At the Ninth Circuit, ELC Fights for Adequate Attorney Fees for Environmental Expertise

On March 17, the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic argued before the Ninth Circuit to secure enhanced attorney fees for specialized environmental law expertise under the Equal Access to Justice Act.  Our fee petition arose from ELC’s successful lawsuit, filed in 2006, to protect fragile vernal pool ecosystems from development.  Vernal pools are seasonal, temporary wetlands that provide unique habitat for imperiled animal and plant species.  Up to 90 percent of California’s endemic vernal pool wetlands have been irreversibly lost to human development and much of the remaining habitat is highly fragmented.  Protecting the vernal pools at issue in this case required extensive knowledge of the National Environmental Policy Act, Administrative Procedure Act, Endangered Species Act, and Clean Water Act.  ELC litigated to ensure that developers and the government followed those important environmental protection laws.

Madeleine McKenna JD ’16 (pictured below) presented the argument, in which ELC appealed the district court’s order refusing to award “special factor” enhancement for ELC’s efforts in the lawsuit.  The Equal Access to Justice Act preserves the ability of small groups to access representation and the courts by providing for a fee award for lawyers who prevail in such cases against the government.  In complex cases requiring specialized knowledge – like of environmental laws – fees can be awarded at market rates instead of the much lower statutory cap.  The Equal Access to Justice Act – and its reward for specialized expertise – plays a crucial role in enabling environmental attorneys to step up to the plate and protect our natural resources.  And that’s something worth fighting for.

At the Ninth Circuit, ELC Fights for Adequate Attorney Fees for Environmental Expertise 2

Watch Madeleine in action here!