United States v. Coleman

PETITIONER: United States

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 390 US 599 (1968)
ARGUED: Mar 28, 1968
DECIDED: Apr 22, 1968

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Coleman

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 28, 1968 in United States v. Coleman

Earl Warren:

No. 630, United States, et. al., petitioner versus Alfred E Coleman, et. al.

Mr. Barry?

Frank J. Barry:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case involves the validity of the decision of the Secretary of Interior which invalidated and declared null and void 18 Mining Claims in the San Bernardino National Forest about 40 miles from San Bernardino on the crust to the Mountains near Big Bear Lake.

The claims were located for building stone and they were located in 1959, in 1949, 1951 and 1952 by Mr. and Mrs. Coleman.

The claims are 40 acres each and they extend from the main road, which is the main road to Big Bear highway no. 18 and they rise up on a mountain with a southern and eastern exposure - that is their exposure on those sides of the mountain - overlooking Baldwin Lake, in the distance the Mojave Desert and overlooking Big Bear Lake.

Claims were located for building stone and the principal issue in the case has to do with whether the Secretary of the Interior applied the proper rule when he declared that the time-honored, prudent-manner rule included a rule that there must be a showing that the mining claims or that the product of the mining claims, the building stone could have been marketed prior to July 23, 1955, the date of the Multiple Use Act.

The importance of that date is as follows.

The Multiple Use Act declared that common varieties of sand, stone, gravel and certain other minerals could no longer be deemed to be valuable mineral deposits under the mining law so that the discovery of such commodities on the public land would give one the right to locate and to have a valid mining claim.

The evidence in the case was that the stone was quartzite.

Quartzite is a very hard mineral.

It is a metamorphic mineral, a mineral that has been created by forces of nature acting upon sandstone.

Quartzite occurs on the claims in large, massive chunks.

And by that, I mean cliffs in the mountain itself that it breaks unpredictably; that is to say it doesn't break in slabs.

It breaks in any direction without any prediction as to what it would be, but it is quite colorful.

There are some pictures that indicate that it's a very colorful stone.

It is not – it's got very dominant colors in it - reds and yellows and browns; they are very strong colors.

That the stone has been used and it locally and to some extent, away from the area for building; that, however, it is an unpopular stone in the industry.

One of the witnesses was the principal executive officer or western representative or southern representative of a stone marketing company who testified that the stone was unpopular; that the stone masons didn't like to use it; that it was too hard; that it was too heavy; that it dulled the tools that the stone masons used; that there haven't been any call for it for sometime.

There was some reference to a call about six months ago that caused into make an inquiry among the other suppliers to know if any was available; that he hadn't stocked it for years and that there wasn't any to his knowledge being stocked elsewhere.

The problem of marketability is related to the rule, the prudent-man rule, which is the rule that's been applied by the Department and upheld by this Court, is related to the rule.

Indeed, it is merely an application of the rule to certain types of minerals.

The marketability or excuse me, the prudent-man rule is this: that one does not have a valuable discovery which is essential to the validity of a mining claim, unless he has within the limits of his claim an exposure of mineral and evidence that a man of ordinary -- that would induce a man of ordinary prudence to extend his energy and his labor and his means with a reasonable prospect of developing a valuable mine.

This is the one, the principal, the most important element in mining laws so far as it relates to the public domain.

By failure to comply with this particular provision of mining law or by circumstances that do not qualify, the mining claimant is denied a patent which gives him unrestricted use of the land.

He obtains the title in fee simple without any reservation, without any limitation as to what he would use it for.

He becomes the owner of the land.

Indeed, even before he gets a patent, he has practically the rights of a patentee with the exception that he can't market timber or use other products of the land other than the minerals, the -- except in connection with his mining operation, The prudent-man rule has been applied over the years and from the earliest time, it has been applied with special reference to this type of mineral, which occur so widely that to say merely that you have the mineral would not really be sufficient to say that you can actually make a profit.

Can a man, when he stumbles upon a deposit of sand, justify to himself the expenditure of the labor and the means necessary to develop a valuable mine?

Can he reasonably do this?