May 24, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Statute of Limitations Begins to Run Under Mineral Leasing Act with Final Decision of Secretary

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Impact Energy Resources, LLC v. Salazar on Wednesday, September 5, 2012.

Appellants are energy companies who submitted high bids on oil and gas leases at a BLM auction. Before the leases were issued, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar “announced his decision at a February 4, 2009, press conference and memorialized his determination in a February 6 memorandum to the BLM’s Utah State Director. On February 12, 2009, a subordinate BLM official mailed letters to the high bidders indicating that the leases would not be issued.” The energy companies sued 90 days after the February 12th letter. The district court dismissed the suit because 30 U.S.C. § 226-2 of the Mineral Leasing Act provides a 90-day statute of limitation “after the final decision of the Secretary relating to such matter,” and the final decision of the Secretary had occurred on February 6, not 12.

In a per curiam opinion, a majority of the Tenth Circuit panel agreed with the district court, and with its decision that equitable tolling did not apply here. “Judge Lucero would hold that under the plain text of the MLA, the Secretary’s decision was final on February 6 regardless of whether plaintiffs’ claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) had accrued at that time. Judge Seymour would hold that the word “final” bears the same meaning in the phrase “final decision of the Secretary,” 30 U.S.C. § 226-2, as it does in the phrase “final agency action” under the APA, 5 U.S.C. § 704, and that final agency action occurred no later than February 6.”

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