The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held in favor of the rights of a property owner in Louisiana. In a November 27 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal Fish and Wildlife Service could not designate the property of Louisiana landowner Edward Poitevent as critical habitat for a species of frog that does not live in the state. The high court determined that federal bureaucrats could not show that the property was indeed habitat for the dusky gopher frog. Also, the Court rejected the agency’s position that its decision was not reviewable by judges. According to the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit law firm that argued the landowner’s case, “The decision opens the courthouse doors to land owners like Edward Poitevent, who stand up to the federal government when it overreaches.”
The Supreme Court's ruling was written by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
According to PLF Senior Attorney Mark Miller, the decision in the Weyerhaeuser v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service case “will help to rein in the administrative state.” In a statement, Miller said, “Too often executive agencies have acted as if they have unchecked power.” He said that Chief Justice John Roberts and the other justices told federal bureaucrats that their work will come under judicial review “to ensure the agencies are not abusing their discretion. In our 45 year history at PLF, we have repeatedly seen agencies act irrationally and then get away with it because the courts refused to step in. Today the Court said ‘No more.’”
Landowner Edward Poitevent and his family have owned the land in Louisiana for generations, and it is his intention to leave the property to his heirs. According to PLF, Fish & Wildlife bureaucrats jeopardized his legacy by declaring 1,500 acres of his private land as a critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog—a species not seen in the state for more than 50 years. Neither the Endangered Species Act nor congressional intent justifies such government-sanctioned property theft, said PLF. Represented by PLF, Edward sued to defend his constitutionally protected property rights. On November 27, the Supreme Court agreed with PLF and remanded the case so that the Fifth Court of Appeals can the case again. It was that same appeals court in New Orleans that had originally held in favor of U.S Fish and Wildlife.
Poitevent’s family has owned land in Louisiana since the end of the Civil War that is rich in timber. In 1953, the Poitevent family signed a 90-year lease which allowed them to keep the land. The Weyerhaeuser Company later acquired the Poitevents’ lease for its timber operations.
Utilizing the Endangered Species Act in 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared more than 1,500 acres of property owned by Poitevent and Weyerhaeuser a critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog, which has not been spotted in Louisiana in 50 years. According to PLF, the only place the frog is found today is nearly 70 miles away from Poitevent’s property in southern Mississippi. The official name of the amphibian was the Mississippi Gopher Frog until 2012—right about the time bureaucrats decided to designate Poitevent’s property a frog sanctuary, according to PLF. Federal bureaucrats wanted Poitevent to plant pine trees and overhaul his property—at his own expense— so the frog might be able to survive in Louisiana too.
It was thereby, according to PLF, that bureaucrats froze an estimated $34 million in economic activity. In addition, Poitevent was prevented from using the land for anything else in the future, thereby infringing upon his property rights.
According to a statement by PLF, “If overreaching government agents can do this to Edward, they can designate any piece of land a critical habitat for practically any animal. No one’s land is safe.”
Attorneys arguing for Poitevent in the case included Senior Attorney Mark Miller, and attorneys Oliver J. Dunford, Damien M. Schiff, Christina M. Martin, Anthony J. Francois, and Jonathan Wood.