Kelley Drye Achieves Significant Litigation Victory on Behalf of the State of New Mexico
December 4, 2012

Kelley Drye's Animal Law Practice Group scored a major victory on behalf of the State of New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the New Mexico State Game Commission.  In a 46-page decision, Judge Lorenzo Garcia of the U.S. District Court of New Mexico dismissed with prejudice a complaint brought by WildEarth Guardians, an animal rights organization, against officials in those two state agencies that regulate trapping in the State.  The Judge also concurrently granted the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.  Kelley Drye partners Ira T. Kasdan and Laurence J. Lasoff along with associate Elizabeth C. Johnson represented the Defendants.

The Guardians had sought an injunction against trapping in large geographic areas of New Mexico because of alleged takings of Mexican gray wolves.  Among other things, the Guardians argued that the state officials had caused the taking of the wolves, and thus had violated the Endangered Species Act and regulations thereunder, by failing to ban trapping in the range areas where the gray wolves were found.  Due to the potential economic impact on a number of key sectors of the State's economy, including livestock agriculture, the case had received extensive publicity.  Additionally, the State of Arizona and various private groups had intervened in the litigation.

Judge Garcia highlighted the significance of the case by acknowledging at the outset of his opinion that the "issues before the court are of substantial importance and compel a thorough and thoughtful consideration of the parties' arguments and authorities.  The lawsuit impacts the effective and efficient management of government under applicable law and also critical environmental issues involving the management and protection of the Mexican gray wolf."  The court further expressed its thanks and appreciation to the parties "for their advocacy and their thorough, comprehensive arguments and briefing."

In his ruling, Judge Garcia found that the state officials had not caused any takings or violated any laws.  In doing so he upheld the clear statutory and regulatory distinctions, as argued by Kelley Drye, between "endangered  species" and "non-essential experimental populations," such as the Mexican gray wolves in question in the case.   Significantly, Judge Garcia also upheld Kelley Drye's argument that "[t]he Court is not authorized to impose such an all encompassing ban on trapping [as sought by the Guardians], nor are Defendants authorized to change state law or federal regulations to that effect."

The decision, which could be appealed, is a seminal case in the jurisprudence surrounding the Endangered Species Act, a 40-year old law that has generated hundreds of lawsuits against the federal government and the states by animal protection and other public interest groups.  Few of these cases have resulted in as decisive a decision on behalf of state agencies, as Judge Garcia's.

A copy of the opinion may be obtained here.

Kelley Drye & Warren LLP

The lawyers and professionals in Kelley Drye’s Animal Law practice group have decades of experience representing clients who face scrutiny from animal rights activist groups, federal and state government agencies, the media and the general public.  Our Animal Law practice provides legal, political and public relations support in response to increased litigation, legislation and regulatory pressure. Our team helps individuals, businesses and industries involved with animals in agriculture, public exhibition, commercial fishing and other activities.  We counsel a variety of clients on animal welfare and animal use, including, exhibitors, breeders, dealers, retailers, trade associations, land owners and research facilities.