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Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics v. United States Forest Service

May 12, 2009

FOREST SERVICE EMPLOYEES FOR ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS; ALLEGHENY DEFENSE PROJECT; SIERRA CLUB, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE, DEFENDANT,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA OIL AND GAS ASSOCIATION, ALLEGHENY FOREST ALLIANCE, INTERVENOR-DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sean J. McLaughlin United States District Judge

Judge Sean J. McLaughlin

MEMORANDUM OPINION

McLAUGHLIN, SEAN J., J.

This matter is before the Court upon the Emergency Motion to Stay Settlement filed by the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association and the Allegheny Forest Alliance.

I. BACKGROUND

On November 20, 2008, Plaintiffs filed a complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the United States Forest Service under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 701 ("APA"), for alleged violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 ("NEPA"). Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged in their complaint that the Forest Service had violated NEPA by issuing "Notices to Proceed" to various oil and gas companies operating within the boundaries of the Allegheny National Forest ("ANF"). Plaintiffs contended that the Forest Service had violated federal law by failing to prepare a "NEPA analysis" in order to determine the impact, if any, that issuing the Notices to Proceed would have on the environment prior to their issuance.

On December 26, 2008, a joint motion for leave to intervene pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 24(a) and (b) was filed by the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas association ("POGAM"), a non-profit trade association consisting of the Commonwealth's independent oil and gas producers, and the Allegheny Forest Alliance ("AFA"), a non-profit coalition of public school districts, municipalities, and businesses with interests affected by the welfare of the ANF. A "Proposed Answer" was attached to the motion for leave to intervene. On February 6, 2009, Plaintiffs filed a brief in which they opposed intervention. On April 7, 2009, I granted the motion for leave to intervene and ordered that the proposed intervenors be added as defendants in this action.

On April 9, 2009, the Plaintiffs and Defendant filed a stipulation of dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A) and attached a copy of a settlement agreement which purported to resolve all claims between the non-intervenor parties. The date stamp on the electronic receipt on the docket indicates that the stipulation of dismissal was filed at 12:52 P.M. On the same date, April 9, 2009, the Intervenor-Defendants filed and docketed an answer. The electronic receipt for that document indicates that it was filed at 5:28 P.M.

On April 13, 2009, the Intervenor-Defendants filed the instant motion, styled an "Emergency Motion to Stay Settlement." In the motion, the Intervenor-Defendants argued that the stipulation of dismissal was invalid because it had not been signed by the Intervenor-Defendants despite those parties having been added to the action prior to the stipulation. In their briefs in opposition, filed on April 15, 2009, Plaintiffs and Defendant opposed the motion to stay on the ground that a plaintiff may voluntarily dismiss an action pursuant to Rule 41(a)(1)(A) at any time prior to the filing of an answer or a motion for summary judgment without permission of the court or consent of the other parties. At an oral hearing conducted on April 17, 2008, Plaintiffs alternately moved for voluntary dismissal pursuant to Rule 41(a)(2). For the reasons that follow, I find that dismissal is appropriate and, consequently, the Intervenor-Defendants' motion to stay will be denied.

II. DISCUSSION

Rule 41(a)(1)(A) provides two methods for the termination of an action without order of the court. Subsection 41(a)(1)(A)(i) allows a plaintiff to voluntarily dismiss an action by "notice of dismissal" if the opposing party has not served an answer or a motion for summary judgment:

Rule 41. Dismissal of Actions

(a) Voluntary ...


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