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Posts Tagged ‘administrative process’

Endangered Species Act Proposed Rules Lighten Required Considerations for Threatened Species, Narrows Agency Responsibilities for Critical Habitats

Friday, July 20th, 2018

On Thursday, July 19, 2018 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USDFW) and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released proposed revisions to the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). These proposals amend procedures for species protection by changing requisite considerations and protections afforded “threatened” species, limiting the time scope for such considerations, and streamlining agency consultation.

The Endangered Species Act prohibits federal agencies from authorizing, funding, or carrying out any action that would jeopardize a critical habitat that an endangered or threatened species relies on. Specifically, it is prohibited that any project “take,” or harm, any plants, animals or invertebrates that are listed as threatened or protected. Originally passed in 1973, the Act has been significantly amended in 1978, 1982, and 1988 to meet modern demands.

The proposed rules would extinguish the “blanket rule” under section 4(d) of the ESA, which provides the same level of consideration and protection to threatened species as it does to endangered species. Threatened species are those that are likely to become endangered but are not currently endangered, at risk of extinction. Currently, protections that shield threatened species mirror those for endangered species unless otherwise specified. The proposed rules would permit USDFW to craft specific plans for each threatened species determination that are “necessary and advisable for the conservation of the species,” according to the USDFW press release. While NOAA currently employs a similar practice, it may make it more difficult to shield species.

The proposed rules would shorten the requisite timeline for species endangerment considerations. Currently, “threatened” means “any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” The vagueness of “foreseeable future” has been useful for environmental advocates to promote consideration of how climate change may affect the species. The proposed rules would change this section to mean only so far as can be “reasonably determined” that both the future threats and the species’ responses to those threats are foreseeable. This means that climate change considerations may not be required.

In the same vein, the proposed rules would repeal the prohibition on considering economic factors when deciding whether or not a species should be protected and the procedure to delist a species will now be the same standard as decisions to list the species.

Section 4 also deals with the procedures for listing, recovery and designating of critical habitats, or areas essential to support the conservation of a species. The proposed rules would revise the procedure for designating critical habitat by incorporating a non-exhaustive list of circumstances where they may find that designation of a critical habitat for a particular species would not be prudent. The agency will first evaluate areas currently occupied by the species before considering unoccupied areas. Additionally, the proposed changes would clarify when they may determine unoccupied areas are essential or not to the conservation of the species.

While none of these changes will be retroactive, they are part of the Trump Administration’s refocusing of federal environmental laws. Last month the administration began the process of overhauling the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, has used industry guidance documents and policy memos to dial back its oversight of air pollution under the Clean Air Act.

Deputy Secretary of the Interior Department described the ESA rule proposals as streamlining and improving the regulatory process. Indeed, per the USDFW press release, the changes are meant to narrow consultation requirements and allow federal agencies to simplify their actions with shorter ESA consideration. Opponents are concerned the changes will vacate protections for threatened species and weaken USDFW and NOAA’s abilities to address climate change.

The public has 60 days to issue comments on the proposed rules before the Interior Department and the Department of Commerce finalizes them.

Reasonable Administrative Record Preparation Costs Awarded to Agency Where Plaintiff Elected to Prepare and Failed to do so within 60-Day Limit

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

In LandWatch San Luis Obispo County v. Cambria Community Services District (2018) 25 Cal.App.5th 638, the Second District Court of Appeals affirmed an agency may properly take over the preparation of the administrative record per Public Resources Code section 21167.6(b)(1) when petitioner elects to prepare and fails to do so within 60 days.

LandWatch San Luis Obispo County (LandWatch) filed suit against Cambria Community Services District (District) for alleged CEQA violations in approving an emergency water supply project on January 30, 2014. In its initial pleading of October 2014, LandWatch elected to prepare the administrative record. District provided the documents to Petitioners in November 2014. The next month, the District notified LandWatch of additional documents. LandWatch requested the documents in March 2015 and received them in April 2015.

LandWatch presented a draft administrative record index in August 2015. The District notified LandWatch the draft was over and under inclusive and, to avoid further delays in distribution of $4.3 million in grant fund awards, prepared and certified the record itself.

The trial court granted leave for LandWatch to include additional documents. However, LandWatch then failed to timely request the documents, stalling from December to February. This was problematic as the trial was set for March and the complete, certified administrative record was required to be filed before then.

The trial court denied LandWatch’s petition for a writ of mandate and the District sought costs from LandWatch for the cost of preparation of the administrative record, $4,299.01, and preparation of the appendix, $26,922.46. The trial court awarded the entirety of the first amount and half of the second amount, totaling $14,328.59. LandWatch timely appealed.

Relying on Coalition for Adequate Review v. City and County of San Francisco (2014) 229 Cal.App.4th 1043, the Appellate Court held that an agency is not prohibited from recovering costs for preparation of the administrative record where the petitioner initially elected to do so. Such a determination is made on a case-by-case basis and at the court’s discretion.

While the award of such costs is limited to those that are “reasonable” and “reasonably necessary,” so long as the trial court finds that it is not specifically prohibited, it is at the trial court’s discretion to award costs. Here, the Court found that the trial court’s award was “on the low side of reasonable” totaling only $1.77 per page. The trial court would have been “well within its bounds” to award more, especially where the 7,683-page appendix was erroneously requested by LandWatch. Finally, the Court allowed costs for court calls, copies, and transcription costs that were reasonable and not prohibited.

The Court affirmed the trial court award.

Key Point:

Any amount of delay in administrative record preparation past the 60-day limitation in Public Resources Code section 21167.6(b)(1) is “unreasonable delay” in which an agency may prepare the record and recover “reasonable” costs, at the discretion of the court, for doing so.

Third District Court of Appeal Gives Great Deference in Quasi-Judicial Agency Decision Not to Delist Coho Salmon, Ending Decades-Long Dispute

Friday, January 5th, 2018

In Central Coast Forest Association v. Fish and Game Commission (2018) 18 Cal. App. 5th 1191, the California Third District Court of Appeal found the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) was correct to deny a petition to delist coho salmon from state protection under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). Deferring to the scientific expertise of the Commission, the Court held there was substantial evidence to support the decision where petitioner’s arguments rested purely on speculation.

To delist a species under CESA, the Commission must find a petition is warranted and, if so, determine if the action to list or delist is warranted. The Commission bases these initial and secondary findings on highly-technical and scientific information from the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The coho salmon in southern San Francisco/Santa Cruz County have been a CESA-listed endangered species since 1995. In 2004, the Commission expanded the listing’s parameters and delineated coho salmon north of Punta Gorda as a threatened species and coho salmon south of Punta Gorda as an endangered species. Central Coast Forest Association and Big Creek Lumber Company (Petitioners) sought delisting of the southern coho salmon. Petitioners alleged the fish were not endangered species as there were never wild, native salmon in the region; and if there were, they were destroyed by unfavorable environmental conditions. Further, the salmon present are solely sustained by hatchery plants, and as such, are not wild or native to California.

The Commission considered and denied Petitioners’ delisting petition in 2005 and again in 2007 for failing to contain sufficient scientific information. Petitioners twice failed to gain an order from the Superior Court overturning the decisions. Upon appeal, the California Supreme Court remanded the matter to the Third District Court of Appeal.

In reviewing, the Court focused on the sufficiency of the evidence and the deference they award to such determinations. Petitioners were required to present sufficient information to indicate the delisting may be warranted, information that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that there was a “substantial possibility” delisting could occur. Evidence is sufficient only if it is material, credible, supports the petition, and, when weighed against the Commission’s written report and any comments received, is strong enough to indicate that delisting may be justified.

Where the Commission’s decision to delist species is quasi-judicial, a higher deference is awarded to Commission findings. Specifically, the Commission’s technical and scientific resources and its legally wide discretion in decision-making makes the Court affirm the decision where the weight of the evidence is clearly justified or unclear. The Court will only reverse the decision where the evidence clearly weighs against it.

The Court examined the Commission’s evidence and Petitioner’s evidence regarding coho salmon’s historical existence in the contested area; including archaeological Native American middens, historical newspaper articles, hatchery records, drought and flood records, historical environmental factors, and genetic evidence. The Court found the Commission’s evidence was sufficient to determine Petitioner’s delisting petition unwarranted. The Commission showed that coho salmon are native to the contested area by genetically sequencing and comparing extant salmon with salmon museum specimens collected in 1895 from four adjacent streams in Santa Cruz County.

The Commission’s evidence also showed the sustained coho salmon population is not the result of hatchery planting. Historic hatchery output was sporadic and small in the southern San Francisco region, therefore the current population was not likely descended from local stock and no genetic evidence showed the current population is descended from out-of-state stock. The Court noted that even if existing populations were bolstered by local non-wild hatchery fish, these fish would genetically be considered California-native hatchery fish, and thus would be protected by the CESA.

Ultimately, the Court dismissed Petitioners’ evidence for it was “circumstantial” where they were “pick[ing] out bits of information that appear to substantiate their claim.” Thus, the Commission’s decision was appropriate where Petitioners’ claims were the product of “no scientifically credible data” and “[w]hat the petitioners call ‘evidence’ is actually persuasive writing, not valid scientific evidence.”

Answering technical questions posed by the Supreme Court, the Court found that a species “range” for consideration, per the Department of the Interior interpretation, is wherever the species is found, not only where it is known or historically known to be. Further, a portion of a listed species may only be delisted where it is individually “carved out” as a separate species, unlike what was petitioned for here.

Because the Commission has highly technical knowledge and delegated authority to list and delist endangered species, the Court affirmed the Commission decision to deny the delisting petition.

Key Point:

Where a quasi-judicial agency decision is challenged, the Court will give great deference to the decision, affirming where evidence is sufficient or unclear to support the decision. Sufficient evidence to the contrary is where credible, scientific based evidence outweighs the agency’s evidence.

President Trump Executive Order Aims At Revising EPA Waters of The United States (WOTUS) Rule

Monday, July 24th, 2017

On February 28, 2017, President Trump singed an executive order (“Order”) intended to roll back a rule promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) (collectively “Agencies”) under the Clean Water Act (CWA), known as the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule (“Rule”). Noting that EPA can regulate “navigable waters,” waters that truly affect interstate commerce, the President announced that the Order would direct EPA to take action, paving the way for the elimination of this “very destructive and horrible rule.”

On March 6, 2017, the Agencies published in the Federal Register a Notice of Intent to review and rescind or revise the Rule in response to the Order. The Rule, which was issued under the Obama administration and became effective on August 28, 2015, defines “waters of the United States” to clarify CWA jurisdiction based on science and several U.S. Supreme Court cases. These cases addressed the federal government’s jurisdiction over activities affecting the wetlands, rivers, and streams that fed into “navigable waters,” which are defined as “waters of the U.S.” and regulated under CWA.

After the Rule was issued in 2015, numerous states, farmers, and industry groups filed lawsuits to enjoin the Rule, claiming that the Rule would dramatically expand the federal agencies’ regulatory jurisdiction. On October 9, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in In re: EPA, 803 F.3d 804 (6th Cir. 2015), stayed the Rule nationwide, pending the court’s resolution of an issue related to the court’s jurisdiction over the case.

The Order directs the Agencies to initiate the process of rescinding or revising the Rule. The Order first directs the Agencies to review the Rule for consistency with the policy of keeping the Nation’s navigable waters free from pollution and at the same time promoting economic growth and minimizing regulatory uncertainty. Then, it directs the Agencies to publish for notice and comment a proposed rule rescinding or revising the Rule.

In addition, the Order also directs the Agencies and the heads of all executive departments and agencies to review all orders, rules, regulations, guidelines, or policies implementing or enforcing the Rule, and rescind or revise them to reflect any changes made to the Rule. Further, the Order requires that the Agencies take appropriate action concerning any litigation before the federal courts.

Finally, the Order requires that the Agencies interpret the term “navigable waters” in CWA in a manner consistent with Justice Scalia’s plurality opinion in Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715 (2006). The opinion, in which Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Alito joined, interpreted the term “waters of the U.S.” as “relatively permanent, standing or flowing” bodies of water “connected to traditional interstate navigable waters” as well as wetlands with a “continuous surface connection” with such waters. The plurality seemed to support narrower CWA jurisdiction than Justice Kennedy’s concurring opinion in Rapano, based on which the Rule was developed. Justice Kennedy’s opinion suggested that the term “waters of the U.S.” encompasses wetlands that possess a “significant nexus” to navigable waters.

Given the Rule’s extensive nationwide impact, any revision to the Rule will likely be challenged in court by stakeholders. Any change to the Rule requires the Agencies to comply with the notice and comment requirements under the federal Administrative Procedures Act. Stakeholders affected by the revision to the Rule should participate in the forthcoming notice and comment procedures. Thomas Law Group will closely monitor the notice and comment procedures associated with the Order.

Contents of an Administrative Record: Who is in “Control”?

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Preparation of the administrative record for CEQA litigation is governed by Public Resources Code section 21167.6, subdivision (e).  In Consolidated Irrigation District v. The Superior Court of Fresno County, (2012) ___ Cal.App.4th_____, the court provided important guidance regarding the proper contents of the record and sets some limitations on an agency’s responsibility to respond to Public Records Act requests.

The court first considered whether the files of subconsultants retained to prepare an EIR for a lead agency are (1) “public records” that the lead agency must provide in response to a Public Records Act request and/or (2) part of the administrative record for purposes of CEQA litigation.  In both instances, the court looked to the contract between the lead agency and the primary EIR consultant and determined that the City’s “control” over the consultant was contractually limited and did not extend to the services performed by subconsultants.  Thus, for purposes of the Public Record Act, the subconsultant’s files were not “in the possession of the agency” and therefore did not need to be included in the City’s response to petitioner’s Public Records Act request.  For purposes of CEQA, the contract established that the subconsultant’s files were not owned, controlled or in the possession of the City.  The court held such files were not considered part of the record under Public Resources Code section 21167.6, subdivision (e)(10) which requires inclusion of documents “included in the …public agency’s files on the project….”

Importantly, however, the court did not establish a bright line rule that subconsultant files never qualify for inclusion in the record; if a subconsultant’s documents were made available consistent with CEQA’s requirements, such documents would properly be in the record (e.g., documents cited or referenced in the EIR and made available for public review).  In this case, where the subconsultant’s documents were not made available to the City, the court found that it was improper to compel production of such documents for inclusion in the record.

The court next considered whether the City was required to include transcripts of hearings and/or audio files of public hearings in the record.  Although transcripts are clearly “written” materials and should generally be included in the record, in this case the City had not prepared written transcripts of several hearings and therefore could not produce such documents. The court held that Public Resources Code section 21167.6, subdivision (e)(4)’s requirement that the administrative record include “[a]ny transcript or minutes” does not compel a lead agency to prepare transcripts that do not otherwise exist.  However, the court held that audio recordings of the hearings constitute “other written materials” under subdivision (e)(4) and therefore must be included in the administrative record if transcripts are not available.  The court explained that this broad interpretation of the words “written materials” best promotes CEQA’s purposes of accountability and informed self-government.

Finally, the court considered whether certain documents cited within a comment letter constitute “written comments received” by the agency and/or “written evidence submitted” to the agency and thus warrant inclusion in the record under section 21167.6, subdivisions (e)(6) and (e)(7).  As to the first issue, the court concluded that the term “comment” does not include documents cited to support the assertions made in the letter.  While these documents are considered evidence supporting the contentions in the letter, they “cannot be bootstrapped into the record of proceedings using the language in section 21167.6, subdivision (e)(6) that covers ‘written comments received.’”

As to the next issue, the court determined that “written evidence” has been “submitted to” a lead agency for purposes of section 21167.6, subdivision (e)(7) when the commenter has made the document readily available for use or study by lead agency personnel.  The court applied this test to four categories of “evidence”:

(1)   documents named in a comment letter and previously delivered to the City in connection with another project were made “readily available” for City personnel and therefore were part of the record under subdivision (e)(7);

(2)   documents named in the comment letter along with a reference to a general Web site through which the document could be located were too general in nature and would subject lead agency personnel to potentially time-consuming efforts to locate the specific Web page where the document is located; therefore, citations to general Web pages and home pages are not considered “readily available” to the City and are not part of the record under subdivision (e)(7);

(3)   documents named in a comment letter along with a citation to the specific Web page or URL containing the document were made “readily available to the City personnel” and therefore are part of the record under subdivision (e)(7);

(4)   documents named in comment letters without a citation to a Web site or Web page are too difficult to identify or obtain and therefore have not been “submitted to” the lead agency for purposes of subdivision (e)(7) and need not be included in the record.

Key Point:

This case confirms that, with limited exception, the scope of the administrative record in a CEQA case is very broad and agencies should be careful to include: (1) the materials in the EIR consultant’s project files, and subconsultant’s files to the extent the agency owns or exercises control over those files, (2) audio tapes of public hearings where no transcripts are available, and (3) all documents received by or submitted to the agency, including documents “submitted” as URL citations in comment letters.

Written By: Tina Thomas and Ashle Crocker
For questions relating to this blog post or any other California land use, environmental and/or planning issues contact Thomas Law Group at (916) 287-9292.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Thomas Law Group, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

Where a Local Government Does Not Endorse Amendments to its Certified Local Coastal Program, the Coastal Commission’s Authority to Adopt such Amendments is Very Narrow

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

In City of Malibu v. California Coastal Commission (2012) ___ Cal.App.4th ___, the California Court of Appeal, Second District, considered whether California Public Resources Code section 30515, known as the override provision of the Coastal Act, allows a public works agency to apply to the Coastal Commission to override policies and standards in a locality’s local coastal program merely because it is a public works agency.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, a joint powers agency of which the conservancy is a constituent member, (collectively, the Conservancy) requested the City of Malibu (City) amend its local coastal program in part to facilitate the Conservancy’s future plans to develop four park properties. In response to the Conservancy’s request, the City amended its local coastal program and submitted it to the Coastal Commission for review. The amendments, however, were not satisfactory to the Conservancy and the Conservancy proposed its own alternative amendments to the Coastal Commission. The Conservancy asserted that section 30515 allows it, as a “person authorized to undertake a public works project,” to request, and for Coastal Commission to adopt, proposed amendments to the City’s certified local coastal program even over the City’s objection. The Coastal Commission agreed with the Conservancy’s interpretation of section 30515 and approved the Conservancy’s amendments instead of those proposed by the City. The City responded by filing a lawsuit arguing that the Coastal Commission abused its discretion by adopting the amendments proposed by the Conservancy over the City’s objections. The trial court agreed and the Conservancy appealed.

On appeal, the Court looked to the plain language of section 30515 and concluded that the statutory interpretation proposed by the Conservancy and Coastal Commission would lead to absurd results. If the conservancy’s interpretation were correct, any public works agency in California would be on “equal footing” with a city to seek Coastal Commission certification of amendments to its local coastal program over the city’s objections. Instead, the Court held section 30515 permits the Coastal Commission to override a locality’s local coastal program where a person applies to the Coastal Commission to actually “undertake a public works project or an energy facility development that would otherwise be prohibited by the local government’s certified [local coastal program.]” The interpretation proposed by the Conservancy and Coastal Commission would permit public works agencies to circumvent the local land use process by rendering the Coastal Commission as the land use decision maker; an interpretation that is not countenanced by the statute. Accordingly, the Coastal Commission lacked jurisdiction to approve the Conservancy’s proposed amendments to the City’s local coastal program because the Conservancy was not proposing to undertake a public works project.

Key Point:

Section 30515 provides a public agency with a procedural recourse to override a local coastal plan only where a public works project or energy facility development is actually undertaken and other very narrow criteria are met.

Written By: Tina Thomas, Chris Butcher and Grant Taylor (law clerk)
For questions relating to this blog post or any other California land use, environmental and/or planning issues contact Thomas Law Group at (916) 287-9292.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Thomas Law Group, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

9th Circuit Court of Appeals Lifts Stay to allow CARB to Continue Implementing LCFS

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

In Rocky Mountain Farmers Union v. Goldstene (Case no. CV-F-09-2234), the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District granted summary judgment in favor of a group of farming and oil-industry plaintiffs, finding that the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (“LCFS”) regulations promulgated by the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) to implement provisions of California Assembly Bill 32 (“AB 32”) violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  One of the district court’s rulings preliminarily enjoined the CARB from enforcing the regulation. CARB appealed the district court’s ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal (case no. 12-15131).

On April 23, 2012, the Ninth Circuit granted CARB’s motion for a stay of the injunction while the 9th Circuit continues to consider CARB’s appeal of the lower court’s decision. CARB’s press release regarding the 9th Circuit’s preliminary holding is available at:  (A copy of the  Order is attached here.)

Written By: Tina Thomas and Chris Butcher
For questions relating to this blog post or any other California land use, environmental and/or planning issues contact Thomas Law Group at (916) 287-9292.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Thomas Law Group, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

Court Orders Partial Publication of Consol. Irrigation Dist. v. City of Selma (2012) __ Cal.App.4th __

Monday, March 19th, 2012

On March 9, 2012, the Fifth Appellate District ordered a portion of its decision in Consol. Irrigation Dist. v. City of Selma (2012) __ Cal.App.4th __ (2012 Cal. App. LEXIS 277) published. Specifically, the Court ordered all but Sections I.A., III., IV.C., IV.D., V., and VI. of DISCUSSION published. The portions of the opinion ordered published relate to augmenting the administrative record, the irrigation district’s standing to file the CEQA action, and the credibility of evidence used to establish a fair argument under CEQA. The sections of the decision discussing the substantive application of the fair argument test where not ordered published.

With respect to the trial court’s decision to augment the record, the Court applied the substantial evidence standard of review. The trial court determined that the petitioner’s declaration stating that certain documents not included in the record were submitted to the City was the most credible of the declarations submitted at trial concerning augmentation of the record. The Court held that this determination by the trial court constituted substantial evidence demonstrating that the administrative record was properly augmented. The Court explained that to reject the trial court’s credibility determination its conclusion must be “physically impossible or obviously false without resorting to inference or deduction.”

In addressing the irrigation district’s standing to sue, the Court concluded Water Code section 22650 establishes that the irrigation district has standing to seek a writ of mandate. The Court concluded further that a public agency is not required to have jurisdiction over a natural resource affected by a proposed CEQA project to have a beneficial interest for the purposes of standing. Because the court found Water Code section 22650 to give the irrigation district standing, the Court declined to consider whether the irrigation district, as a governmental agency and not a citizen, can have public interest standing.

Lastly, the Court rejected the City’s argument that evidence submitted by the irrigation district was incredible and, thus, incapable of establishing a fair argument of potentially significant environmental impacts. The Court stated that to reject evidence as incredible, an agency must identify the evidence that was challenged with sufficient particularity to allow the reviewing court to determine whether there were legitimate, disputed issues of credibility. Here, the City cited no evidence that any particular statements in the record were disputed by the city council, planning commission, or staff during the administrative process. Therefore, the Court held the City’s credibility argument lacked merit.

Key Points:

Courts will not entertain an agency’s argument that evidence submitted during the administrative process lacks credibility unless the agency confronts this question during the administrative process and based on substantial evidence concludes the evidence is incredible.

Written By: Tina Thomas and Chris Butcher
For questions relating to this blog post or any other California land use, environmental and/or planning issues contact Thomas Law Group at (916) 287-9292.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Thomas Law Group, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.