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Under the Winter decision, a plaintiff must establish that irreparable harm is likely, not just possible, in order to obtain a preliminary injunction. The plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish that he is likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest. A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy never awarded as of right.
The United States Forest Service proposed a timber salvage sale. Plaintiff Alliance for the Wild Rockies (AWR), seeking enjoinment of the aforementioned sale, filed suit in federal district court alleging violations of the Appeals Reform Act (ARA), the National Forest Management Act ("NFMA"), and the National Environmental Protection Act ("NEPA"). The district court denied AWR's request for a preliminary injunction, holding that the plaintiffs did not show a likelihood of success on the merits, nor that irreparable injury was likely in the absence of an injunction. Plaintiff appealed the district court’s denial of its motion for a preliminary injunction.
Did the district court err in denying plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction?
Because the district court did not apply the serious questions test, it made an error of law in denying the preliminary injunction sought by the group. According to the Court, the plaintiff had shown that: (i) there was a likelihood of irreparable harm, (ii) there were at least serious questions on the merits concerning the validity of the USFS's Emergency Situation Determination, (iii) the balance of hardships tipped sharply in its favor, and (iv) the public interest favored a preliminary injunction. The Court held that the logging project would harm the group's members' ability to view, experience, and utilize the areas in their undisturbed state. The group's strongest argument on the merits was that the USFS violated the Forest Service Decisionmaking and Appeals Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 102-381, Title III, § 322, 106 Stat. 1374, 1419-21 (1992), and its implementing regulations by granting an Emergency Situation Designation to the logging project. The foregone revenues to the USFS were so small that they could not provide a significant counterweight to the harm caused to the group. The Court concluded that the public interests that might be injured by a preliminary injunction did not outweigh the public interests that would be served.