Friends Of The Boundary Waters Wilderness v. Thomas

53 F.3d 881 (8th Cir. 1995)


Congress passed the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act which unless D determines that there is no feasible nonmotorized means of transporting boats across the portages listed, D shall terminate all such motorized use of each portage listed. D’s plan concluded that the portages shall remain open. P brought an administrative appeal challenging the continued use of the motorized portages as per D. D determined that 'feasible' as used in the Wilderness Area Act meant 'possible, not ideal or most practical.' P filed suit challenging D's decision. The district court held that the Wilderness Area Act was ambiguous and that D's determination was a reasonable interpretation of the Act. P appealed, and the court reversed. It held that the language of the Act was unambiguous and that D's interpretation was contrary to the proper definition of the term 'feasible.' Following the district court's order requiring D to terminate the operation of motorized portages across the three sets of lakes and remanding the matter to the Secretary of Agriculture to take actions necessary to comply with existing laws, P applied for $72,973.68 in costs and attorney's fees under EAJA. The district court denied the request reasoning that Congress' silence as to what it meant by 'feasible,' made it impossible to conclude that the D's interpretation was not substantially justified, even though a court found it to be erroneous. P’s appealed contending that the district court abused its discretion when it concluded that D's position on the portage issue was substantially justified and that Ps were not entitled to attorney's fees under the EAJA.