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Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.

Docket No.: 07-1239
Certiorari Granted: Jun 23 2008
Argued: October 8, 2008
Decided: November 20, 2008

PartyNames: Donald C. Winter, Secretary of the Navy, et al. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., et al.
Petitioner: Donald C. Winter, Secretary of the Navy
Respondent: Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.

Court Below: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Donald C. Winter, Secretary of the Navy
v.
Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.
555 U.S. ____ (2008)
Background:

The district court found a likelihood that the Navy failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and preliminarily enjoined the Navy's use of midfrequency active (MFA) sonar during training exercises that prepare Navy strike groups for worldwide deployment. The Chief of Naval Operations concluded that the injunction unacceptably risks the training of naval forces for deployment to high-threat areas overseas, and the President of the United States determined that the use of MFA sonar during these exercises is "essential to national security." The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), applying a longstanding regulation, accordingly found "emergency circumstances" for complying with NEPA without completing an environmental impact statement. The Ninth Circuit nevertheless sustained the district court's conclusion that no "emergency circumstances" were present and affirmed the preliminary injunction.

Question Presented:

1. Whether CEQ permissibly construed its own regulation in finding "emergency circumstances." 2. Whether, in any event, the preliminary injunction, based on a preliminary finding that the Navy had not satisfied NEPA's procedural requirements, is inconsistent with established equitable principles limiting discretionary injunctive relief.

Question:

Can federal courts grant preliminary injunctions on Naval training exercises based on the possible negative environmental impact of those exercises when the Navy fails to complete an Environmental Impact Statement as required by the National Environmental Policy Act? What circumstances are necessary to allow the Navy to conduct exercises without an Environmental Impact Statement under the "emergency circumstances" exception of the National Environmental Policy Act?

Holding: judgment reversed; preliminary
Vote: 5-4
Read WINTER V. NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL, INC. opinion (PDF)
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