Hickel v. Oil Shale Corporation

PETITIONER: Walter J. Hickel, Secretary of the Interior
RESPONDENT: Oil Shale Corporation
LOCATION: Ohio State Bar Association

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 400 US 48 (1970)
ARGUED: Oct 22, 1970
DECIDED: Dec 08, 1970

Facts of the case


Media for Hickel v. Oil Shale Corporation

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 21, 1970 in Hickel v. Oil Shale Corporation

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 22, 1970 in Hickel v. Oil Shale Corporation

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear arguments in Number 25, Hickel against the Oil Shale Company.

Mr. Strauss you may proceed whenever you’re ready.

Peter L. Strauss:

Thank you.

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case is here on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

That Court decided that in passing on certain applications to purchase public lands in containing Oil Shale, the Secretary of Interior must ignore administrative actions which became final almost 40 years ago.

Actions which purported to cancel the claims to possession on which the applications were based.

If the clients were effectively canceled, there could be no right to purchase these lands today.

For 50 years, the lands have been available to new claimants, only by lease.

The statute which made that change.

The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 provided however that existing valid claims could still qualify for purchase under the old law.

Only if the clients were, and “thereafter maintained in compliance with the laws under which initiated.”

The old law was the General Mining Act of 1872 and it conferred an exclusive possessory right on persons who made the discovery of valuable minerals on the public domain and then performed certain technical functions on the land and at the local County Courthouse.

That claim remained valid for as long as the individual complied with the requirements of the United States Law.

In particular, the law required the annual performance of $100.00 worth of so called assessment work every year.

That requirement is the only one under the law that might be thought that have to do with maintaining a claim once it is made.

In terms, the statute states only that failure to do the work opens the land to relocation by another prospector.

But in my argument, I shall show that the Government too, often re-acquired possessory rights in this land.

During the 1920’s, the Secretary discovered that assessment work was not being done on a vast bulk of Oil Shale claims.

At first, he sought to treat any failure to do the required work however technical as automatically canceling the claims and then a case which vividly illustrated the resulting inequities, Wilbur versus Krushnic.

This Court held that that drastic rule is improper.

It left open however the possibility that claims could be canceled by direct Government action during a period while assessment work at last.

The Secretary took that hint and during the following three years, brought actions against over 20,000 of these claims covering an area of over 2,800,000 acres in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah.

To cancel those claims for failure to do the required maintenance.

In each of these cases, the Secretary was prepared to show that the assessment work was not being done up to the very moment when he acted.

And that the Government had physically inspected and posted the claims in reclaiming them much as a private individual might have done.

Many claimants did not even respond to the Secretary’s process, not include 75% of the lands at issue in this particular case.

Other claimants responded to the process but permitted the proceedings against them to become final at the administrative level.

That’s the remainder of the land at issue in this case.

One set of claimants however, had been doing their assessment work up to the very date of the Krushnic decision, and promptly offered to resume doing that work.