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A plaintiff seeking a permanent injunction must satisfy a four-factor test before a court may grant such relief. A plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) that it has suffered an irreparable injury; (2) that remedies available at law, such as monetary damages, are inadequate to compensate for that injury; (3) that, considering the balance of hardships between the plaintiff and defendant, a remedy in equity is warranted; and (4) that the public interest would not be disserved by a permanent injunction. The traditional four-factor test applies when a plaintiff seeks a permanent injunction to remedy a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 42 U.S.C.S. § 4321 et seq.
Petitioners were owner and licensee of the intellectual property rights to Roundup Ready Alfalfa (RRA), a variety of alfalfa that has been genetically engineered to tolerate the herbicide Roundup. They filed a deregulation request before the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). In response to petitioners' deregulation request, APHIS prepared a draft environmental assessment (EA) and solicited public comments on its proposed course of action. Based on its EA and the comments submitted, the agency determined that the introduction of RRA would not have any significant adverse impact on the environment. Accordingly, APHIS decided to deregulate RRA unconditionally and without preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS). Respondents, conventional alfalfa growers and environmental groups, filed the present action challenging the decision on the ground that it violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and other federal laws. The District Court held that the APHIS violated NEPA when it deregulated RRA without first completing a detailed EIS. To remedy that violation, the court vacated the agency's decision completely deregulating RRA; enjoined APHIS from deregulating RRA, in whole or in part, pending completion of the EIS; and entered a nationwide permanent injunction prohibiting almost all future planting of RRA during the pendency of the EIS process. Petitioners and the Government appealed, challenging the scope of the relief granted but not disputing that APHIS's deregulation decision violated NEPA. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, concluding, among other things, that the District Court had not abused its discretion in rejecting APHIS's proposed mitigation measures in favor of a broader injunction.
Did the district court abuse its discretion in enjoining APHIS from effecting a partial deregulation and in prohibiting the planting of RRA pending the agency's completion of its detailed environmental review?
The U.S. Supreme Court noted that before a court may grant a permanent injunction, the plaintiff must satisfy a four-factor test, demonstrating: “(1) that it has suffered an irreparable injury; (2) that remedies available at law, such as monetary damages, were inadequate to compensate for that injury; (3) that, considering the balance of hardships between the plaintiff and defendant, a remedy in equity was warranted; and (4) that the public interest would not be disserved by a permanent injunction.” According to the Court, none of the four factors supports the District Court's order enjoining APHIS from partially deregulating RRA during the pendency of the EIS process. Most importantly, respondents cannot show that they will suffer irreparable injury if APHIS was allowed to proceed with any partial deregulation, for at least two reasons. First, if and when APHIS pursued a partial deregulation that arguably run afoul of NEPA, respondents may file a new suit challenging such action and seeking appropriate preliminary relief. Accordingly, a permanent injunction was not now needed to guard against any present or imminent risk of likely irreparable harm. Second, a partial deregulation need not cause respondents any injury at all; if its scope was sufficiently limited, the risk of gene flow could be virtually nonexistent. Indeed, the broad injunction entered below essentially pre-empted the very procedure by which APHIS could determine, independently of the pending EIS process for assessing the effects of a complete deregulation, that a limited deregulation would not pose any appreciable risk of environmental harm. Further, the Court averred that since it was improper to foreclose partial deregulation, it was equally inappropriate to completely prohibit planting, and partial deregulation was a less drastic remedy than the extraordinary remedy of the injunction and sufficiently redressed the harm.