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Friant Water Authority v. Jewell

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 17, 2014

FRIANT WATER AUTHORITY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SALLY JEWELL, as Secretary of the UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING GRASSLANDS PARTIES' MOTION TO INTERVENE FOR THE LIMITED PURPOSE OF OPPOSING MOTION TO TRANSFER (DOCS. 69 & 73)

LAWRENCE J. O'NEILL, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION/BACKGROUND

This suit concerns the United States Bureau of Reclamation's ("Reclamation") release of water from Millerton Lake and Friant Dam, features of the Friant Unit of the Central Valley Project ("CVP"), to supply water to the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Authority and its member districts ("Exchange Contractors")[1]. Friant Water Authority and its member agencies (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), which also contract for and depend upon water deliveries from the Friant Unit, acknowledge the priority of the Exchange Contractors' contracts with Reclamation, but allege that Reclamation's actions were unlawful because the Exchange Contractors' demands should be satisfied first from sources other than Millerton. See generally Doc. 64, Corrected First Amended Complaint ("FAC").

Plaintiffs' original complaint named as defendants in this action Reclamation and related federal entities and officers ("Federal Defendants"), as well as two water districts that manage wildlife refuges in the San Joaquin Valley, Grassland Water District ("GWD"), and Grassland Resource Conservation District ("GRCD") (collectively, "Grasslands"), which districts Plaintiffs maintain are receiving water from sources other than Millerton, water that Plaintiffs allege should be delivered to the Exchange Contractors to prevent the need for releases from Millerton. Doc. 1. The original complaint alleged that Federal Defendants' conduct violated various provisions of federal law and the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA), 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. , and requested adjudication of rights under the contracts between Plaintiffs, Grasslands, and Federal Defendants. Id.

On May 20, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a motion for a temporary restraining order that would have, among other things, required the Bureau to provide water to the Exchange Contractors from sources other than Millerton. Doc. 3. On May 22, 2014, the Exchange Contractors moved to intervene in this matter as of right or in the alternative for permissive intervention. Doc. 24. On May 27, 2014, this Court granted the Exchange Contractors' motion to intervene and denied the motion for a temporary restraining order. Docs. 44 & 45.

On July 28, 2014, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, naming only Federal Defendants as defendants and raising two breach of contract claims and a takings claim. Doc. 62. Plaintiffs filed a corrected version of the FAC a few days later. Doc. 64.

On August 29, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a motion to transfer venue to the Court of Federal Claims. Doc. 71. On the same day, Grasslands filed a motion to intervene, Doc. 69, which Grasslands later clarified was a motion to intervene only for the purpose of being heard in connection with the motion to transfer. Docs 73 & 84. Plaintiffs thereafter filed a "Notice of Statutory Stay" in which they asserted that 28 U.S.C. § 1292(d)(4)(B) prohibits this court from entertaining any motions while a motion to transfer venue to the Court of Federal Claims is pending. Doc. 74. For reasons explained in greater detail below, the Court determined that § 1292(d)(4)(B) did not preclude consideration of the pending motion to intervene. The Court also determined that judicial and party efficiency would be served by hearing and deciding the motion to intervene before the motion to transfer venue. Doc. 82.

Federal Defendants do not oppose Grasslands' limited motion to intervene, Doc. 73, but Plaintiffs did file an opposition, Doc. 75, to which Grasslands replied. Doc. 84. The motion to intervene was taken under submission without oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 230(g).

II. DISCUSSION

A. 28 U.S.C. § 1292(d)(4)(B).

28 U.S.C. § 1292(d)(4)(B) stays most proceedings while a motion to transfer to the Court of Federal Claims is pending:

When a motion to transfer an action to the Court of Federal Claims is filed in a district court, no further proceedings shall be taken in the district court until 60 days after the court has ruled upon the motion. If an appeal is taken from the district court's grant or denial of the motion, proceedings shall be further stayed until the appeal has been decided by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The stay of proceedings in the district court shall not bar the granting of preliminary or injunctive relief, where appropriate and where expedition is reasonably necessary. However, during the period in which proceedings are stayed as provided in this subparagraph, no transfer to the Court of Federal Claims pursuant to the motion shall be carried out

Section 1292(d)(4)(B) does not bar a district court from considering requests for preliminary or injunctive relief, "where appropriate and where expedition is reasonably necessary." Section 1292(d)(4)(B) says nothing about motions to intervene, yet at least one district court in California has ruled on a motion to intervene during a § 1292(d)(4)(B) statutory stay. See Patriot Contract Services v. United States , 388 F.Supp.2d 1010, 1014, n. 1 (N.D. Cal. 2005). While the intervenors at issue in Patriot specifically sought to intervene so they could be heard on a motion for injunctive relief (an enumerated exception to the stay), this Court cannot fathom why the result should be different where a proposed intervenor seek to be heard on the motion to transfer that triggered the statutory stay in the first place.

As Grasslands points out, the legislative history of § 1292(d)(4)(B) indicates that the statute was intended to stay proceedings on the merits of a case. Relevant legislative history is quoted in Consolidated Edison Company of New ...


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