches to seek dismissal of the case.
However, the ranch argued it was entitled to compensation for attorney fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, which allows people and organizations to recover such costs after prevailing in litigation against the federal government.
Cahill Ranches argued that it was the “prevailing party” in the litigation because under the BLM’s new plan, “the plaintiff achieved the exact same legal result requested in its lawsuit.”
“The government should not avoid liability for its failure to take a reasonable position in this matter — a position that only changed after plaintiff filed a complaint and incurred substantial attorneys’ fees and costs to force the government to change its initial legal position,” the ranch argued.
U.S. District Judge Michael McShane has now dismissed the lawsuit while disagreeing that Cahill ranches was entitled to more than $18,000, following the earlier recommendations of a federal magistrate judge.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke recommended against awarding attorney fees because Cahill Ranches hadn’t demonstrated it was the prevailing party in the case.
“While the defendant has voluntarily changed its conduct and grazing rights have been granted, thus accomplishing what plaintiff sought to achieve by filing the lawsuit, there has been no material change in the legal relationship of the parties, and no judicial sanction of that change,” Clarke said.