Reversing a district court decision, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the Farragut Shooting Range has met all safety improvements required to reopen after a several-year injunction.
In a 5-0 decision, the justices found that the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has met the injunction terms that allow for up to 500 shooters per year at the range.
The ruling followed an appeal hearing before the Supreme Court justices in September.
"This decision will once again allow public access to the Farragut range as a safe place to practice shooting sports, sighting-in firearms for hunting seasons and firearms education," stated Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore on Thursday.
The Supreme Court judgment reversed Judge John Mitchell's 2011 decision that Fish and Game had not partially complied with a 2007 injunctive order.
The justices also reversed Mitchell's holding that the 2008 Idaho Outdoor Sport Shooting Act - setting noise standards for ranges like Farragut - was unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court lifted a component of the injunction to allow up to 500 shooters.
The justices also remanded the case back to the district court, to determine if Fish and Game has complied with other terms of the injunction that would allow for more than 500 shooters a year.
The range won't reopen to the public right away, a Fish and Game press release stated, because the range has traditionally been closed in the winter.
"We're pleased with the Idaho Supreme Court's ruling," Moore stated.
A court injunction had been placed on the roughly 160-acre Farragut range since February 2007, resulting from a lawsuit filed by Citizens Against Range Expansion.
The group of Bayview residents had sued Fish and Game over concern of stray bullets, noise and a planned range expansion.
Harvey Richman, attorney representing CARE members, said he was displeased with the Supreme Court's decision.
"I am surprised. But I must live with what it is," Richman said.
The next step will be to schedule a hearing to discuss if more shooters should be allowed at the range, he said.
The plaintiffs "comfortably believe" that more than 500 shooters won't be allowed, he said.
Experts have acknowledged that ricochets could still leave the range, he pointed out.
"There is simply no question that people down range are exposed to bullets," Richman said. "(Fish and Game) have spent a half million dollars, plus or minus, to open a range, and right now all they've got and all I believe they'll ever have is 500 a year. That's not a very good expenditure."
In the 2007 injunctive order, Mitchell had required specific safety improvements for the range to open back up to 500 shooters a year. Additional standards were required for more than 500 shooters.
Fish and Game invested about $260,000 to construct a partially contained 100-yard shooting range, and to install baffles and berms. The agency then sought a lifting of the injunction.
Mitchell ruled last year that the range couldn't open up to 500 shooters, however, because the new improvements didn't properly contain ricochets.
The judge also denied opening the range to more than 500 shooters. That stemmed from his determination that the legislature's new shooting act was unconstitutional as a special law, and a deprivation of judicial power.
Fish and Game had appealed.
Thursday's Supreme Court decision dubs it "baffling" that Mitchell decided the range's new overhead baffles don't meet the injunction's 500-shooter requirements.
"The district court's explanation of the what IDFG has done, and the text of the injunction, are identical," reads the Supreme Court decision.
The document also calls Mitchell's conclusion to not lift the injunction "unsupportable," and "clearly an abuse of the district court's discretion, requiring reversal."
In regard to the 2008 shooting act, the court deemed that the act is a general law, not a special law, because it applies to all shooting ranges in like situations.
It's not an unconstitutional deprivation of judicial power, the decision also reads, because it was a valid use of the legislature's police power.
The Supreme Court called for the case to be remanded to the district court to consider the safety and noise aspects of the 501-plus shooter standard, as Mitchell had based his decision only on the shooting act.
Court documents show that use of the range had been increasing, from 176 shooters in 2002 to at least 509 shooters in 2005.
The Supreme Court held that CARE is not entitled to attorneys' fees.