In a rare win for a pro se litigant over the federal government, the Sixth Circuit held Wednesday that the United States Forest Service failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and three regulations when developing and approving a revised management plan for Michigan’s Huron and Manistee National Forests. The excellent opinion by Judge Kethledge makes no new law, but forcefully reminds federal agencies that judicial deference to agency expertise does not amount to a rubber stamp:
An agency is not entitled to deference simply because it is an agency. It is true that agencies are more specialized than courts are. But for courts to defer to them, agencies must do more than announce the fact of their comparative advantage; they must actually use it.
Here, the court held, the Forest Service eschewed its “comparative advantage” by disregarding relevant statutory and regulatory criteria. The court directed the Service to adopt within 90 days a management plan in accordance with the law, requiring the agency to, among other things, consider pro se plaintiff Kurt Meister’s proposal that areas designated “Primitive” and “Semiprimative Nonmotorized” be closed to gun hunting and snowmobiling.