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Archived: Private Property Legal Cases

Since its creation in 1977, MSLF has been one of the nation's leading centers fighting to ensure that property owners are accorded all rights guaranteed by the Constitution. MSLF defends property owners who cannot afford to fight back against government lawyers and environmental groups to protect their property rights. MSLF's litigation has helped to ensure the preservation of one of America's most valuable and valued freedoms--the right to own and use property.

McMaster v. United States

Legal Question:

Whether the United States may defeat the purpose of a mining patent by claiming an ownership interest in the structures that are reasonable and incident to mining operations?

Plaintiff:

Ken McMaster; Maureen E. Galitz; Steven E. Fawl

Defendant:

United States of America; United States Bureau of Land Management; United States Forest Service; Kenneth L. Salazar, Secretary of the Interior

Court:

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Further briefing and oral arguments.

Ken McMaster, along with two of his cousins, owns the Oro Grande mining claim located within the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area in northern California. The Oro Grande claim is a 20-acre association placer claim located in the 1930s. Between 1934 and 1953, the claim was relocated three times to clear up potential issues with ownership and/or the location. In 1992, the Oro Grande claimants applied for a patent. In 1993, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued the first half final certificate. In October 2008, BLM issued a patent for the Oro Grande claim, which was later amended and reissued in February 2009. Under the terms of the patent, BLM did not convey fee title to the property. Instead, BLM conveyed only title to the "mineral deposits within association placer mining claim known as the Oro Grande Mining Claim." As justification for the reservations and limitations placed in the patent, BLM cited the Wilderness Act of 1964.

Since Mr. McMaster received the patent, the Forest Service has asserted that he does not own the mining structures that are present on the claim, notwithstanding that these structures have been utilized in the mining operations since the claim was located. The Forest Service is now demanding that Mr. McMaster remove the structures and restore the surface of the patented claim. Further, the Forest Service is requiring McMaster apply for and receive a special use permit before he would be "permitted" to continue mining operations on his patented claim.

Mr. McMaster claims that he should have been issued fee simple title to the Oro Grande claim and that the Forest Service may not deny him use of his private structures, which are reasonable and incident to mining. On April 13, 2010, Mr. McMaster filed his complaint.  On June 30, 2010, the United States filed a motion to dismiss. On September 10, 2010, the district court granted the United States' motion to dismiss.

Mr. McMaster filed an amended complaint on September 24, 2010. On October 8, 2010, the federal defendants filed consolidated motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim and lack of jurisdiction. On November 22, 2010, Mr. McMaster filed an opposition to the motion. On November 29, 2010, the federal defendants filed their reply. On December 1, 2010, the district court cancelled the scheduled oral argument and took the motion under advisement. On September 2, 2011, the district court dismissed the case with prejudice.

On October 6, 2011, Mr. McMaster filed a notice of appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  The appeal was briefed fully and a Ninth Circuit panel heard oral arguments on June 14, 2013.  On September 24, 2013, the three-judge panel affirmed the district court’s judgment. On December 6, 2013, Mr. McMaster filed a petition for panel rehearing and/or rehearing en banc

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