Mountain States Legal Foundation Logo

Archived Cases

Archived: All Cases

People v. Rinehart

Why We Fight:

The State of California may not adopt an outright ban on lawful mining activity on federal lands nor may it criminalize the conduct of lawful miners.

Summary:

Although federal law has protected the right to mine on most federal lands for 150 years, California passed an indefinite “moratorium,” which is an outright ban, on suction dredge mining within its rivers.

Legal Question:

Whether the State of California may prevent small miners from developing their mining claims on federal land?

Petitioner

The People of the State of California

Respondent

Brandon Lance Rinehart

Court:

Supreme Court of the United States

None

In August of 2009, California imposed a moratorium on instream suction dredge mining in the state, and barred the California Department of Fish and Wildlife from issuing any new suction dredge permits to operators.

On August 30, 2012, the District Attorney of Plumas County filed a criminal complaint charging Mr. Rinehart, a small miner who owns placer mining claims within the Plumas National Forest, with a violation of California’s criminal code, alleging that he used suction dredge equipment in a river, stream, or lake, without a permit and that he possessed a suction dredge within an area closed to the use of that equipment. 

Mr. Rinehart admitted to using suction dredge equipment on his claims but argued that the California law was preempted by federal law.  He waived his right to a jury trial and made an offer of proof, to wit, expert testimony that the only commercially viable means of extracting his minerals is by suction dredge mining.

In May of 2013, the district court conducted the trial, found Mr. Rinehart guilty of the criminal charges, ruled the ban was constitutional, and excluded the expert testimony.  In September of 2014, the California Court of Appeals vacated the judgment of the district court.  In November of 2014, California filed a Petition for Review of the Court of Appeal’s decision with the California Supreme Court.  Over the objections of Mr. Rinehart, on January 21, 2015, the California Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.  

On March 23, 2015, California filed its opening brief.  On April 22, 2015,  Mr. Rinehart filed his response brief.  On June 11, 2015, California filed its reply brief.  On July 10, 2015, MSLF filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of American Exploration & Mining Association (AEMA) and in support of  Mr. Rinehart.  On August 31, 2015 the United States filed an amicus curiae brief in support of California.

On January 27, 2016, the California Supreme Court requested additionally briefing regarding the effects of California Senate Bill No. 637.  Both parties filed briefs in response to the Court’s inquiry on February 16, 2016.  On April 21, 2016, California filed a notice of supplemental authority regarding a case from the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon.  Mr. Rinehart filed a response on April 28, 2016.  Oral argument was held on June 1, 2016.  On August 22, 2016, the California Supreme Court upheld  Mr.
Rinehart’s conviction.

On February 2, 2017, Mr. Rinehart filed a petition for writ of certiorari.  On March 8, 2017, MSLF filed a petition in support of Mr. Rinehart on behalf of the American Exploration & Mining Association.  On May 15, 2017, the Supreme Court invited a brief from the Acting Solicitor General “expressing the views of the United States.” On December 6, 2017, the Solicitor General filed the requested amicus curiae brief, arguing that the case did not warrant review.  On December 18, 2017, Mr. Rinehart filed a reply to the Solicitor General’s amicus curiae brief.  On January 8, 2018, the petition was denied.



No Status Updates
  • Miners Group Urges Reversal of California Mining Ruling

    Mar 8, 2017
    A 122-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members that filed a friend of the court brief before the California Supreme Court in defense of a miner charged with violating the State’s criminal prohibition against suction dredge mining today urged the Supreme Court of the United States to review the ruling of that court that the federal mining law does not preempt California’s ban on suction dredge mining.
  • National Mining Group Laments California Mining Ruling

    Aug 22, 2016
    A 120-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members that filed a friend of the court brief before the California Supreme Court in defense of a miner charged with violating the State’s criminal prohibition against suction dredge mining today lamented the ruling of the court that the federal mining law does not preemption California’s ban on suction dredge mining.
  • National Mining Group Defends California Miner

    Jul 13, 2015
    A 120-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members today sought to file a friend of the court brief before the California Supreme Court in defense of a miner charged with violating the State’s criminal prohibition against suction dredge mining.


Help protect constitutional liberties and private property rights, and promote limited and ethical government and the free enterprise system:

Donate Here