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Reagan Era Lessee’s Pursuit of Attorneys’ Fees for Beating Feds Dismissed

Sep 26, 2017 | by William Perry Pendley

DENVER, CO.  A Louisiana man was issued a federal oil and gas lease in 1982, but has been denied the right to explore his property ever since.  Today the motion he filed for attorneys’ fees and expenses was dismissed without prejudice.  Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) represents Solenex, LLC (a company managed by Sidney Longwell the original lessee), which sued then-Secretary of the Interior Jewell and others in federal district court in Washington, D.C. in 2013.  Solenex alleged, among other things, that the Secretary unlawfully delayed Solenex’s ability to develop the lease.  In June of 2015, the judge called the government’s conduct, “Kafkaesque.”  In in July of 2015, the judge ruled the delay unlawful as a matter of law.  When ordered to come up with a plan for allowing Solenex to develop the lease, the Secretary simply cancelled the lease in March 2016. 

Solenex then moved to amend its complaint to challenge the Secretary’s cancellation of the lease and also moved for an award of attorney’s fee and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA).  Unfortunately, the district court dismissed the motion until after all pending claims are decided.

“We are disappointed with the ruling because our filing was ‘appropriate’ when filed given that the court had ruled in our client’s favor,” said William Perry Pendley of MSLF.

In June 1982, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued Mr. Longwell a 6,247-acre oil and gas lease on federal land 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), and 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.

Mountain States Legal Foundation, created in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system.  Its offices are in suburban Denver, Colorado.

For more information:  Solenex, LLC v. Zinke


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