Monday, October 06, 2014

Sturgeon v. Masica (9th Cir. - Oct. 6, 2014)

Plaintiff's name is John Sturgeon.  Yes, like that kind of sturgeon.  He lives in Alaska.  He's got a beef with the Secretary of the Interior and the National Park Service about what's he's allowed to do on a tributary of the Yukon River.

Go ahead and guess what Sturgeon wants to do on that river.

If you said "Get some food," you'd be right.  Good job.  He's not named "John Sturgeon" for nothing.

But if you guessed "fish", you'd be wrong.  That's not what Mr. Sturgeon wants to do.  Instead, he wants to hunt moose.

Perhaps Mr. Sturgeon should change his name?

But the case gets even more surprising from there.  Because the lawsuit isn't about whether Mr. Sturgeon is entitled to hunt moose.  He is.  It's rather about how he can hunt moose.

Is the lawsuit about whether Mr. Sturgeon can hunt moose with a rifle?  No.  A bow?  No.  A knife?  A shotgun?  A bazooka?  No, no, and no.

Rather, the central issue in this lawsuit is whether Mr. Sturgeon, a resident of Alaska, can hunt moose on a tributary of the Yukon River with . . . a hovercraft.

Welcome to the twenty-first century, my friends.

The National Park Service prohibits use of a hovercraft within the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, which is where Mr. Sturgeon hunts.  When employees of the NPS saw Sturgeon repairing his hovercraft on a gravel bar on a river, they told him that hovercraft aren't allowed, and gave him a verbal warning.  At which point Mr. Sturgeon immediately got on his satellite phone and contacted his attorney, claiming that NPS regulations were inapplicable because he was hovering over a state-owned navigable river.

That's right.  He got on a satellite phone.  To his attorney.  To make sure that his understanding of the nature of federalism in the modern era as applied to federal admiralty law and the use of hovercraft wasn't rusty.

Alaska:  Land of Infinite Surprises.

Plaintiff ultimately brings suit, loses in the district court, and the Ninth Circuit affirms.

I'm not even going to discuss the part about where Alaska intervenes and the Ninth Circuit dismisses the state for lack of standing.  Because this fact pattern weird enough already.