Casitas Mun. Water Dist. v. United States, No. 12-5033 (Fed. Cir. 2013)Annotate this Case
Casitas Water District operates the Ventura River Project, which is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and provides water to Ventura County, California, using dams, reservoirs, a canal, pump stations, and many miles of pipeline. In 1997, the National Marine Fisheries Service listed the West Coast steelhead trout as an endangered species and determined that the primary cause of its decline was loss of habitat due to water development, including impassable dams. Casitas faced liability if continued operation of the Project resulted in harm to the steelhead, 16 U.S.C. 1538(a)(1), 1540(a)–(b). In 2003, NMFS issued a biological opinion concerning operation of a fish ladder to relieve Casitas of liability. Casitas opened the Robles fish ladder, then filed suit, asserting that the biological opinion operating criteria breached its 1956 Contract with the government or amounted to uncompensated taking of Casitas’s property. The Claims Court dismissed, citing the sovereign acts doctrine. The Federal Circuit affirmed dismissal of the contract claim, but reversed dismissal of Casitas’s takings claim. The court again dismissed, holding that Casitas had failed to show that the operating criteria had thus far resulted in any reduction of water deliveries, so a takings claim was not yet ripe. The Federal Circuit affirmed.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on March 1, 2013.