Western Watersheds Project et al. v. Peter Michael

Western Watersheds Project et al. v. Peter Michael

This case is a federal constitutional challenge to two newly enacted Wyoming statutes (the “Data Laws”) that are designed to prevent the public from gathering “resource data” on public or private “open land” in the State of Wyoming. See W.S. 6-3-414 (criminal statute) and W.S. 40-26-1-1 (civil statute). These laws are close cousin to the so-called “ag-gag” laws that have been proposed or enacted in a dozen states in recent years. Public Justice is currently challenging Idaho’s and North Carolina’s Ag-Gag law on constitutional grounds and serves as amicus in a challenge to Utah’s Ag-Gag law.

In Wyoming’s case, the Data Laws were enacted for the explicit purpose of preventing an Idaho nonprofit and one of our clients, the Western Watersheds Project (WWP), from collecting water samples designed to prove that overgrazing of the land by the cattle industry is polluting the water supply. Public Justice is also representing the National Press Photographers Association as the Wyoming’s law would also prevent journalists from accessing and recording information on public and private lands.

The case was dismissed by the District Court in 2016, but we won a unanimous reversal and remand from the 10th Circuit, which ruled in September 2017 that “collection of resource data constitutes the protected creation of speech.” In October 2018, the District court struck down the Data Laws, concluding Wyoming had “no plausible reasons for the specific curtailment of speech … beyond a clear attempt to punish individuals for engaging in protected speech that at least some find unpleasant.” Public Justice attorney David Muraskin called the ruling “a sweeping victory for the First Amendment.”

Public Justice is serving as lead counsel for the group of Plaintiffs, which also includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Center for Food Safety, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

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