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Sturgeon v. Frost

United States Supreme Court

March 22, 2016

JOHN STURGEON, PETITIONER
v.
BERT FROST, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS ALASKA REGIONAL DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, ET AL

         Argued January 20, 2016

          ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

          SYLLABUS

          [194 L.Ed.2d 111] The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) set aside 104 [136 S.Ct. 1062] million acres of land in Alaska for preservation purposes. Under ANILCA, those lands were placed into " conservation system units," which were defined to include " any unit in Alaska of the National Park System, National Wildlife Refuge System, National Wild and Scenic Rivers [194 L.Ed.2d 112] Systems, National Trails System, National Wilderness Preservation System, or a National Forest Monument." 16 U.S.C. § 3102(4). In addition to federal land, over 18 million acres of state, Native Corporation, and private land were also included within the boundaries of those conservation system units.

         In 2007, John Sturgeon was piloting his hovercraft over a stretch of the Nation River that flows through the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, a conservation system unit in Alaska that is managed by the National Park Service. Alaska law permits the use of hovercraft. National Park Service regulations do not. See 36 CFR § 2.17(e). Park Service rangers approached Sturgeon, informing him that hovercraft were prohibited within the preserve under Park Service regulations. Sturgeon protested that Park Service regulations did not apply because the river was owned by the State of Alaska. The rangers ordered Sturgeon to remove his hovercraft from the preserve, and he complied. Sturgeon later filed suit against the Park Service in the United States District Court for the District of Alaska, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief permitting him to operate his hovercraft within the boundaries of the Yukon-Charley. Alaska intervened in support of Sturgeon.

         The Secretary of the Interior has authority to " prescribe regulations" concerning " boating and other activities on or relating to water located within System units." 54 U.S.C. § 100751(b). The Park Service's hovercraft regulation was adopted pursuant to Section 100751(b). The hovercraft ban is not limited to Alaska, but instead has effect in federally managed preservation areas across the country. Section 103(c) of ANILCA, in contrast, addresses the scope of the Park Service's authority over lands within the boundaries of conservation system units in Alaska. The first sentence of Section 103(c) specifies the property included as a portion of those units. It states: " Only those lands within the boundaries of any conservation system unit which are public lands (as such term is defined in this Act) shall be deemed to be included as a portion of such unit." 16 U.S.C. § 3103(c). ANILCA defines the word " land" to include " lands, waters, and interests therein," and the term " public lands" to include lands to which the United States has " title," with certain exceptions. § 3102.

         The second sentence of Section 103(c) concerns the Park Service's authority to regulate " non-public" lands in Alaska, which include state, Native Corporation, and private property. It provides: " No lands which, before, on, or after December 2, 1980, are conveyed to the State, to any Native Corporation, or to any private party shall be subject to the regulations applicable solely to public lands within such units." § 3103(c). The third sentence of Section 103(c) explains how new lands become part of conservation system units: " If the State, a Native Corporation, or other owner desires to convey any such lands, the Secretary may acquire such lands in accordance with applicable law (including this Act), and any such lands shall become part of the unit, and be administered accordingly." Ibid.

         Interpreting Section 103(c) of ANILCA, the District Court granted summary [136 S.Ct. 1063] judgment to the Park Service, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed in pertinent part. According to the [194 L.Ed.2d 113] Ninth Circuit, because the hovercraft regulation " applies to all federal-owned lands and waters administered by [the Park Service] nationwide, as well as all navigable waters lying within national parks," the hovercraft ban does not apply " solely" within conservation system units in Alaska. 768 F.3d 1066, 1077. The Ninth Circuit concluded that the Park Service therefore has authority to enforce its hovercraft regulation on the Nation River. The Ninth Circuit did not address whether the Nation River counts as " public land" for purposes of ANILCA.

          Held :

          The Ninth Circuit's interpretation of Section 103(c) is inconsistent with both the text and context of ANILCA. Pp. 12-16.

         (a) The Ninth Circuit's interpretation of Section 103(c) violates " a fundamental canon of statutory construction that the words of a statute must be read in their context and with a view to their place in the overall statutory scheme," Roberts v. Sea-Land Services, Inc., 566 U.S. ___, ___, 132 S.Ct. 1350, 182 L.Ed.2d 341. ANILCA repeatedly recognizes that Alaska is different, and ANILCA itself accordingly carves out numerous Alaska-specific exceptions to the Park Service's general authority over federally managed preservation areas. Those Alaska-specific provisions reflect the simple truth that Alaska is often the exception, not the rule. Yet the reading below would prevent the Park Service from recognizing Alaska's unique conditions. Under that reading, the Park Service could regulate " non-public" lands in Alaska only through rules applicable outside Alaska as well. The Court concludes that, whatever the reach of the Park Service's authority under ANILCA, Section 103(c) did not adopt such a " topsy-turvy" approach. Pp. 12-14.

         (b) Moreover, it is clear that Section 103(c) draws a distinction between " public" and " non-public" lands within the boundaries of conservation system units in Alaska. And yet, according to the court below, if the Park Service wanted to differentiate between that " public" and " non-public" land in an Alaska-specific way, it would have to regulate the " non-public" land pursuant to rules applicable outside Alaska, and the " public" land pursuant to Alaska-specific provisions. Assuming the Park Service has authority over " non-public" land in Alaska (an issue the Court does not decide), the Court concludes that this is an implausible reading of the statute. The Court therefore rejects the interpretation of Section 103(c) adopted by the court below. Pp. 14-15.

         (c) The Court does not reach the remainder of the parties' arguments. In particular, it does not decide whether the Nation River qualifies as " public land" for purposes of ANILCA. It also does not decide whether the Park Service has authority under Section 100751(b) to regulate Sturgeon's activities on the Nation River, even if the river is not " public" land, or whether--as Sturgeon argues--any such authority is limited by ANILCA. Finally, the Court does not consider whether the Park Service has authority under ANILCA over both " public" and " non-public" lands within the boundaries of conservation system units in Alaska, to the extent a regulation is written to apply specifically to both types of land. The Court [194 L.Ed.2d 114] leaves those arguments to the lower courts for consideration as necessary. Pp. 15-16.

768 F.3d 1066, vacated and remanded.

         Matthew T. Findley argued the cause for petitioner.

         Ruth Botstein argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court.

         Rachel P. Kovner argued the cause for respondent.

          OPINION

         [136 S.Ct. 1064] ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE

         For almost 40 years, John Sturgeon has hunted moose along the Nation River in Alaska. Because parts of the river are shallow and difficult to navigate, Sturgeon travels by hovercraft, an amphibious vehicle capable of gliding over land and water. To reach his preferred hunting grounds, Sturgeon must pilot his hovercraft over a stretch of the Nation River that flows through the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, a 1.7 million acre federal preservation area managed by the National Park Service. 16 U.S.C. § 410hh(10).

         Alaska law permits the use of hovercraft. National Park Service regulations do not. See 36 CFR § 2.17(e) (2015). After Park Service rangers informed Sturgeon that he was prohibited from using his hovercraft within the boundaries of the preserve, Sturgeon filed suit, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. He argues that the Nation River is owned by the State, and that the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) prohibits the Park Service from enforcing its regulations on state-owned land in Alaska. The Park Service disagrees, contending that it has authority to regulate waters flowing through federally managed preservation areas. The District Court and the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Park Service. We granted certiorari.

         I

         In 1867, Secretary of State William Seward, serving under President Andrew Johnson, negotiated a treaty to purchase Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. Treaty Concerning the Cession of the Russian Possessions in North America, Mar. 30, 1867, 15 Stat. 539. In a single stroke, the United States gained 365 million acres of land--an area more than twice the size of Texas. Despite the bargain price of two cents an acre, however, the purchase was mocked by contemporaries as " Seward's Folly" and President Johnson's " Polar Bear Garden." See C. Naske & H. Slotnick, Alaska: A History 92-94 (2011) (Naske & Slotnick); S. Rep. No. 1163, 85th Cong., 1st Sess., 2 (1957).

         The monikers didn't stick. In 1898, the " Three Lucky Swedes" --Jafet Lindeberg, Eric Lindblom, and Jon Brynteson--struck gold in Nome, Alaska. As word of their discovery spread, thousands traveled to Alaska to try their hand at mining. Once the gold rush subsided, settlers turned to other types of mining, fishing, and trapping, fueling an emerging export economy. See Naske & ...


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