Sarah J. Morath


Since the enactment of environmental legislation in the 1970s, the preliminary injunction standard articulated by the Supreme Court for environmental claims has evolved from general principles to enumerated factors. In Winter v. Natural Resource Defense Council, Inc., the Court’s most recent refinement, the Court endorsed but failed to explain the application of a common four-factor test when it held that the alleged injury to marine mammals was outweighed by the public interest of a well-trained and prepared Navy. While a number of commentators have speculated about Winter’s impact on future environmental preliminary injunctions, this article seeks to more precisely determine Winter’s effect. It does so by providing a quantitative and qualitative analysis of data collected from federal district and circuit courts three years before and three years after Winter. In Part I, the Article begins by tracing the evolution of the environmental preliminary injunction standard from general principles to the precise four-factor preliminary injunction standard articulated in Winter. Part II describes the Winter decision and highlights concerns from academics about the Winter decision and its application by trial courts. Part III explains the study designed to evaluate changes in the environmental preliminary injunction standard in light of Winter’s pronouncement of a four-factor standard and presents the qualitative and quantitative results of this study. Part IV then provides an assessment of these results. Part V concludes.