Voyageur Outward Bound Sch. v. United States, Case No. 1:18-cv-01463 (TNM)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtTREVOR N. McFADDEN, U.S.D.J.
PartiesVOYAGEUR OUTWARD BOUND SCHOOL, et al., Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES, et al., Defendants, v. TWIN METALS MINNESOTA LLC, et al., Defendant-Intervenors. WILDERNESS SOCIETY, et al., Plaintiffs, v. DEB HAALAND, et al., Defendants, v. TWIN METALS MINNESOTA LLC, et al., Defendant-Intervenors. FRIENDS OF THE BOUNDARY WATERS WILDERNESS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, et al., Defendants, v. TWIN METALS MINNESOTA LLC, et al., Defendant-Intervenors.
Decision Date13 May 2021
Docket NumberCase No. 1:18-cv-01499 (TNM),Case No. 1:18-cv-01463 (TNM),Case No. 1:18-cv-01496 (TNM)

VOYAGEUR OUTWARD BOUND SCHOOL, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES, et al., Defendants,
v.
TWIN METALS MINNESOTA LLC, et al., Defendant-Intervenors.


WILDERNESS SOCIETY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DEB HAALAND,1 et al., Defendants,
v.
TWIN METALS MINNESOTA LLC, et al., Defendant-Intervenors.


FRIENDS OF THE BOUNDARY WATERS WILDERNESS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, et al., Defendants,
v.
TWIN METALS MINNESOTA LLC, et al., Defendant-Intervenors.

Case No. 1:18-cv-01463 (TNM)
Case No. 1:18-cv-01496 (TNM)
Case No. 1:18-cv-01499 (TNM)

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

May 13, 2021


MEMORANDUM ORDER

When the parties were last before the Court, it had to answer the question of when do federal agencies get a mulligan. The Court determined that the Department of the Interior "timely corrected an error that would have deprived [Defendant-Intervernors] Twin Metals of its right to valuable leases." Voyageur Outward Bound Sch. v. United States, 444 F. Supp. 3d 182, 204 (D.D.C. 2020). Plaintiffs now ask the Court to take a mulligan of its own. They move under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) for relief from the Court's judgment based on newly discovered evidence. Because Plaintiffs have failed to show that the new evidence would have probably changed the outcome, the Court will deny the motion.

I.

The Court previously recounted the facts, id. at 187-89, so here it provides only what is necessary and what is new.

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Twin Metals sought to renew two mining leases with Interior. Id. at 188. Interior denied the request, relying on a legal opinion ("Tompkins Opinion") that concluded that renewal was not automatic and instead required the consent of the Secretary of Agriculture. Id. The Secretary refused, so Interior rejected the leases. Id. One year later—and after a change in presidential administrations—Interior rescinded the Tompkins Opinion and issued a new one. Id. The new "Jorjani Opinion" concluded that the Tompkins Opinion misapplied contract law and misinterpreted the leases, which should have been renewed automatically at Twin Metals' request. Id. After Interior reinstated the leases, Plaintiffs sued, claiming that Interior's reversal violated the APA and various statutes.2 Id. at 188-89. The Court disagreed, ruling that Interior had inherent authority to reconsider its decision within a reasonable time, which it lawfully did based on "thorough, thoughtful, and reasonable" analysis. Id. at 204.

Plaintiffs appealed the Court's March 2020 order. See Notices of Appeal, ECF Nos. 83, 85, 86. At some point before November 2020—at a time left unclear by the briefing3—Plaintiffs learned that unaffiliated third parties posted documents relevant to this case on the internet. Ward Decl. ¶¶ 3-7. Plaintiffs and their counsel were previously unaware of the records, see

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Mot. Exs. 12-25,4 which were retrieved through FOIA requests filed by third parties, Ward Decl. ¶¶ 3, 5, 7. Plaintiffs now submit nine documents to the Court. See Mot. Exs. 3-11. They contain communications from 2017 in which Members of Congress and representatives for Twin Metals highlight flaws in the Tompkins Opinion and lobby administration officials to reinstate the leases. Id.

With these documents in hand, Plaintiffs move under Rule 60(b) for the Court to reconsider its prior decision. Mot. at 19. More specifically, they ask the Court to "indicate" that, if the Court of Appeals remands the case, the Court will grant relief from the judgment and "reopen" the cases for reconsideration. Id. Both the Government and Twin Metals oppose. The Court of Appeals granted Plaintiffs' motion to hold the appeals in abeyance until this Court decides the motion for reconsideration. See Order of U.S. Court of Appeals, ECF No. 101.

II.

When a Plaintiff files a notice of appeal, jurisdiction shifts to the Court of Appeals. See United States v. DeFries, 129 F.3d 1293, 1302 (D.C. Cir. 1997). "In this situation, the district court may outright deny, but cannot outright grant, a Rule 60(b) motion." Piper v. DOJ, 374 F. Supp. 2d 73, 77 (D.D.C. 2005). But if the court is inclined to grant the motion, it can signal that it would grant relief, inviting remand from the Court of Appeals. See id.; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 62.1.

When considering a Rule 60(b) motion, district courts "must strike a delicate balance between the sanctity of final judgments . . . and the incessant command of a court's conscience that justice be done in light of all the facts." Bain v. MJJ Products, 751 F.3d 642, 646 (D.C. Cir.

Page 4

2014) (cleaned up). Rule 60(b)(2) provides for relief based on "newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial." But "the moving party must demonstrate that (1) the newly discovered evidence is of facts that existed at the time of the trial or merits proceeding; (2) the party seeking relief was justifiably ignorant of the evidence despite due diligence; (3) the evidence is admissible and is of such importance that it probably would have changed the outcome; and (4) the evidence is not merely cumulative or impeaching." Almerfedi v. Obama, 904 F. Supp. 2d 1, 3 (D.D.C. 2012) (cleaned up). The motion must be filed "within a reasonable time" and no more than one year after the entry of judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(c)(1); see also Salazar ex rel. Salazar v. District of Columbia, 633 F.3d 1110, 1118 & n.5 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (discussing "reasonable time").

III.

Defendants oppose the motion largely on two grounds: the timing and the substance of the new evidence. See Opp'n of Def.-Intervenors Twin Metals Minnesota LLC and Franconia Minerals (US) LLC to Pls.' Mot. for Relief from J. Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(2) ("Twin Metals Opp'n") at 9-19, ECF No. 97 ; Federal Defs.' Opp'n to Pls.' Mot. for Relief from Final J. Under Fed. R. of Civ. P. 60(b)(2) ("Gov't Opp'n") at 9-12, ECF No. 98. To expeditiously resolve the motion, the Court will not consider the timing; the Court will assume that Plaintiffs were justifiably ignorant of the existence of the documents and were diligent enough in both locating them and filing the motion. See Almerfedi, 904 F. Supp. 2d at 3.

That leaves the effect of the new evidence. The motion fails because Plaintiffs have not shown that the new material is "of such importance that it probably would have changed the outcome" of the Court's decision. Id. The Court is confident that these documents would not have tipped the scales.

Page 5

As they did in their motion for summary judgment, Plaintiffs contend that Interior's reversal was merely a pretext for a change in policy. Mot. at 15. And they note that the Court dismissed this line of argument before because—beyond the reversal coinciding with a change in presidential administrations—there was "no evidence at all" that Interior's reconsideration stemmed from shifting policy. Voyageur, 444 F. Supp. 3d at 197. Now armed with some evidence, Plaintiffs try again.

But they still lack a winning argument. Plaintiffs cling to one line from the Court's prior opinion, in which it noted generally that "agencies may not use error correction 'as a guise for changing previous decisions' based on policy preferences." Voyageur, 444 F. Supp. 3d at 196 (quoting Am. Trucking Ass'ns, Inc. v. Frisco Transp. Co., 358 U.S. 133, 146 (1958)). Plaintiffs overread this general statement and its citation to American Trucking.5 The Court meant that an agency may not rely on its inherent authority to correct errors when it really wishes to reverse course based only on shifting policy. The Court did not mean that policy considerations can in no way catalyze a second look.

So when can policy...

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