Western Min. Council v. Watt

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
Citation643 F.2d 618
Docket NumberNo. 78-2669,78-2669
Parties11 Envtl. L. Rep. 20,440 WESTERN MINING COUNCIL, a corporation, Robert G. Wright, Cal-Ore Chapter, Western Mining Council, Barney McClendon, Jr., Nor-Cal Chapter, Western Mining Council, Richard Arbo, Hayfork Chapter Western Mining Council, Larry Cordtz, Prospectors & Miners' Chapter of Shasta County, Western Mining Council, Carl Ripatte, Mother Lode Miners Association, Chapter of Western Mining Council, Pat Crombie, Northern Mining Council, Chapter of Western Mining Council, Barney Green, Los Angeles County Chapter, Western Mining Council, Robert Sanders, Tuolumne Chapter, Western Mining Council, Emmett Dahl, Santa Clara County Chapter, Western Mining Council, Ron Reeves, Mariposa County Chapter, Western Mining Council, Arne Soares, Rand-El Paso Mountains Chapter, Western Mining Council, Keith O'Hara, Doris Dietemann, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. James G. WATT, * Secretary of the Interior of the United States of America, Defendant-Appellee.
Decision Date23 April 1981

William B. Murray, Portland, Or., argued, for plaintiffs-appellants; Jane Skanderup, Meadow Vista, Cal., on brief.

Michael A. McCord, Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., for defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California.

Before ANDERSON and FLETCHER, Circuit Judges, and EAST, ** District Judge.

EAST, District Judge:

Plaintiffs appeal from a judgment dismissing their claim with prejudice pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment rendering all or part of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, 43 U.S.C. §§ 1701-1782, unconstitutional and invalid. Plaintiffs also sought to enjoin the Secretary of the Interior from expending certain funds for the enforcement of the Act. This appeal raises questions of standing, justiciability, and the adequacy of plaintiffs' allegations to state claims upon which relief can be granted. We note jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and affirm.


In 1976, Congress passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act ("Act"), 43 U.S.C. §§ 1701-1782. The Act establishes a system of land use planning and management for lands owned by the United States, and includes several provisions relating to mining claims. 1 The parties plaintiff include: (1) the Western Mining Council, a non-profit association of miners and owners of unpatented mining claims; (2) several of the Mining Council's chapters; and (3) several individuals who mine and own unpatented mining claims and who are citizens and taxpayers of both California and the United States.

Plaintiffs filed this action on November 2, 1977, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Act is unconstitutional in whole or in part, and seeking to enjoin the Secretary of the Interior from expending certain funds appropriated pursuant to the Act for law enforcement on the public lands. Plaintiffs allege that the Act violates the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution, the provisions of Article IV, Section 3, and the two year limitation upon appropriations for armies found in Art. I, § 8, cl. 12. 2 The complaint further alleges that the Act injures the individual plaintiffs by infringing their contractual rights as owners of unpatented mining claims located prior to passage of the 1976 Act, infringing their right to mine the claims, exposing them to unlawful searches and seizures, placing them in jeopardy from an unconstitutionally vague criminal statute, injuring them as state and federal taxpayers and denying their due process rights. The Western Mining Council and several of its chapters claim injury due to the alleged impairment of their members' ability to pay dues.

On April 19, 1978, the District Court granted defendant's motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) on the specific ground that plaintiffs had failed to state a justiciable claim, and granted leave to amend. When plaintiffs did not amend their complaint within 15 days, the District Court entered a judgment dismissing the complaint with prejudice, from which plaintiffs appeal.


The jurisdiction of the federal courts is limited to the adjudication of "cases or controversies" by Art. III, § 2, of the Constitution. Simon v. Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Org., 426 U.S. 26, 37-38, 96 S.Ct. 1917, 1923-1924, 48 L.Ed.2d 450 (1976); Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 499, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 2205, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975). There is a substantial question as to whether plaintiffs' allegations are sufficient to satisfy this jurisdictional prerequisite.

The "case or controversy" requirement demands first that the issues be justiciable; i. e., they must "present a real and substantial controversy which unequivocally calls for the adjudication of ... rights." Poe v. Ullman, 367 U.S. 497, 509, 81 S.Ct. 1752, 1759, 6 L.Ed.2d 989 (1961) (Brennan, J. concurring). A second case or controversy requirement is that the plaintiffs have standing to assert their claims. In Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343, the Supreme Court noted that the question of standing is in essence

"whether the litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute or of particular issues. This inquiry involves both constitutional limitations on federal-court jurisdiction and prudential limitations on its exercise.... In both dimensions it is founded in concern about the proper and properly limited role of the courts in a democratic society." Id. at 498, 95 S.Ct. at 2205 (citations omitted).

Standing requires as a constitutional minimum that a plaintiff allege "such a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to assure that concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues upon which the court so largely depends for illumination of difficult constitutional questions." Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204, 82 S.Ct. 691, 703, 7 L.Ed.2d 663 (1962). The standing question focuses upon the party asserting the claim because "(t)he Art. III judicial power exists only to redress or otherwise to protect against injury to the complaining party, even though the court's judgment may benefit others collaterally. A federal court's jurisdiction therefore can be invoked only when the plaintiff himself has suffered 'some threatened or actual injury resulting from the putatively illegal action ....' Linda R. S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614, 617, (93 S.Ct. 1146, 1148, 35 L.Ed.2d 536) (1973)." Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. at 499, 95 S.Ct. at 2205. This constitutional dimension of the standing requirement is sometimes described as a requirement that the plaintiff allege "injury in fact." Schlesinger v. Reservists Committee to Stop the War, 418 U.S. 208, 218, 94 S.Ct. 2925, 2930, 41 L.Ed.2d 706 (1974); Ass'n of Data Processing Service Organizations, Inc. v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150, 152, 90 S.Ct. 827, 829, 25 L.Ed.2d 184 (1970).

Additionally, the courts have imposed standing limitations beyond those required by the Constitution. These prudential limitations arise from a concern that the courts not "be called upon to decide abstract questions of wide public significance even though other governmental institutions may be more competent to address the questions and even though judicial intervention may be unnecessary to protect individual rights." Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. at 500, 95 S.Ct. at 2206. Thus, the courts have held that when the alleged harm is a "generalized" or "abstract" grievance shared by a large class of citizens, jurisdiction will not be exercised. See, e. g., Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. at 499, 95 S.Ct. at 2205; Schlesinger v. Reservists Committee to Stop the War; United States v. Richardson, 418 U.S. 166, 94 S.Ct. 2940, 41 L.Ed.2d 678 (1974); Ex Parte Levitt, 302 U.S. 633, 58 S.Ct. 1, 82 L.Ed. 493 (1937).

The case or controversy requirement applies to actions under the Declaratory Judgments Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201. Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Haworth, 300 U.S. 227, 240, 57 S.Ct. 461, 463, 81 L.Ed. 617 (1937); Stewart v. M. M. & P. Pension Plan, 608 F.2d 776, 782 (9th Cir. 1979). Thus, insofar as they are constitutionally mandated, the doctrines of standing and justiciability apply to actions for declaratory judgments. Further, the Declaratory Judgment Act applies only to cases of "actual controversies." Thus, "the question in each case is whether the facts alleged, under all the circumstances, show that there is a substantial controversy, between parties having adverse legal interests, of sufficient immediacy and reality to warrant the issuance of a declaratory judgment." Maryland Casualty Co. v. Pacific Coal & Oil Co., 312 U.S. 270, 273, 61 S.Ct. 510, 512, 85 L.Ed. 826 (1941). See also Lake Carriers' Ass'n v. MacMullan, 406 U.S. 498, 506, 92 S.Ct. 1749, 1755, 32 L.Ed.2d 257 (1972); Stewart v. M. M. & P. Pension Plan.

Because standing and justiciability are limitations upon the exercise of the jurisdiction of the federal courts, we must consider these issues in regard to the various claims presented despite plaintiffs' contention that the justiciability issue is not properly before us. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421, 89 S.Ct. 1843, 1848, 23 L.Ed.2d 404 (1969) (opinion of Marshall, J.); City of South Lake Tahoe v. California Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 625 F.2d 231, 233 (9th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 101 S.Ct. 619, 66 L.Ed.2d 502 (1980).


Before turning to plaintiffs' individual claims, we note that the task of determining whether the justiciability and standing requirements are satisfied is somewhat complicated by the procedural posture of this case. On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the complaint must be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Russell v....

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