The Ecology Center and the Lands Council (Ecology Center) contended that section 407 of the Flathead and Kootenai National Forest Rehabilitation Act violated the separation of powers doctrine. Ecology Center also asserted that the district court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment while granting the defendants' (Bob Castaneda, Bradley Powell, and the United States Forest Service known collectively as the "Forest Service") motion to dismiss. The Ninth Circuit held that section 407  did not violate the separation of powers doctrine and affirmed the judgment of the lower court.
Originally, on June 30, 2003, the district court granted Ecology Center partial summary judgment and a preliminary injunction on timber sales based on the December 9, 2002 complaint Ecology Center filed against the Forest Service. The complaint challenged the Records of Decision that approved the timber sale as a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA). The district court held that the Forest Service failed to comply with the Kootenai Forest Plan because the Forest Service did not document a forest-wide minimum of ten percent old growth habitat below 5,500 feet elevation, and its decision to approve the timber sales was "contrary to law under NEPA." The injunction was issued pending an administrative process that allowed review and public comment on the Forest Service's information about the amount of old growth habitat in the Kootenai National Forest. Although the area where the logging was planned had the requisite ten percent old growth habitat, the district court held that the Forest Service did not comply with the Kootenai Forest Plan because it did not show a ten percent old growth habitat for the forest as a whole.
The Forest Service appealed the injunction and complied with the administrative process in which it received twenty-seven comments from various individuals and groups, including Ecology Center. However, while the Forest Service was inviting public comment, Congress enacted the Flathead and Kootenai National Forest Rehabilitation Act of 2004, which the President signed on November 10, 2003. The new law only required that the project area have ten percent designated old growth below 5,500 feet elevation as opposed to the Kootenai Forest Plan, which required a ten percent old growth habitat in the forest as a whole. After section 407 was enacted, the Forest Service finished reviewing public comments and decided that it did not need to modify its Records of Decision for the five timber sales.
On November 10, 2003 Ecology Center filed a second summary judgment motion alleging that section 407 violated the separation of powers doctrine and requested a summary judgment order on its NFMA and NEPA claims. The Forest Service filed a cross-motion to dismiss Ecology Center's claims, or in the alternative a motion for summary judgment, and asserted that section 407 superseded the Kootenai Forest Plan, on which the previous district court order and injunction had been based, and alleged that the Forest Service had already fulfilled the requirements of section 407. Additionally, the Forest Service filed a motion to dissolve the injunction under Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because it had completed the terms of the injunction. The district court, after granting the Forest Service's and intervenors' request for a voluntary dismissal of their appeal of the injunction in order to achieve jurisdiction, granted the Rule 60(b) motion and on August 20, 2004 dissolved the injunction. The district court also rejected Ecology Center's separation of powers argument, and granted the Forest Services' motion to dismiss Ecology Center's complaint based on a failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
The Ninth Circuit reviewed de novo Ecology Center's claim that section 407 violated the separation of powers doctrine because it directed a rule of decision in a pending case without changing the underlying law. The Ninth Circuit considered previous case law which provided that a statutory provision should only be invalidated for the "most compelling constitutional reasons" and that courts are obligated to apply a constitutional interpretation of a statute that would otherwise be unconstitutional as long as it is "'fairly possible to interpret the statute in a manner that renders it constitutionally valid.'" Ecology Center challenged section 407 under the first prong of a test which asserted that "[t]he constitutional principle of separation of powers is violated where . . . 'Congress has impermissibly directed certain findings in pending litigation, without changing any underlying law.'"
Both parties relied on Robertson v. Seattle Audubon Society in support of their positions regarding section 407. In Robertson, the Supreme Court held that section 318 of the Department of the Interior and Related Appropriations Act was not a violation of the separation of powers doctrine because it did not impermissibly interfere with the judicial process. The sub-section at issue changed the underlying law that governed the permissibility of timber sales in designated national forests within Oregon and Washington during pending litigation challenging the sale. Ultimately the Supreme Court held that there was no constitutionality problem in section 318 because the subsection did not apply the law to the facts or direct a particular finding of facts and the subsection replaced the previous legal standard of the original challenges.
Similarly, the Ninth Circuit explained, section 407 did not direct findings without changing the underlying law. The Kootenai Forest Plan, in place before section 407, required that "at any time, a minimum of 10% of the Kootenai National Forest land base below 5500 feet in elevation will be in old-growth timber condition, providing habitat for those wildlife species dependent on old-growth timber for their needs." The district court interpreted the Kootenai Forest Plan to require at least a ten percent old growth habitat forest-wide below 5,500 feet before timber sales could be implemented. However, the Ninth Circuit pointed out that section 407 changed the underlying law by only requiring that each project area have a ten percent old growth habitat below 5,500 feet. Also, the Ninth Circuit explained that as in Robertson, nothing in section 407 directed a particular finding of facts and under section 407 the district court still had to decide whether a ten percent growth existed in the project areas at issue.
Ecology Center contended that Robertson did not apply because the statute in that case would have applied to thirteen national forests whereas section 407 was limited to the timber sales at issue in this case. The Ninth Circuit disagreed and pointed to Gray v. First Winthrop Corp., in which the Ninth Circuit held that there was no constitutional relevance in whether legislation affects or is aimed at a specific judicial ruling as long as the law is modified and further that Congress "clearly has the power to amend a statute and to make that change applicable to pending cases." Thus, the Ninth Circuit held that although Congress directed section 407 at a specific case that was pending before a district court, section 407 did not violate the separation of powers doctrine because it simply modified existing law. Ecology Center also argued that section 407 directed the district court to make factual findings, yet the Ninth Circuit countered that nothing in section 407 directed the district court to assess the ten percent old growth habitat, and the record showed that the finding was made before section 407 was enacted. In conclusion, the Ninth Circuit held that there was no violation of the separation of powers doctrine and that the district court did not err in dissolving the injunction because the underlying law relating to old growth habitat was changed by section 407 and the statute did not impermissibly direct findings.
 "The RODs, whether modified or not, shall not be deemed arbitrary and capricious under the NFMA, NEPA or other applicable law as long as each project area retains 10 percent designated old growth below 5,500 feet elevation in third order watersheds in which the project is located as specified in the forest plan." Pub. L. No. 108-108, § 407, 117 Stat. 1241, 1320 (2003).