Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, et al.
The Pueblo of Jemez filed a quiet title action against the United States relating to lands comprising the Valles Caldera National Preserve (“Valles Caldera”), which the United States purchased from private landowners in 2000. In an earlier appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the district court’s ruling dismissing the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court reversed and remanded, finding that an 1860 federal grant of title to private landowners would not extinguish the Jemez Pueblo’s claimed aboriginal title. Upon remand, the Jemez Pueblo could establish that it once and still had aboriginal title to the lands at issue. After a twenty-one-day trial, the district court ruled that the Jemez Pueblo failed to establish ever having aboriginal title to the entire lands of the Valles Caldera, failing to show that it ever used the entire claimed land to the exclusion of other Indian groups. The Jemez Pueblo moved for reconsideration under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). But rather than seek reconsideration of its complaint’s QTA claim to the entire Valles Caldera, the Jemez Pueblo shrunk its QTA claim into claims of title to four discrete subareas within the Valles Caldera: (1) Banco Bonito, (2) the Paramount Shrine Lands, (3) Valle San Antonio, and (4) the Redondo Meadows. The district court declined to reconsider all but Banco Bonito, on grounds that the Jemez Pueblo hadn’t earlier provided the government notice of these claims. Even so, being thorough, the court later considered and rejected those three claims on the merits. Of the issues raised by the Jemez Pueblo on appeal, we primarily address its challenge to the district court’s ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erroneously interpreted "Jemez I" in ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. So in accordance with longstanding Supreme Court precedent, and by the district court’s findings, the Court held the Jemez Pueblo still had aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Court reversed in part the denial of the Jemez Pueblo’s motion for reconsideration, and vacated in part and remanded with instructions to the district court. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, et al." on Justia Law
Wyo-Ben Inc. v. Haaland, et al.
Plaintiff-Appellant Wyo-Ben, Inc., (“Wyo-Ben”) appealed a district court’s dismissal of its complaint against the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (the “Secretary”) and the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM;” collectively, “Respondents”) asserting a single claim under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). In 1993, Wyo-Ben filed a mineral patent application with BLM. While that application was pending, in 1994, Congress enacted a moratorium on processing mineral patent applications. In the same legislation, Congress also enacted an exemption to the moratorium: if a patent application was still pending by September 30, 1994, and it otherwise complied with certain conditions, the patent application was not subject to the moratorium and the Secretary was required to process the application. On October 3, 1994, BLM—not the Secretary—determined that Wyo-Ben’s mineral patent application did not qualify for the exemption. Congress thereafter reenacted the 1995 Act (including the moratorium and exemption) annually through 2019. In 2019, Wyo-Ben filed suit alleging that, pursuant to § 706(1) of the APA, the Secretary “unlawfully withheld” and “unreasonably delayed” agency action by failing to review Wyo-Ben’s pending application to determine whether it was exempt from the moratorium. The court found that Wyo-Ben’s claim was statutorily barred by 28 U.S.C. § 2401(a), reasoning that Wyo-Ben’s § 706(1) claim first accrued on the date BLM determined that Wyo-Ben’s patent application was not exempt (i.e., October 3, 1994) and that the limitations period expired six years later (i.e., October 3, 2000). On appeal, Wyo-Ben contended the district court misconstrued its § 706(1) claim by characterizing the allegedly unlawful conduct as BLM’s decision that Wyo- Ben’s application falls within the moratorium. Respondents maintained: (1) Wyo-Ben submitted an incomplete application in that BLM rejected its tender of the purchase price before the moratorium took effect; and (2) BLM properly determined in 1994, pursuant to authority the Secretary lawfully delegated to BLM, Wyo-Ben’s application fell within the moratorium. The district court did not resolve either of the foregoing two issues in dismissing Wyo-Ben’s claim. And, specifically as to the second issue, the court did not determine whether the lawful effect of any such delegation from the Secretary was that BLM properly stood in the shoes of the Secretary for purposes of determining that Wyo-Ben’s application was subject to the moratorium. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit remanded the action to the district court for further proceedings. View "Wyo-Ben Inc. v. Haaland, et al." on Justia Law
Western Watersheds Project v. Interior Board of Land Appeals, et al.
In 2019, Western Watersheds Project sued to challenge the issuance of permits that expired in 2018. The district court dismissed the case for lack of Article III standing. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with that decision: Western Watersheds Project’s claims were brought against expired permits that had already been renewed automatically by 43 U.S.C. § 1752(c)(2). And the timing of a new environmental analysis of the new permits was within the Secretary’s discretion under 43 U.S.C. § 1752(i). Western Watersheds Project, therefore, lacked Article III standing because its claims were not redressable. View "Western Watersheds Project v. Interior Board of Land Appeals, et al." on Justia Law
High Lonesome Ranch v. Board of County Commissioner, et al.
For years, the High Lonesome Ranch restricted access to two roads by locking a gate. But in 2015, during a county meeting, the Garfield County Commission directed the Ranch to remove the locked gate after concluding that the two disputed roads were subject to public rights-of-way. The Ranch refused and filed a declaratory-judgment action in Colorado state court opposing the County’s position. At first, the County asked the state court to dismiss the case for failure to name the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) as a party. But rather than dismissing, the state court ordered the Ranch to join the United States (BLM) as a necessary party, and the Ranch did so. The United States removed the case to federal district court. In October 2020, after a five-day bench trial, the district court ruled that the entire lengths of the two disputed roads were subject to public rights-of-way. On appeal—and for the first time—the Ranch contended that various procedural shortcomings deprived the district court of subject-matter jurisdiction. It also challenged the district court’s rights-of-way rulings. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s adverse-use ruling, but reversed its Colorado R.S. 2477 ruling and remanded for the court to reconsider that ruling under recent circuit authority governing acceptance of R.S. 2477 rights. The Court also remanded for the district court to determine the locations and widths of the rights-of-way by survey. View "High Lonesome Ranch v. Board of County Commissioner, et al." on Justia Law
Northern Arapaho Tribe v. Becerra, et al.
The Northern Arapaho Tribe and the Indian Health Service (IHS) entered into a contract under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act for the Tribe to operate a federal healthcare program. Under the contract, the Tribe provided healthcare services to Indians and other eligible beneficiaries. In exchange, the Tribe was entitled to receive reimbursements from IHS for certain categories of expenditures, including “contract support costs.” The contract anticipates that the Tribe will bill third-party insurers such as Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers. The Tribe contended that overhead costs associated with setting up and administering this third-party billing infrastructure, as well as the administrative costs associated with recirculating the third-party revenue it received, qualified as reimbursable contract support costs under the Self-Determination Act and the Tribe’s agreement with the IHS. But when the Tribe attempted to collect those reimbursements, IHS disagreed and refused to pay. Contending it had been shortchanged, the Tribe sued the government. The district court, agreeing with the government’s reading of the Self-Determination Act and the contract, granted the government’s motion to dismiss. A divided panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals voted to reverse (for different reasons). Under either of the jurists' interpretations, the administrative expenditures associated with collecting and expending revenue obtained from third-party insurers qualified as reimbursable contract support costs. View "Northern Arapaho Tribe v. Becerra, et al." on Justia Law
Firestorm Pyrotechnics v. Dettelbach, et al.
Petitioner Firestorm Pyrotechnics, Inc. (“Firestorm”) sought review of a decision by the Acting Director (“Director”) of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF” or “Bureau”) revoking Firestorm’s license to import and sell fireworks. Firestorm challenged the revocation decision, maintaining the Director misapplied the willfulness standard in 27 C.F.R. § 771.42 and 27 C.F.R. § 771.5 and contending further the Director’s decision was unsupported by substantial evidence. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals discerned no error in the Director’s understanding and application of the willfulness standard. The Court found Firestorm made several contrary arguments, but none was persuasive. Furthermore, the Court found the Director's decision was supported by substantial evidence. View "Firestorm Pyrotechnics v. Dettelbach, et al." on Justia Law
Balderas, et al. v. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, et al.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted a license to Interim Storage Partners to store spent nuclear fuel near the New Mexico border. New Mexico challenged the grant of this license, invoking the Administrative Procedure Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. The Commission moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Objecting to the motion, New Mexico invoked jurisdiction under the combination of the Hobbs Act, and the Atomic Energy Act. The Tenth Circuit determined these statutes could combine to trigger jurisdiction only when the petitioner was an aggrieved party in the licensing proceeding. This limitation applied here because New Mexico didn’t participate in the licensing proceeding or qualify as an aggrieved party. "New Mexico just commented to the Commission about its draft environmental impact statement. Commenting on the environmental impact statement didn’t create status as an aggrieved party, so jurisdiction isn’t triggered under the combination of the Hobbs Act and Atomic Energy Act." The Court found the Nuclear Waste Policy Act governed the establishment of a federal repository for permanent, not temporary storage by private parties like Interim Storage. And even when an agency acts ultra vires, the Court lacked jurisdiction when the petitioner had other available remedies: New Mexico had other available remedies by seeking intervention in the Commission’s proceedings. So the Commission’s motion to dismiss the petition was granted for lack of jurisdiction. View "Balderas, et al. v. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, et al." on Justia Law
Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, et al. v. Haaland, et al.
Citizen groups challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s (“BLM”) environmental assessments (“EAs”) and environmental assessment addendum analyzing the environmental impact of 370 applications for permits to drill (“APDs”) for oil and gas in the Mancos Shale and Gallup Sandstone formations in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico. These challenges came after a separate but related case in which the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate five EAs analyzing the impacts of APDs in the area because BLM had failed to consider the cumulative environmental impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). BLM prepared an EA Addendum to remedy the defects in those five EAs, as well as potential defects in eighty-one other EAs that also supported approvals of APDs in the area. Citizen Groups argued these eighty-one EAs and the EA Addendum violated NEPA because BLM: (1) improperly predetermined the outcome of the EA Addendum; and (2) failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of the APD approvals related to greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions, water resources, and air quality. BLM disagreed, contending the challenges to some of the APDs were not justiciable because the APDs had not yet been approved. The district court affirmed the agency action, determining: (1) Citizen Groups’ claims based on APD’s that had not been approved were not ripe for judicial review; (2) BLM did not unlawfully predetermine the outcome of the EA Addendum; and (3) BLM took a hard look at the environmental impacts of the APD approvals. The Tenth Circuit agreed with BLM and the district court that the unapproved APDs were not ripe and accordingly, limited its review to the APDs that had been approved. Turning to Citizen Groups’ two primary arguments on the merits, the appellate court held: (1) BLM did not improperly predetermine the outcome of the EA Addendum, but, even considering that addendum; (2) BLM’s analysis was arbitrary and capricious because it failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts from GHG emissions and hazardous air pollutant emissions. However, the Court concluded BLM’s analysis of the cumulative impacts to water resources was sufficient under NEPA. View "Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, et al. v. Haaland, et al." on Justia Law
Rio Grande Foundation, et al. v. Oliver
Appellants Rio Grande Foundation (“RGF”) and Illinois Opportunity Project (“IOP”) were nonprofit advocacy groups challenging an amendment to New Mexico’s Campaign Reporting Act (“CRA”), which required groups spending over designated amounts on electioneering communications to state their identities on the materials and to disclose the identities of their donors to New Mexico’s Secretary of State (the “Secretary”). Appellants claimed these requirements burdened their First Amendment rights and chilled their planned speech in the 2020 election cycle. The district court dismissed the case at summary judgment for lack of standing, reasoning Appellants showed no injury-in-fact under the framework the Tenth Circuit laid out in Initiative and Referendum Institute v. Walker, 450 F.3d 1082 (10th Cir. 2006). After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the dismissal here in part, holding that RGF had standing to pursue its First Amendment challenge to the amended CRA’s disclosure requirement. The Court affirmed the dismissal of IOP’s claims, but on grounds different than those relied on by the district court. View "Rio Grande Foundation, et al. v. Oliver" on Justia Law
Citizens for Constitutional, et al. v. United States, et al.
Plaintiffs Citizens for Constitutional Integrity and Southwest Advocates, Inc. appealed the rejection of their challenges to the constitutionality of the Congressional Review Act (CRA), and Senate Rule XXII, the so-called Cloture Rule, which required the votes of three-fifths of the Senate to halt debate. The Stream Protection Rule, 81 Fed. Reg. 93,066 (Dec. 20, 2016), heightened the requirements for regulatory approval of mining-permit applications. The Rule was promulgated by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (the Office) in the waning days of the Obama Administration. Within a month of the Stream Protection Rule taking effect on January 19, 2017, both Houses of Congress had passed a joint resolution disapproving the Rule pursuant to the CRA, and President Trump had signed the joint resolution into law. According to Plaintiffs, the repeal of the Rule enabled the approval of a 950.55-acre expansion of the King II Coal Mine (the Mine), located in La Plata County, Colorado, and owned by GCC Energy. Plaintiffs filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado against the federal government and several high-ranking Department of the Interior officials in their official capacities (collectively, Defendants) seeking: (1) a declaration that the CRA and the Cloture Rule were unconstitutional and that the Stream Protection Rule was therefore valid and enforceable; (2) vacation of the approval of the King II Mine permit modification and an injunction against expanded mining activities authorized by the modification; and (3) attorney fees. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected plaintiffs' challenges to the CRA and held that they lacked standing to challenge the Cloture Rule. View "Citizens for Constitutional, et al. v. United States, et al." on Justia Law