The Second Department determined an Article 78 proceeding contesting a permit issued by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) allowing Vassar College to kill 62 deer was properly dismissed. At the time of the appeal, the permit had already expired and the deer had been killed. The court determined the appeal as an exception to the mootness doctrine because the issue is likely to reappear:
…[A]n exception to the mootness doctrine permits courts to preserve for review important and recurring issues which, by virtue of their relatively brief existence, would be rendered otherwise nonreviewable … .
Here, although the subject deer cull has been completed and the challenged permit has expired, the appellants raise a substantial and novel issue as to whether the DEC is fulfilling its statutory responsibilities under SEQRA [State Environmental Quality Review Act] related to the issuance of nuisance deer permits. The issue is likely to recur and to evade appellate review, given the extremely short period of time during which such permits are valid … . * * *
Judicial review of an agency determination under SEQRA is limited to whether the agency procedures were lawful and “whether the agency identified the relevant areas of environmental concern, took a hard look’ at them, and made a reasoned elaboration’ of the basis for its determination” … . “In a statutory scheme whose purpose is that the agency decision-makers focus attention on environmental concerns, it is not the role of the courts to weigh the desirability of any action or choose among alternatives, but to assure that the agency itself has satisfied SEQRA, procedurally and substantively” … . The agency decision should be annulled only if it is arbitrary and capricious, or unsupported by the evidence … . Further, an agency’s interpretation of its own regulation is entitled to deference unless it is unreasonable or irrational … .
Here, the Supreme Court properly determined that the DEC’s issuance of a nuisance deer permit to Vassar pursuant to Environmental Conservation Law § 11-0521 complied with the requirements of SEQRA and its implementing regulations. The DEC’s use of a generic EIS, updated with a supplemental findings statement, to assess the impacts of the issuance of nuisance deer permits as a part of its wildlife game species management program was proper… . Matter of In Defense of Animals v Vassar College, 2014 NY Slip Op 07162, 2nd Dept 10-22-14