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Nature v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 11, 2017

ADRIAN NATURE, Appellant,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee.

          ORDER DENYING APPEAL OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE DECISION

         Pending before the court is a criminal appeal of a misdemeanor conviction following an August 11, 2016 bench trial. On August 23, 2016, defendant-appellant Adrian Nature (hereinafter “Nature”) filed his notice of appeal indicating he was appealing both the conviction and sentence as well as the assigned magistrate judge's order denying his motion to dismiss. (Doc. Nos. 19.) Appellant's brief was filed on November 23, 2016. (Doc. No. 25.) Appellee's brief was filed on December 14, 2016. (Doc. No. 26.) Appellant replied on December 21, 2016. (Doc. No. 27.) Oral argument was heard on March 13, 2017, with Assistant Federal Defender Erin Snider appearing on behalf of Nature and Assistant United States Attorney Michael Tierney appearing on behalf of the United States. For the reasons set forth below, the court will deny the appeal and affirm the judgment as well as the order of the magistrate judge.

         BACKGROUND

         The essential facts of the case are uncontested, and are recounted here only briefly. On September 3, 2015, park rangers responded to the El Portal Community Center parking lot located in the El Portal Administrative Site (hereafter the “administrative site”), following a report that a man under the influence of alcohol was attempting to get into a vehicle and drive back to Camp Four in Yosemite Valley. Nature was arrested following a ranger's observation of several indicators of his intoxication.[1]

         On November 13, 2015, the government filed a complaint against Nature, alleging therein that he violated 36 C.F.R. § 2.35(c) by being present in a park area when under the influence of alcohol to a degree sufficient to endanger himself or another person or damage property or park resources. (Doc. No. 2.) On February 9, 2016, counsel on behalf of Nature filed a motion to dismiss the criminal complaint, arguing that Nature was not in a park area at the time in question and therefore was not covered by the regulation he was charged with violating. (Doc. No. 6.) On March 21, 2016, the government filed a superseding criminal complaint alleging that Nature violated 36 C.F.R. § 34.5(b)(21), which incorporates by reference § 2.35(c) and makes it applicable to the El Portal Administrative Site. (Doc. No. 11.) The assigned magistrate judge held a hearing on Nature's motion to dismiss on March 22, 2016, and denied the motion in an order dated May 25, 2016. (Doc. No. 14.) Following a bench trial, Nature was convicted of the charged offense and was sentenced on August 15, 2016 to: twelve months of unsupervised probation; thirty-five hours of community service; $350 in penalties and fines; and one day of custody with credit for time served. (Doc. No. 18.) As noted above, Nature timely filed a notice of appeal on August 23, 2016. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 58(g)(2).

         This court has jurisdiction over this appeal under 18 U.S.C. §§ 3231 and 3402. The magistrate judge's denial of Nature's motion to dismiss was based on a determination of a question of law and that decision is reviewed de novo. Fed. R. Crim. P. 58(g)(2)(D) (“The scope of appeal is the same as in an appeal to the court of appeals from a judgment entered by a district judge.”); United States v. Shryock, 342 F.3d 948, 985 (9th Cir. 2003) (question of law reviewed de novo); United States v. Keys, 103 F.3d 758, 761 (9th Cir. 1996) (same); see also United States v. McDermott, 589 Fed. App'x 394, 395 (9th Cir. 2015) (on appeal from a misdemeanor conviction following a trial, the district court “reviews de novo a magistrate judge's legal conclusions”)[2]; United States v. Godfrey, 112 F.Supp.3d 1097, 1100-01 (E.D. Cal. 2015); United States v. Mancia, 720 F.Supp.2d 1173, 1178 (E.D. Cal. 2010).

         ANALYSIS

         Nature advances two primary arguments on appeal. First, he asserts the applicable federal regulations by their very terms do not include the administrative site within their ambit. (Doc. No. 25 at 5-9.) Second, according to Nature, the Secretary of the Interior lacked the authority to promulgate 36 C.F.R. § 34.5(b)(21) and, therefore, even if the administrative site falls within the definitions set out in the regulations, that regulation is itself invalid. (Id. at 9-10.) For the reasons explained below, the court is not persuaded by either argument.

         1. The Administrative Site Falls within the Regulatory Definition

         Part 34 of Chapter I of Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations sets out provisions for the administration of the El Portal Administrative Site. See 36 C.F.R. § 34.1 et seq. These regulations specifically incorporate by reference numerous other National Park Service (“NPS”) regulations. 36 C.F.R. § 34.5. In particular, § 34.5 states:

The following sections and paragraphs of this chapter, as amended from time to time, apply to the [El Portal Administrative Site] and are hereby incorporated and made a part of this part except as modified by the regulations in this part:
(b) Resource Protection, Public Use and Recreation.
(21) 2.35 Alcoholic beverages and controlled substances.

§ 34.5(b)(21). The regulation incorporated by reference reads, in pertinent part, as follows: “Presence in a park area when under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance to a degree that may endanger oneself or another person, or damage property or park resources, is prohibited.” 36 C.F.R. § 2.35(c) (emphasis added).

         The operative term in dispute in this appeal-park area-is defined by the regulations as synonymous with the term “National Park System”:

National Park System (Park area) means any area of land and water now or hereafter administered by the Secretary of the Interior through the National Park Service for park, monument, historic, parkway, recreational, or other purposes.

36 C.F.R. § 1.4. Nature argues that the El Portal Administrative Site does not fit within the definition the regulations set out for the term “park area, ” i.e., it is not an “area of land . . . administered by the Secretary of the Interior through the National Park Service for park, monument, historic, parkway, ...


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