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Whited v. United State of America

Why We Fight:

Like all landowners, the federal government has a duty to maintain its property in a reasonable and safe manner to prevent hazards upon its land from harming its neighbors.

Summary:

Despite frequent warnings from a Colorado landowner, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) refused to fix an unsafe structure, which collapsed onto and damaged the man’s land; the agency refuses any responsibility.

Legal Question:

Whether the federal government is responsible for the damage it does to a neighbor’s property?

Plaintiff:

Michael W. Whited

Defendant:

United States of America

Court:

U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado

In 1985, Michael Whited moved cross country from Alabama to Colorado.  After a decade, Mr. Whited purchased a modest home in idyllic Fourmile Canyon where he and his wife have lived ever since.  This area of Boulder County, Colorado was heavily mined from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s. 

Mr. Whited’s next-door neighbor is the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), on whose property stood a dated stone and concrete mining shed.  The shed was built directly into the hillside and sits less than six feet from his house.  In 2011, Mr. Whited, a mechanical engineer, recognized that the shed posed a hazard to him and his property, so he asked the BLM to remove it or at least to sell him the small piece of land beneath the shed so he could remove or stabilize it himself.  The BLM passed him from employee to employee and office to office, but it never took any action to remove or stabilize the shed.  In March of 2016, just as Mr. Whited feared, the shed collapsed causing heavy debris, including concrete and boulders, to cover the walkway adjacent to his house.  In addition, the collapsing shed uprooted trees from the BLM’s property and drove them into the back of his house and into the electrical panel, creating an imminent risk of an electrical fire. 

Despite Mr. Whited’s numerous pleas, the BLM refused to take any action to address even the most significant safety hazards caused by its failure to maintain its land properly. Instead, over the last two years he has been forced to expend his own time and money to deal with those issues.  Nonetheless, large portions of the shed remain collapsed on Mr. Whited’s property because it would be futile for him to remove the remainder of the shed himself.  The only thing that will prevent any further damage to Mr. Whited’s property is for the BLM to stabilize the land it owns on which its shed previously stood.

Finally, Mr. Whited filed an administrative claim pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) asking the BLM to take full responsibility for the mess that it made on his property.  Instead, the BLM outrageously responded that it “has no ownership of the [shed] on public land.”  It did however grant him permission to “remove any of the structure that is on your property as well as any of the structure where encroachment onto your property is imminent.”  Nonetheless, the agency warned him that he could not construct a retaining wall on or enter upon BLM-managed land without paying for a BLM right-of-way.  Obviously, the BLM expects Mr. Whited to foot the entire bill for its neglect. 

On January 18, 2018, MSLF filed a lawsuit on Mr. Whited’s behalf in Colorado federal district court.

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