Idaho v. Evans
Annotate this Case
462 U.S. 1017 (1983)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Idaho v. Evans, 462 U.S. 1017 (1983)
Idaho v. Evans
No. 67, Orig.
Argued March 23, 1983
Decided June 23, 1983
462 U.S. 1017
Since 1938, several dams have been constructed along the Columbia-Snake River system, severely reducing the number of anadromous fish that migrate between the Pacific Ocean and their spawning grounds in those rivers and their tributaries. Fishing is another factor depleting the anadromous fish population. In 1976, this Court granted Idaho leave to file its complaint requesting an equitable apportionment against Oregon and Washington of the anadromous fish in the Columbia-Snake River system. A Special Master was appointed, and after trial and oral argument, he entered the report involved here, recommending that the action be dismissed without prejudice. Idaho filed exceptions to the report.
Held: The Special Master's recommendation is adopted, and the action is dismissed without prejudice to Idaho's right to bring new proceedings whenever it shall appear that it is being deprived of its equitable share of anadromous fish. Pp. 462 U. S. 1024-1029.
(a) The doctrine of equitable apportionment is applicable here. Although that doctrine has its roots in water rights litigation, the natural resource of anadromous fish is sufficiently similar to make equitable apportionment an appropriate mechanism for resolving allocative disputes. The doctrine is neither dependent on nor bound by existing legal rights to the resource being apportioned. Thus, the fact that no State has a preexisting legal right of ownership in the fish does not prevent an equitable apportionment. Pp. 462 U. S. 1024-1025.
(b) Because apportionment is based on broad and flexible equitable concerns, rather than on precise legal entitlements, a decree is not intended to compensate for prior legal wrongs. Instead, it prospectively ensures that a State obtains its equitable share of a resource. Although a decree may not always be mathematically precise or based on definite present and future conditions, uncertainties about the future do not provide a basis for declining to fashion a decree. The Special Master erred to the extent that he found that the formulation of a workable decree is impossible in this case. If Idaho suffers from the injury it alleges, there is no reason why that injury could not be remedied by an equitable decree. Pp. 462 U. S. 1025-1027.
(c) However, a State seeking equitable apportionment under this Court's original jurisdiction must prove by clear and convincing evidence some real and substantial injury or damage. The Special Master, in
finding that Idaho has not demonstrated sufficient injury to justify an equitable decree, properly based his finding on present conditions, and properly focused on the most recent time period, 1975-1980, during which all the dams and various conservation programs were in operation. The evidence does not demonstrate that Oregon and Washington are now injuring Idaho by overfishing, or that they will do so in the future. Moreover, Idaho has not proved that Oregon and Washington have mismanaged the resource and will continue to mismanage. Pp. 462 U. S. 1027-1029.
BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER C.J., and WHITE, MARSHALL, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 462 U. S. 1029.