SAN FRANCISCO (March 25, 2015) – Morrison & Foerster, working pro bono, helped secure an important ruling for 83-year-old Sharp Park Golf Course at the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the matter of Wild Equity Institute vs. City and County of San Francisco. A three-judge panel ended a long-running dispute between San Francisco and a coalition of environmental groups over whether the city’s operations at Sharp Park Golf Course caused unauthorized “take” under the Endangered Species Act of two endangered species and dismissed plaintiffs’ appeal as moot.
“We’re very pleased that the court of appeals’ decision will allow this historic public locale to continue to serve golfers of all means and levels in the Bay Area,” said Joseph Palmore, co-chair of Morrison & Foerster’s Appellate and Supreme Court Practice Group, who argued the case in the Ninth Circuit on behalf of San Francisco Public Golf Alliance, a non-profit coalition of local golfers working to preserve affordable golf for Bay Area residents. The group intervened in the case after the plaintiffs began their effort to close Sharp Park in 2011.
Filed in March 2011 by a handful of groups led by San Francisco-based Wild Equity Institute and the preservationist organization Center for Biological Diversity, the lawsuit sought an injunction to close Sharp Park based on allegations that golf operations “take” the threatened California red-legged frog and the endangered San Francisco garter snake in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
In December 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston dismissed the case after the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued a Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement imposing strict protective terms and conditions on golf operations intended to protect the species. Judge Illston ruled that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s action rendered the lawsuit moot. The Ninth Circuit’s decision dismissed plaintiffs’ appeal of Judge Illston’s decision.
The Morrison & Foerster team acting as counsel for the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance included Mr. Palmore, Environment and Energy Practice Group chair and San Francisco partner Christopher Carr, and San Francisco associates Daniel Gershwin and Jennifer Jeffers.
Sharp Park Golf Course has a historic pedigree. Designed by legendary golf course architect Alister MacKenzie as one of the few public links he created, Sharp Park opened in 1932, 15 years after the land was turned over to the city on the condition that it be used only for public recreation. The course’s moderate fees attract diverse users, including high school teams, fundraising tournaments, civic organizations, and a wide variety of informal business and political groups.