What is a Natural Resources Lawsuit?
Many disputes over natural resources get settled out of court, with negotiations between each party’s lawyers. Sometimes these disputes turn into lawsuits when an agreement cannot be reached. The lawsuit may seek to protect resources being misused by a company or to settle a dispute with landowners or government agencies over the use of natural resources.
Do I Need to File a Natural Resources Lawsuit?
Most lawsuits related to natural resources involve the government and big companies. A company may sue the government, for instance, to be able to extract minerals or harvest timber on their property. Business owners sue each other over disputes related to water rights or land use. Sometimes, individuals or groups of citizens sue companies for their misuse of resources and subsequent harm to the environment.
Whether or not you have a case for a natural resources lawsuit can be difficult to determine without a lawyer. Environmental lawyers specializing in natural resources can look at your situation and decide if it can be settled or if a lawsuit may be necessary.
Examples of Natural Resources Lawsuits
While individuals and businesses regularly fight out resources access and rights in the court system, some natural resources lawsuits are newsworthy and show what can be accomplished with litigation:
- Protecting Wildlife in Minnesota. The Center for Biological Diversity started a lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. They claim the Department has not done its duty to protect Canada Lynx in the state. This is a federally-protected species that gets caught in legal traps for other animals.
- Protecting Indigenous Water Rights. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians sued over water rights in California. The tribe claims the Coachella Valley water districts have overdrawn their aquifer and caused it to be refilled with saltier water from the Colorado River. They worry the aquifer will not be sustainable and that the water doesn’t meet quality standards.
- Protecting a National Monument. Conservation groups brought suit against the federal government to stop drilling for oil in the Carrizo Plain National Monument in California. They are concerned about the environmental damage that will result from extracting this resource in a protected area.
- Protecting Fishing Rights. A lawsuit in Michigan highlights the fact that sometimes lawsuits aim to win more rights to resources, not fewer. Commercial fishermen in the state sued the Michigan Department of Natural Resources over changes to policies that make it more difficult for them to make a living.
How Do I File a Natural Resources Lawsuit?
If you have a reason to file a lawsuit, an experienced lawyer will take all the necessary actions on your behalf. This will begin with a complaint filed with the courts. It notifies the defendants targeted and what you allege and expect for an outcome.
The complaint triggers a period of discovery, during which both sides investigate the situation. Your lawyer will talk to any appropriate witnesses and experts. They’ll hold depositions and potentially share information with the defendants’ lawyers.
The defendants may be willing to enter into negotiations after discovery is complete. A trial is long and expensive for both sides, so it is best avoided. Your lawyer will hopefully be able to bring about a satisfactory resolution along with any appropriate damages.
If you cannot get a settlement, you can take the defendants to court. In a trial, both sides present evidence, witnesses, and experts to a jury. The jury determines the outcome, although either side can appeal the decision and take it to a higher court.
Are There Any Damages in Natural Resources Lawsuits?
This depends on the situation. If you are hoping to go up against a company for misuse of resources and harm to the environment, the desired outcome is not necessarily monetary damages. It is a cessation of the illegal practices and possibly restoration to environmental damage. You may be able to recover legal fees, though.
In disputes over rights and access to natural resources, you may be able to collect damages. For instance, if a neighboring property owner used water from your aquifer without permission, they may have to pay you the resulting economic damages.
Statutes of Limitations in Natural Resources Lawsuits
Civil lawsuits have a statute of limitations, which means you will only have a certain amount of time to sue. The statute depends on the law that applies and the jurisdiction. For instance, states have their own time limits on various types of lawsuits, from one to a few years. You may face shorter limits when filing against a government agency. Talk to a lawyer as soon as possible to make sure you don’t miss the window of opportunity.
Natural resources lawsuits can be very complicated. Find the right lawyer to work with you on your case. It should be someone with extensive experience in environmental law and specifically with cases involving natural resources.