Law

Grand Canyon Lawsuit

Challenges to Park Management and Funding Proposals in the On October 8, the National Park Service (“NPS”) announced that it was “ending” the National Grand Canyon lawsuit. According to the National Park lawsuit, over the course of the Class Period defendants repeatedly made false and misleading statements in support of their defense in this litigation. Specifically, the defendants repeatedly stated that they had no prior experience with managing or operating a national park, without providing any supporting documentation to support such claim. Moreover, the defendants repeatedly and falsely claimed that they had no liability or harm liability as a result of plaintiffs’ injuries, including their injuries sustained while at GCU. Additionally, the National Park Service repeatedly and falsely maintained that it was irrelevant whether or not plaintiffs actually obtained any monetary harm as a result of their injuries at GCU.

Among other things, the National Park lawsuit alleges that defendants David D. Rode and William J. Weber deliberately concealed material facts from the defendants and other parties, namely the plaintiff, that the plaintiffs actually possessed the minerals and rocks that are present within the Grand Canyon. Specifically, defendants denied for months that plaintiffs actually possessed “fossils” within the Grand Canyon, stating that plaintiffs could not have gotten those rocks from outside the Grand Canyon. The defendants further represented to the court that it was unnecessary to obtain a permit to drill into the earth to reach the minerals and rocks inside the Grand Canyon. Finally, the defendants failed to acknowledge that a permit was necessary in the first place to obtain access to the geologist inside the Grand Canyon.

Based on the foregoing and other evidence presented in the lawsuit, it is very apparent that the defendants knew very well that a permit was necessary to conduct scientific research at the Grand Canyon. Accordingly, the defendants’ efforts to avoid the requirement of a permit were not merely negligent; they were deliberate and purposeful. It is also apparent that the defendants knew very well that it was unlawful to deny valid scientific research, yet still did so.

This lawsuit was initiated by and is being pursued by two parties: the National Park District Association and the Earth Resources Association. Plaintiffs contend that the defendants violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and National Parks Services (NPS) did not provide the required safeguards to protect the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. The defendants counter that they are not liable because the plaintiffs’ claims are barred by the First Amendment and NPS does not have to admit or deny the claims against them. Additionally, they contend that plaintiffs’ complaints are barred by the Fifth Amendment and Eminent Domain. On a preliminary basis, the plaintiffs are awaiting their final arguments in this case and anticipate a trial date in the spring of 2021.

The defendants’ attorneys maintain that the plaintiffs lack standing to bring the lawsuit. They argue that the plaintiffs failed to show that the defendants were acting with the specific intent to deprive them of their property interest in the Park. They further maintain that plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the legality of the National Park’s permitting program itself, or of the permitting system for the Lower 48 National Monuments under the Antiquities Act. The defendants also claim that the plaintiffs are not entitled to damages under a Florida law that authorizes local officials to deny an application for a license to use or occupy the same for commercial purposes. That Florida law protects the right of property owners to exclude persons from the property for purposes of doing business, without advance notice to the owner.

The Park Service is currently reviewing its administrative procedure manuals and environmental reports in light of this litigation. This litigation and its potential significance to future management of the Grand Canyon have prompted the Park Service to review the current permitting procedures for the Grand Canyon. The Park Service tentatively concludes that there is need to evaluate whether current consultations and environmental reports adequately address the significant issues raised in this litigation. The Park Service also anticipates that additional studies will be needed to resolve some issues raised in the lawsuit.

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