PLF wins venue battle in jaguar case

July 16, 2016 | By RAYMOND NHAN

On Thursday, Judge Kenneth Gonzales of the District of New Mexico ruled in favor of PLF and denied the Center for Biological Diversity and Defender of Wildlife’s motion to transfer venue. I have previously blogged about how Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife, the defendant-intervenors in the case, tried to transfer our case from the District of New Mexico to the District of Arizona.

PLF is representing three organizations that are challenging the critical habitat designation in New Mexico for jaguars. We have not challenged the designation of land in Arizona. Even though only two jaguars have reportedly been seen in the state over the last forty years, the federal government designated more than 7,700 acres of New Mexico land as critical habitat for the species. This designation could lead to crippling restrictions for property owners.

Since PLF filed this suit in May 2015, multiple parties have intervened. First, Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife intervened as defendant-intervenors in August 2015. Then in December 2015, three organizations representing Arizona and New Mexico interests moved to enter the case as plaintiff-intervenors. Unlike PLF, the plaintiff-intervenors are challenging both the designation of New Mexico and Arizona land. PLF did not oppose any party’s motion to intervene.

In today’s ruling, Judge Gonzales relied on two main considerations: PLF’s choice to litigate in New Mexico and the local interest of each state to hear the case. Although a majority of the designation affects Arizona land, the Judge gave heavier consideration to the fact that PLF chose to file this case in New Mexico. Indeed, most of the case law across the country regarding transfer of venue say that a plaintiff’s choice of forum should rarely be disturbed; this is so even if another firm might be superior.

The next step in this case is briefing on the merits, which should begin in October and be completed by January 2017.