471 U.S. 84 (1985), 83-1394, United States v. Locke

Docket Nº:No. 83-1394
Citation:471 U.S. 84, 105 S.Ct. 1785, 85 L.Ed.2d 64, 53 U.S.L.W. 4433
Party Name:United States v. Locke
Case Date:April 01, 1985
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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471 U.S. 84 (1985)

105 S.Ct. 1785, 85 L.Ed.2d 64, 53 U.S.L.W. 4433

United States

v.

Locke

No. 83-1394

United States Supreme Court

April 1, 1985

Argued November 6, 1984

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE

DISTRICT OF NEVADA

Syllabus

Section 314 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) establishes a federal recording system that is designed to rid federal lands of stale mining claims and to provide federal land managers with up-to-date information that allows them to make informed land management decisions. Section 314(b) requires that mining claims located prior to FLPMA's enactment be initially recorded with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) within three years of the enactment, and § 314(a) requires that the claimant, in the year of initial recording and "prior to December 31" of every year after that, file with state officials and the BLM a notice of intention to hold a claim, an affidavit of assessment work performed on the claim, or a detailed reporting form. Section 314(c) provides that failure to comply with either of these requirements "shall be deemed conclusively to constitute an abandonment" of the claim. Appellees, who had purchased mining claims before 1976, complied with the initial recording requirement but failed to meet on time their first annual filing requirement, not filing with the BLM until December 31. Subsequently, the BLM notified appellees that their claims had been declared abandoned and void due to their tardy filing. After an unsuccessful administrative appeal, appellees filed an action in Federal District Court, alleging that § 314(c) effected an unconstitutional taking of their property without just compensation and denied them due process. The District Court issued summary judgment in appellees' favor, holding that § 314(c) created an impermissible irrebuttable presumption that claimants who fail to make a timely filing intended to abandon their claims. Alternatively, the court held that the 1-day late filing "substantially complied" with § 314(a) and the implementing regulations.

Held:

1. Section 314(a)'s plain language -- "prior to December 31" -- read in conjunction with BLM regulations makes clear that the annual filings must be made on or before December 30. Thus, the BLM did not act ultra vires in concluding that appellees' filing was untimely. Pp. 93-96.

2. Congress intended in § 314(c) to extinguish those claims for which timely filings were not made. Specific evidence of intent to abandon is made irrelevant by § 314(c); the failure to file on time, in and of itself, causes a claim to be lost. Pp. 97-100.

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3. The annual filing deadline cannot be complied with, substantially or otherwise, by filing late -- even by one day. Pp. 100-102.

4. Section 314(c) is not unconstitutional. Pp. 103-110.

(a) Congress was well within its affirmative powers in enacting the filing requirement, in imposing the penalty of extinguishment in § 314(c), and in applying the requirement and sanction to claims located before FLPMA was enacted. Pp. 104-107.

(b) Appellees' property loss was one they could have avoided with minimal burden; it was their failure to file on time, not Congress' action, that caused their property rights to be extinguished. Regulation of property rights does not "take" private property when an individual's reasonable, investment-backed expectations can continue to be realized as long as he complies with reasonable regulations. Pp. 107-108.

[105 S.Ct. 1788] (c) FLPMA provides appellees with all the process that is their constitutional due. The Act's recording provisions clearly afford those within the Act's reach a reasonable opportunity both to familiarize themselves with the general requirements imposed and to comply with those requirements. As the Act constitutes purely economic regulation, Congress was entitled to conclude that it was preferable to place a substantial portion of the burden on claimants to make the national recording system work. Pp. 108-110.

573 F.Supp. 472, reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 110. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 112. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 117.

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MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The primary question presented by this appeal is whether the Constitution prevents Congress from providing that holders of unpatented mining claims who fail to comply with the annual filing requirements of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), 43 U.S.C. § 1744, shall forfeit their claims.

I

From the enactment of the general mining laws in the 19th century until 1976, those who sought to make their living by locating and developing minerals on federal lands were virtually unconstrained by the fetters of federal control. The general mining laws, 30 U.S.C. § 22 et seq., still in effect today, allow United States citizens to go onto unappropriated, unreserved public land to prospect for and develop certain minerals. "Discovery" of a mineral deposit, followed by the minimal procedures required to formally "locate" the deposit, gives an individual the right of exclusive possession of the land for mining purposes, 30 U.S.C. § 26; as long as $100 of assessment work is performed annually, the individual may continue to extract and sell minerals from the claim without paying any royalty to the United States, 30 U.S.C. § 28. For a nominal sum, and after certain statutory conditions are fulfilled, an individual may patent the claim, thereby purchasing from the Federal Government the land and minerals and obtaining ultimate title to them. Patenting, however, is not required, and an unpatented mining claim remains a fully recognized possessory interest. Best v. Humboldt Placer Mining Co., 371 U.S. 334, 335 (1963).

By the 1960's, it had become clear that this 19th-century laissez-faire regime had created virtual chaos with respect to the public lands. In 1975, it was estimated that more than

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6 million unpatented mining claims existed on public lands other than the national forests; in addition, more than half the land in the National Forest System was thought to be covered by such claims. S.Rep. No. 94-583, p. 65 (1975). Many of these claims had been dormant for decades, and many were invalid for other reasons, but in the absence of a federal recording system, no simple way existed for determining which public lands were subject to mining locations, and whether those locations were valid or invalid. Ibid. As a result, federal land managers had to proceed slowly and cautiously in taking any action affecting federal land lest the federal property rights of claimants be unlawfully disturbed. Each time the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposed a sale or other conveyance of federal land, a title search in the county recorder's office was necessary; if an outstanding mining claim was found, no matter how stale or apparently abandoned, formal administrative adjudication was required to determine the validity of the claim.1

[105 S.Ct. 1789] After more than a decade of studying this problem in the context of a broader inquiry into the proper management of the public lands in the modern era, Congress in 1976 enacted FLPMA, Pub.L. 94-579, 90 Stat. 2743 (codified at 43 U.S.C. § 1701 et seq.). Section 314 of the Act establishes a federal recording system that is designed both to rid federal lands of stale mining claims and to provide federal land managers with up-to-date information that allows them to make informed land management decisions.2 For claims located before FLPMA's enactment,3 the federal recording system imposes two general requirements.

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First, the claims must initially be registered with the BLM by filing, within three years of FLPMA's enactment, a copy of the official record of the notice or certificate

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of location. 90 Stat. 2743, § 314(b), 43 U.S.C. § 1744(b). Second, in the year of the initial recording, and "prior to December 31" of every year after that, the claimant must file with state officials and with BLM a notice of intention to hold the claim, an affidavit of assessment work performed on the claim, or a detailed reporting form. 90 Stat. 2743, § 314(a), 43 U.S.C. § 1744(a). Section 314(c) of the Act provides that failure to comply with either of these requirements "shall be deemed conclusively to constitute an abandonment of the mining claim . . . by the owner." 43 U.S.C. § 1744(c).

The second of these requirements -- the annual filing obligation -- has created the dispute underlying this appeal. Appellees, four individuals engaged "in the business of operating mining properties in Nevada,"4 purchased in 1960 and 1966 10 unpatented mining claims on public lands near Ely, Nevada. These claims were major sources of gravel and building material: the claims are valued at several million dollars,5 and, in the 1979-1980 assessment year alone, appellees' gross income totaled [105 S.Ct. 1790] more than $1 million.6 Throughout the period during which they owned the claims, appellees complied with annual state law filing and assessment work requirements. In addition, appellees satisfied FLPMA's initial recording requirement by properly filing with BLM a notice of location, thereby putting their claims on record for purposes of FLPMA.

At the end of 1980, however, appellees failed to meet on time their first annual obligation to file with the Federal Government. After allegedly receiving misleading information from a BLM employee,7...

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