United States v. Locke

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, Greensboro Division

DOCKET NO.: 83-1394
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)

CITATION: 471 US 84 (1985)
ARGUED: Nov 06, 1984
DECIDED: Apr 01, 1985

Carolyn F. Corwin - Argued the cause for the appellants
Harold A. Swafford - Argued the cause for the appellees

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Locke

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 06, 1984 in United States v. Locke

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in United States against Locke.

Ms. Corwin, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Carolyn F. Corwin:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, in 1976, Congress enacted the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, known as FLPMA.

This was the first statute to give the Bureau of Land Management comprehensive authority to manage the public lands.

In the course of enacting FLPMA, Congress sought to provide a solution for a long standing public land management problem that involved the lack of information about unpatented mining claims that had been located on millions of acres of federal lands.

Since the 1860's and 1870's, when that system of mining claims on federal lands was established, millions of claims had been located on federal lands.

The problem was that no one knew where they were or what their status was.

The general mining laws didn't provide any mechanism for notification to the federal government when a claim was located or when it was abandoned.

The only time a claimant had to report to the federal government concerning his claim was if he elected to proceed to patent, that is, to take steps to obtain full ownership of the land on which the claim was located.

Most claimants didn't bother to take that step, so BLM did not have any information on the status of these claims, and that situation made it very difficult for the federal land managers to take actions with respect to federal lands.

Unless BLM did some fairly extensive research at the local county courthouse and then tried to track down all of these potential claimants it identified, it simply couldn't be sure one way or the other about whether the land at issue was encumbered by such claims.

And that interfered with the ability to go ahead and take action with respect to a piece of land.

Now, Congress sought to remedy that situation in Section 314 of FLPMA.

Under that section, a claimant must make an initial filing with the Bureau of Land Management within three years of the passage of the statute.

The claimant then must update that information annually by filing a piece of paper prior to December 31st.

Why do you think that language was employed?

Was this just a boner on the part of some administrative assistant, or was there a real purpose in having it before December 31?

Carolyn F. Corwin:

Well, the legislative history does not give any clues one way or the other about why that particular filing deadline was chosen, and I suppose there are several possibilities, one of which you suggest.

It could be that someone simply was careless in drafting and didn't realize that they had done what they had done.

It is certainly is a trap for the unwary, isn't it?

Carolyn F. Corwin:

Well, I don't know whether it is fair to characterize it that way.

I certainly don't think anybody at the time regarded it that way.

That is, I think it may have been simply a failure to look closely at what they had done.

It is conceivable it was somebody with a good intention to foresee a problem of the office closing right before New Year's or something.

I don't know what it was, but--

Well, if we had the provision in the income tax law before April 15 or, as it used to be, March 15, there certainly would be a nationwide howl from those who are used to the last day filing.

Carolyn F. Corwin:

--Well, it would certainly be difficult to adjust.

Of course, this was a new provision, and I suppose that... and people who look at this statute carefully, I think, can figure out that prior to December 31st doesn't mean on December 31st.

Especially the fellow who gave the bad advice.

Carolyn F. Corwin:

Well, I would point out that that is an affidavit on the part of the appellees in this case.