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Solenex, LLC v. Jewell

Issue:

Whether the federal government may prevent resource development and destroy contract and property rights through unreasonable and indefinite delay?

Plaintiff:

Solenex, LLC

Defendants:

Sally Jewell, Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior; Mike Pool, Acting Director, Bureau of Land Management; Jamie Connell, State Director. Montana State Office, Bureau of Land Management; Tom Vilsack, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Tom Tidwell, Chief, U.S. Forest Service; Faye Krueger, Regional Forester, U.S. Forest Service – Region 1; William Avey, Forest Supervisor, Lewis and Clark National Forest; and Carol Shull, Interim Keeper, National Register, in their official capacities

Court:

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
 Unknown

In June 1982, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued Sidney Longwell, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a 6,247 acre oil and gas lease in the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Glacier County in northwestern Montana.  In 1983, Mr. Longwell assigned the lease to America Petrofina Company of Texas, which later became Fina Oil and Chemical Company.  In October 1983, Fina submitted an application for permit to drill near Hall Creek, approximately 2 miles south of U.S. Highway 2 to evaluate the natural gas potential of that portion of the Overthrust Belt.

After extensive review pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), amidst appeals, and following a ruling by the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLM), in consultation with the U.S. Forest Service, the BLM approved the APD in 1985, 1987, 1991, and finally in January 1993.

In June 1993, the Secretary of the Interior suspended activity on the lease purportedly to permit Congress to act.  In 1994 and 1995 the Secretary extended the suspension awaiting congressional action.  Then, in 1996, the Secretary continued the suspension, purportedly to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act.  In 1997, the Secretary extended that suspension and finally, in 1998, continued it indefinitely.

In 1999, FINA assigned its rights under the approved APD and lease back to Mr. Longwell.  In July 2004, he assigned his rights to Solenex, which, in May 2013, asked that the suspension be lifted; the request was denied.

On June 28, 2013, Solenex filed a complaint in the federal district court for the District of Columbia seeking to compel the federal government to lift the suspension of its lease and allow Solenex to exercise its rights under the lease.  On September 9, 2013, federal defendants filed their answer, generally denying all of the allegations in the complaint.

On September 26, 2013, several environmental groups moved to intervene to support the suspension.  On November 19, 2013, Solenex filed an opposition to the motion to intervene, and on November 26, 2013, the environmental groups filed a reply.  On June 10, 2014, the district court denied the motion to intervene.  On August 1, 2014, the environmental groups appealed the denial of their motion to intervene, which has been stayed pending the outcome of the district court proceedings.  Meanwhile, on December 15, 2013, the federal defendants filed the documents they purport to constitute the administrative record.  ​

On July 7, 2014, Solenex filed its motion for summary judgment and supporting memorandum.  On August 25, 2014, federal defendants filed their cross-motion for summary judgment.  On September 22, 2014, Solenex filed its response/reply.  On October 24, 2014, federal defendants filed their reply.  On April 30, 2015, Solenex filed a motion for oral argument and/or expedited consideration regarding the pending motions for summary judgment.  On May 21, 2015, the district court granted the motion for an expedited hearing to be held on June 10, 2015.  On June 10, 2015, the federal district court held an expedited hearing in Washington, D.C.​

On July 27, 2015, the district court ruled that federal defendants’ delay was unlawful and granted summary judgment in favor of Solenex.  The federal district court gave defendants 21 days to prepare a schedule for completing administrative action on Solenex’s approved APD.  On August 17, 2015, federal defendants filed a proposed scheduled, under which they would complete administrative action by July 15, 2017.  On August 28, 2015, Solenex filed an opposition to federal defendants’ proposed scheduled, which explained that federal defendants could easily complete all administrative action by June 1, 2016.

On September 2, 2015, Solenex was represented at a public hearing before the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) in Choteau, Montana.  On September 4, 2015, Solenex submitted written comments to the ACHP.

On October 6, 2015, the federal district court conducted a hearing during which it rejected the schedule proposed by federal defendants.  On October 8, 2015, the federal district court issued a new order requiring expedited action by federal defendants on whether the suspension will be lifted or the lease cancelled.  On November 23, 2015, federal defendants filed their memorandum, arguing that they may have issued the lease prematurely over 33 years ago in violation of NEPA, which makes the lease voidable.  Although federal defendants state that they “ha[ve] not yet made a final cancellation decision,” they are prepared to cancel Solenex’s lease as soon as the district court approves their proposed course of action.  On January 19, 2016, Solenex filed a response explaining that federal defendants are legally and equitably barred from cancelling the lease.  On March 4, 2016, federal defendants filed a reply, arguing that the Court could not prevent them from cancelling the lease. 

On March 16, 2016, the federal district court held the status conference and ordered federal defendants to make a decision in 24 hours.  On March 17, 2016, federal defendants cancelled the lease and disapproved the approved APD.  On April 15, 2016, Solenex moved for leave to file an amended and supplemental complaint to challenge federal defendants’ decision to cancel the lease and disapprove the approved APD.  On May 5, 2016, the federal district court granted the motion and Solenex’s amended and supplemental complaint was filed that day.  On May 16, 2016, federal defendants filed their answer to the amended and supplemental complaint.  Meanwhile, on May 10, 2016, several environmental groups moved again for intervention.  On May 27, 2016, Solenex’s filed its opposition to the motion to intervene.  On June 6, 2016, the environmental groups filed a reply in support of their motion to intervene.

On June 1, 2016, Solenex filed an application for attorney’s fees and expenses under the EAJA for prevailing on the merits of its original claims for relief.  On June 6, 2016, the Court granted the parties’ motion to stay proceedings on the EAJA application.

On July 8, 2016, federal defendants filed the indexes to their administrative record for Solenex’s new claims for relief.  On September 12, 2016, Solenex filed its motion for summary judgment and supporting documents.  On October 3, 2016, federal defendants’ filed their cross-motion for summary judgment.  On October 10, 2016, proposed intervenors lodged a brief in opposition to Solenex’s motion for summary judgment and in support of federal defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment.  On November 11, 2016, Solenex filed its response/reply regarding the pending motions for summary judgment.​ 

On November 28, 2016, the federal district court granted the proposed intervenors’ motion to intervene.  Concurrently, the federal district court allowed Solenex to file a response to the brief previously lodged by intervenors.  On December 16, 2016, Solenex filed its response to intervenors’ brief.  On January 6, 2017, federal defendants and intervenors filed their replies.

 

 

 

  • Reagan Era Lessee Responds to Intervenors in Obama Officials’ Lease Cancellation Case

    Dec 19, 2016
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    Apr 30, 2015
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