380 U.S. 1 (1965), 34, Udall v. Tallman

Docket Nº:No. 34
Citation:380 U.S. 1, 85 S.Ct. 792, 13 L.Ed.2d 616
Party Name:Udall v. Tallman
Case Date:March 01, 1965
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 1

380 U.S. 1 (1965)

85 S.Ct. 792, 13 L.Ed.2d 616

Udall

v.

Tallman

No. 34

United States Supreme Court

March 1, 1965

Argued October 22, 26, 1964

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Since their promulgation, the Secretary of the Interior has consistently construed Executive Order No. 8979 and Public Land Order No. 487, relating to the disposition of public lands located in the Kenai National Moose Range in Alaska, not to bar the issuance of oil and gas leases. His interpretation has been made a repeated matter of public record, and a number of leases have been developed at great expense in reliance on it. If, therefore, his interpretation of the orders is not unreasonable, courts must respect it. Pp. 4-18.

(a) The Secretary's interpretation of Executive Order No. 8979, which withdrew the lands covered by it from "settlement, location, sale, or entry, or other disposition (except for fish trap sites) under any of the public land laws applicable to Alaska," though not the only interpretation permitted by the language of the order, is a reasonable interpretation. Pp. 19-23.

(b) Wilbur v. United States ex rel. Barton, 60 App.D.C. 11, 46 F.2d 217 (1930), aff'd sub nom. United States ex rel. McLennan v. Wilbur, 283 U.S. 414, distinguished. Pp. 21-23.

(c) The reasonableness of the Secretary's interpretation of Public Land Order No. 487 follows a fortiori from the reasonableness of his interpretation of Executive Order No. 8979. P. 23.

116 U.S.App.D.C. 379, 324 F.2d 411, reversed.

Page 2

WARREN, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

At issue in this case is the effect of Executive Order No. 8979 and Public Land Order No. 487 upon the Secretary of the Interior's authority to issue oil and gas leases.

Between October 15, 1954, and January 28, 1955, D. J. Griffin and other persons -- hereinafter collectively referred to as the Griffin lessees -- filed applications for oil and gas leases on approximately 25,000 acres located in the Kenai National Moose Range in Alaska. On August 14, 1958, the respondents filed offers to lease the same lands. Section 17 of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 provides, in relevant part, that

the person first making application for the lease who is qualified to hold a lease . . . shall be entitled to a lease of such lands without competitive bidding. . . .

41 Stat. 443 (1920), as amended by 60 Stat. 951 (1946), 30 U.S.C. § 226 (1958 ed.). The Bureau of Land Management of the Department of the Interior determined that the Griffin lessees were the persons who had applied first, and issued to them leases on the tracts, effective September 1, 1958. Respondents' applications were reached for processing in

Page 3

October, 1959, and were rejected on the ground that the lands had been leased to prior applicants.1

From the rejection of their applications, respondents appealed to the Director of the Bureau of Land Management and then to the Secretary of the Interior, both of whom affirmed the decision. 68 I.D. 256 (1961). Respondents then brought an action in the nature of mandamus, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, to compel the Secretary to issue oil and gas leases to them. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the Secretary dismissing the complaint. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed, holding that Executive Order No. 8979, the order creating the Moose Range in 1941, and Public Land Order No. 487, issued by the Secretary in 1948,2 had withdrawn the lands in controversy from availability for leasing under the Mineral Leasing Act, and that the lands remained closed to leasing until they were reopened by a revised departmental regulation on August 14, 1958. The court therefore held that the Griffin applications, filed while the [85 S.Ct. 795] land was closed, were ineffective, rendering the leases issued on them nullities; the respondents, as the persons first making application

Page 4

after the promulgation of the 1958 regulation, were held to be entitled to the leases. 116 U.S.App.D.C. 379, 324 F.2d 411 (1963). We granted certiorari, 376 U.S. 961.

We conclude that the District Court correctly refused to issue a writ of mandamus, and accordingly reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals. Since their promulgation, the Secretary has consistently construed both orders not to bar oil and gas leases; moreover, this interpretation has been made a repeated matter of public record. While the Griffin leases and others located in the Moose Range have been developed in reliance upon the Secretary"s interpretation, respondents do not claim to have relied to their detriment upon a contrary construction. The Secretary"s interpretation may not be the only one permitted by the language of the orders, but it is quite clearly a reasonable interpretation; courts must therefore respect it. McLaren v. Fleischer, 256 U.S. 477, 481; Bowles v. Seminole Rock Co., 325 U.S. 410, 413-414.

I

The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, 41 Stat. 437, 30 U.S.C. § 181 et seq. (1958 ed.), gave the Secretary of the Interior broad power to issue oil and gas leases on public lands not within any known geological structure of a producing oil and gas field. Although the Act directed that if a lease was issued on such a tract, it had to be issued to the first qualified applicant, it left the Secretary discretion to refuse to issue any lease at all on a given tract. United States ex rel. McLennan v. Wilbur, 283 U.S. 414. The Act excluded from its application certain designated lands,3 but did not exclude lands within wildlife refuge areas.

Page 5

The Kenai National Moose Range was created in 1941 by Executive Order No. 8979, 6 Fed.Reg. 6471, by which approximately two million acres of the public domain were set aside "as a refuge and breeding ground for moose." The order provided that

(n)one of the above-described lands excepting (a defined area) shall be subject to settlement, location, sale, or entry, or other disposition (except for fish trap sites) under any of the public-land laws applicable to Alaska. . . .

On November 8, 1947, the Secretary promulgated the first general regulation dealing with the issuance of oil and gas leases within wildlife refuges. It provided simply that such leases had to be subjected to an approved unit plan and contain a provision prohibiting drilling or prospecting without the advance consent of the Secretary. 12 Fed.Reg. 7334.

On June 16, 1948, the Secretary issued Public Land Order No. 487, 13 Fed.Reg. 3462:

[T]he public lands within the following-described areas in Alaska [including most of that portion of the Moose Range which had been excepted from Executive Order No. 8979] are hereby temporarily withdrawn from settlement, location, sale or entry, for classification and examination, [85 S.Ct. 796] and in aid of proposed legislation:

* * * *

This order shall take precedence over, but shall not modify . . . the reservation for the Kenai National

Page 6

Moose Range made by Executive Order No. 8979 of December 16, 1941. . . .

Thus, neither Executive Order No. 8979 nor Public Land Order No. 487 expressly withdrew the lands to which it applied from oil and gas leasing. In 1951, however, the Secretary set aside, for uses inconsistent with mineral leasing, minor portions of the lands covered by Public Land Order No. 487:

[T]he following-described public lands in Alaska are hereby withdrawn from all forms of appropriation under the public land laws, including the mining laws and the mineral leasing laws. . . .4

Had the Secretary thought that Public Land Order No. 487 had already withdrawn the lands covered by it from appropriation under the mineral leasing laws, his reference to such laws in the 1951 orders would have been superfluous.

By an intra-agency memorandum dated August 31, 1953, the Director of the Bureau of Land Management advised the Regional Administrators of the Bureau and managers of the local land offices that "a possible revision of policy and regulations" on leasing in wildlife refuges was being studied, and directed them that,

[p]ending the completion of this study and the possible revision of existing regulations, you will suspend action on all pending oil and gas lease offers and applications for lands within such refuges.

It is not disputed, and subsequent memoranda make clear, that the 1953 memorandum did not purport to prevent either the issuance of leases with

Page 7

the approval of the national office or the continued filing of lease offers.5 During late 1954 and early 1955, a number of individuals filed applications for oil and gas leases in the northern half of the Moose Range; among these applications were those of the Griffin lessees. Action on them was suspended in accordance with the 1953 directive, but none was rejected on the ground that the land in question was closed to leasing.6

On September 9, 1955, the Secretary issued Public Land Order No. 1212, 20 Fed.Reg. 6795, revoking in its entirety Public Land Order No. 487. After granting certain preferences, it provided:

6. Any of the lands described in paragraphs 4(a), 4(b) or 4(d) of this order then remaining unappropriated, shall become subject to such application, petition, selection, or other form of appropriation by the public generally as may be authorized by the public land laws, including the mineral leasing laws. . . .

[85 S.Ct. 797]

7. Commencing at 10:00 a.m. on the 182nd day after the date of this order, any of the unsurveyed lands described in paragraph 4(c) not settled upon by veterans or other persons entitled to credit

Page 8

for service shall become...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP