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Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness v. Thomas

United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
53 F.3d 881 (1995)


The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act (Act) provided that the Secretary of Agriculture was to terminate the use of motorized portages in the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area (Area) after January 1, 1984, unless the Secretary determined that there was no feasible nonmotorized means of transporting boats across certain portages in the area. The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness (Friends) (plaintiff) brought an administrative appeal challenging the continued use of motorized portages in the Area. The Chief of the United States Forest Service (Chief) (defendant) ordered a feasibility study. Based on the results of the study, the Chief decided that, while portaging by nonmotorized means was possible, it was not feasible in light of the risks to the portagers’ health and safety. The Friends challenged the Chief’s decision, and the district court found in the Chief’s favor. The Friends appealed, and the court of appeals reversed on the ground that the Chief’s interpretation of the Act was overly restrictive and contrary to clear congressional intent and the plain meaning of the word “feasible.” The Friends then sought attorney’s fees and costs under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). The district court denied the request on the ground that Congress’ silence regarding what “feasible” means under the Act made it impossible to conclude that the Secretary’s interpretation was not substantially justified. The court based this decision on its earlier opinion regarding the merits of the case, as well as the dissent in the appeal of that opinion. The Friends appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Gibson, J.)

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