Court Tosses Suit Over Tortoises’ Protection
WASHINGTON (CN) – An animal rights group frustrated in its efforts to protect two rare tortoise species, cannot sue the federal government for responding to its queries « with the alacrity of a proverbial tortoise, » a federal judge ruled.
In a complaint filed in January, the not-for-profit Friends of Animals claimed the Department of Interior failed to make timely determinations on petitions to list the spider tortoise and the flat-tailed tortoise as either endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Native to the western coast of Madagascar, the flat-tailed and spider tortoises have been nationally protected under Malagasy law since 1960 and are now considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, due mainly to deforestation.
The organization says it submitted petitions on behalf of both species on Sept. 27, 2103, and while the Interior Department found the status of both species warranted investigation, two years later, nothing has been done.
Not only is this bad for the tortoises, Friends of Animals claims, but the agency’s failure to act — or even to update the organization on the tortoises’ current status — has hampered the group’s fundraising efforts.
But in a ruling announced on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge John Bates found the animal advocates failed for show the Interior Department’s actions or lack thereof caused them any « concrete » harm. »
Bates noted the Friends of Animals did not alleged the agency withheld « any specific, concrete information in its possession concerning the spider and flat-tailed tortoise » and instead focused « on the Department’s repeated failures to meet the various deadlines in the ESA’s species-listing process. »
« Even if the court were to construe FOA’s complaint as alleging a true informational injury. the court is unconvinced that the relevant provisions in the ESA give individual plaintiffs a ‘right’ to such information, » Bates wrote.
In fact, the judge said, he doubted there was any « informational » injury at all.
« As described, the group seeks access to ‘information on the status of these [tortoise] species’ … but that information does not even exist yet, » he wrote. « Indeed, the whole point of FOA’s complaint is that the Department has not yet made any 12-month findings regarding the spider and flat-tailed tortoise species, and thus that there is no status information to report. »
The group’s second injury allegation fared no better, Bates said.
» As described, FOA claims that the Department’s tardiness ‘has inhibited [the group’s] fundraising’ because it is ‘difficult to approach donors about [the group’s] work without being able to provide information regarding the outcome of [its] efforts to promote legal protections for these [tortoise] species.’
« But again, the record does not support this conclusory allegation, » Bates said. « Friends of Animals’ declaration does not point to any dip in donations as a result of the Department’s delayed response, and it has not submitted evidence regarding any specific, impending lost donations. Indeed, all the record reflects is the ipse dixit that ‘donors find it hard to give money for additional work … where … the government won’t take action in response’ to the group’s petitions. »
« But this is not nearly enough — not when this Circuit has rejected injury-in-fact claims based on lost fundraising opportunities that were far more substantiated than this one, » Bates said.
Representatives of the parties did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Courthouse News.