Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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The United States Bureau of Land Management leased 2,500 acres of geothermal mineral rights in Hidalgo County, New Mexico to Plaintiff Lightning Dock Geothermal HI-01, LLC (LDG), a Delaware company. LDG developed and owned a geothermal power generating project in Hidalgo County. LDG also developed a geothermal well field on the subject tract as part of its project. Defendant AmeriCulture, a New Mexico corporation under the direction of Defendant Damon Seawright, a New Mexico resident, later purchased a surface estate of approximately fifteen acres overlying LDG’s mineral lease, ostensibly to develop and operate a tilapia fish farm. Because AmeriCulture wished to utilize LDG’s geothermal resources for its farm, AmeriCulture and LDG (more accurately its predecessor) entered into a Joint Facility Operating Agreement (JFOA). The purpose of the JFOA, from LDG’s perspective, was to allow AmeriCulture to utilize some of the land’s geothermal resources without interfering or competing with LDG’s development of its federal lease. Plaintiff Los Lobos Renewable Power LLC (LLRP), also a Delaware company, was the sole member of LDG and a third-party beneficiary of the JFOA. The parties eventually began to quarrel over their contractual rights and obligations. Invoking federal diversity jurisdiction, Plaintiffs LDG and LLRP sued Defendants Americulture and Seawright in federal court for alleged infractions of New Mexico state law. AmeriCulture filed a special motion to dismiss the suit under New Mexico’s anti-SLAPP statute. The district court, however, refused to consider that motion, holding the statute authorizing it inapplicable in federal court. After review of the briefs, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed. View "Los Lobos Renewable Power v. Americulture" on Justia Law

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The United States Bureau of Land Management leased 2,500 acres of geothermal mineral rights in Hidalgo County, New Mexico to Plaintiff Lightning Dock Geothermal HI-01, LLC (LDG), a Delaware company. LDG developed and owned a geothermal power generating project in Hidalgo County. LDG also developed a geothermal well field on the subject tract as part of its project. Defendant AmeriCulture, a New Mexico corporation under the direction of Defendant Damon Seawright, a New Mexico resident, later purchased a surface estate of approximately fifteen acres overlying LDG’s mineral lease, ostensibly to develop and operate a tilapia fish farm. Because AmeriCulture wished to utilize LDG’s geothermal resources for its farm, AmeriCulture and LDG (more accurately its predecessor) entered into a Joint Facility Operating Agreement (JFOA). The purpose of the JFOA, from LDG’s perspective, was to allow AmeriCulture to utilize some of the land’s geothermal resources without interfering or competing with LDG’s development of its federal lease. Plaintiff Los Lobos Renewable Power LLC (LLRP), also a Delaware company, was the sole member of LDG and a third-party beneficiary of the JFOA. The parties eventually began to quarrel over their contractual rights and obligations. Invoking federal diversity jurisdiction, Plaintiffs LDG and LLRP sued Defendants Americulture and Seawright in federal court for alleged infractions of New Mexico state law. AmeriCulture filed a special motion to dismiss the suit under New Mexico’s anti-SLAPP statute. The district court, however, refused to consider that motion, holding the statute authorizing it inapplicable in federal court. After review of the briefs, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed. View "Los Lobos Renewable Power v. Americulture" on Justia Law

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NDSC Industrial Park, LLC (“NDSC”) appealed a district court order dismissing its “Consent Decree Order Motion.” In the late 1990s, the United States and the State of Colorado each filed complaints against Colorado & Eastern Railroad Company (“C & E”) under CERCLA. These complaints sought reimbursement of response costs associated “with the release or threatened release of hazardous substances at the Sand Creek Industrial Site located in Commerce City and Denver, Colorado.” In an effort to avoid protracted litigation, the parties entered into a partial consent decree (the “Consent Decree”) on April 13, 1999. Pursuant to the Consent Decree, C & E agreed to sell two parcels of land, the OU3/6 Property and the OU1/5 Property (collectively the “Properties”), and pay the net proceeds of the sales to the United States and Colorado. In 2002, the remediated OU1/5 and OU3/6 Properties were put up for auction by the United States pursuant to the Consent Decree. NDSC was the winning bidder. Prior to closing on the purchase of the Properties, NDSC was made aware that C & E had already conveyed its fee interest in a right-of-way. In 2014, NDSC filed suit in Colorado state court to quiet title to the railroad right-of-way against C & E, and other interested parties in the Properties. The district court dismissed the motion because NDSC lacked standing to enforce the terms of the consent decree. On appeal, NDSC claimed the district court erred in concluding it: (1) was attempting to enforce the consent decree, as opposed to seeking a limited declaration regarding the meaning of the consent decree; and (2) did not have standing to seek a declaration that a conveyance of property violated the terms of the consent decree. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s dismissal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Colorado & Eastern Railroad Co" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellee Western Energy Alliance (“WEA”) filed this lawsuit against two Defendants: the Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, and the Bureau of Land Management (the “BLM”). WEA alleged that the BLM violated the Mineral Leasing Act, 30 U.S.C. secs. 181-287 (the “MLA”), by holding too few oil and gas lease sales. Several environmental advocacy groups moved to intervene in the suit: The Wilderness Society, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Southern Utah Wilderness Society, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Great Old Broads For Wilderness, Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians, Center For Biological Diversity, and Earthworks (collectively, the “conservation groups”). The district court denied the motion to intervene. The court concluded that the conservation groups had failed to show that the pending litigation has the potential to harm their environmental interests, or that the presently named parties could not adequately represent their interests. The conservation groups filed this interlocutory appeal over the denial of their motion to intervene. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the conservation groups could intervene in the lawsuit as a matter of right, and reversed the district court’s previous denial. View "Western Energy Alliance v. Zinke" on Justia Law

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Defendant Rural Water District No. 4, Douglas County, Kansas (“Douglas-4”) appealed a district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff City of Eudora, Kansas (“Eudora”) in this declaratory judgment action. Douglas-4 and Eudora disputed which entity could provide water service to certain areas near Eudora (the “Service Area”). In 2002, Douglas-4 was the water service provider for the Service Area, but was running low on water. Douglas-4 decided to purchase water from an adjacent rural water district, “Johnson-6.” The project required laying new pipes and building additional pumping stations at an estimated cost of $1.25 million. To finance the project, Douglas-4 received initial approval for a $1.25 million loan from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) with a fixed rate and twenty-year term. That same year, Eudora annexed the Service Area. The annexation positioned Eudora to potentially assume Douglas-4’s water customers. Understanding that it was facing a potential loss of customers, Douglas-4’s governing board reduced its KDHE loan to $1 million and sought the remaining $250,000 from a private, USDA-guaranteed loan. Douglas-4 believed that such a loan would come with federal protection under 7 U.S.C. 1926(b), which prevented municipalities from assuming water customers while a USDA-guaranteed loan was in repayment. Douglas-4 eventually secured a USDA-guaranteed loan for $250,000 from First State Bank & Trust and proceeded with the Johnson-6 project. Both the KDHE loan and the USDA-guaranteed loan had twenty-year repayment terms, beginning in 2004 and ending in 2024. Between 2004 and 2007, Douglas-4 and Eudora entered into negotiations in an attempt to resolve the disputed Service Area, but the discussions were not successful. Douglas-4 filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas to prevent Eudora from taking its water customers. The jury returned a special verdict in favor of Douglas-4, concluding the loan guaranteed by the federal government was necessary, and Eudora appealed. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "City of Eudora v. Rural Water District No. 4" on Justia Law

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The Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) closed an area of Recapture Canyon to all-terrain vehicles (“ATVs”) in 2007, to prevent soil damage and the spoliation of archeological resources near the trail. Frustrated with what had been billed as a temporary closure, in 2014, certain individuals planned an ATV ride to protest the BLM’s closure order. The ride took place in May 2014. Defendant-appellant Phil Lyman, a County Commissioner for San Juan County, was a major promoter of the ride. He was charged along with Defendant-appellant Monte Wells in a misdemeanor criminal information with operating ATVs on lands closed to such use by the BLM and conspiring to do so. A jury found both men guilty of the charged offenses, for which they were sentenced them to terms of probation and brief terms of imprisonment. They were also ordered to pay restitution for the costs of assessing and repairing the damage that the protest ride caused to the land. On appeal, defendants brought a variety of challenges to their convictions and the restitution order: asking ask for a new trial because they claimed a reasonable observer allegedly would have questioned the district court judge’s impartiality (the judge did ultimately recuse before their sentencing). Furthermore, they appealed the denial of their motions to dismiss; they made a “Brady” claim stemming from the government’s failure to produce a map showing a possible public right-of-way through Recapture Canyon (which allegedly would have called into question whether the BLM’s 2007 closure order was lawful); they challenged the district court’s restitution order and the amount they were ordered to pay; and, lastly, Lyman argued he was denied constitutionally adequate counsel. The Tenth Circuit found none of defendants’ arguments were grounds for reversal of the district court’s judgment, and affirmed. View "United States v. Wells" on Justia Law

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This case presented a question of whether a large-scale excavation project constituted “mining” under the pertinent federal regulations that address mineral development on Indian land. When an entity engages in “mining” of minerals owned by the Osage Nation, a federally approved lease must be obtained from the tribe. The Osage Mineral Council (OMC), acting on behalf of the Osage Nation, appealed the award of summary judgment to Defendant Osage Wind, LLC (Osage Wind), arguing that Osage Wind engaged in “mining” without procuring a federally approved mineral lease. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has defined “mining” as the “science, technique, and business of mineral development[.]” The Tenth Circuit held the term “mineral development” had a broad meaning, including commercial mineral extractions and offsite relocations, but also encompass action upon the extracted minerals for the purpose of exploiting the minerals themselves on site. The Court held Osage Wind’s extraction, sorting, crushing, and use of minerals as part of its excavation work constituted “mineral development,” thereby requiring a federally approved lease which Osage Wind failed to obtain. Accordingly, the Court reversed the award of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Osage Wind" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants WildEarth Guardians and Sierra Club challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to approve four coal leases in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Plaintiffs brought an Administrative Procedure Act (APA) claim arguing that the BLM failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it concluded that issuing the leases would not result in higher national carbon dioxide emissions than would declining to issue them. The district court upheld the leases. The Tenth Circuit held the BLM’s Environmental Impact Studies and Records Of Decisions were arbitrary and capricious because they omitted data pertinent to its choice with respect to issuing the leases, and thereby informing the public of its rationale. The Tenth Circuit remanded with instructions to the BLM to revise its Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) and Records of Decision (RODs). The Court did not vacate the resulting leases. View "WildEarth Guardians v. Bureau of Land Management" on Justia Law

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Under the federal environmental laws, the owner of property contaminated with hazardous substances or a person who arranges for the disposal of hazardous substances may be strictly liable for subsequent clean-up costs. The United States owned national forest lands in New Mexico that were mined over several generations by Chevron Mining Inc. The question presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review was whether the United States is a “potentially responsible party” (PRP) for the environmental contamination located on that land. The Tenth Circuit concluded that under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), the United States is an “owner,” and, therefore, a PRP, because it was strictly liable for its equitable portion of the costs necessary to remediate the contamination arising from mining activity on federal land. The Court also concluded the United States cannot be held liable as an “arranger” of hazardous substance disposal because it did not own or possess the substances in question. The Court reversed the district court in part and affirmed in part, remanding for further proceedings to determine the United States’ equitable share, if any, of the clean-up costs. View "Chevron Mining v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court’s denial of their request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the drilling of certain oil and gas wells in the Mancos Shale formation of the San Juan Basin in New Mexico. The district court concluded that Plaintiffs had failed to satisfy three of the four elements required to obtain a preliminary injunction: (1) Plaintiffs had not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claims; (2) the balance of harms weighed against Plaintiffs; and (3) Plaintiffs failed to show that the public interest favored an injunction. Finding no reversible error in the district court's denial, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Dine Citizens v. Jewell" on Justia Law