Document Type

Case Note


In its 1997 decision, Strahan v. Linnon, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts summarily rejected the claims of Max Strahan, a whale enthusiast and citizen activist. Following two occasions upon which a United States Coast Guard vessel struck and killed an endangered Northern Right whale' Strahan brought numerous claims, alleging various violations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and other relevant environmental statutes. The defendants, namely the United States Coast Guard and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), were granted summary judgment on every count. Although the court's decision was reasonable in light of applicable case and statutory law, its inability to find any material issue of fact was perhaps unduly harsh. Strahan generally attacked the results of the ESA's section 7 consultation process, and the defendants' dilatory, but on-going compliance efforts. The thrust of his grievance was that the defendants failed to adequately insure that the Northern Right whale will not be further jeopardized by the actions and inaction of the defendants. Due deference and findings of 'sufficiency' and 'adequacy' prevailed in the court's checklist of summary judgments. The court repeatedly offered less than effective arguments in support of its rulings. Departing somewhat from its stronger stance in the original suit, the court did not include any forceful language in its rulings and appeared content to leave matters to the discretion of the defendants. Rather than seizing an ample opportunity to flex the substantive might of the ESA conservation mandates, the court effectively relegated the statute to a series of procedural obstacles. The following discussion will focus on the court's handling of the ESA claims and will examine the potential of section 7(a)( 1) as a strong mechanism for promoting species conservation and enforcing species recovery planning.



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