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McMaster v. United States

September 9, 2010

KEN MCMASTER, MAUREEN E. GALITZ, AND STEVEN E. FAWL PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE, AND KENNETH L. SALAZAR, SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garland E. Burrell, Jr. United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS' COMPLAINT*fn1

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) ("Rule 12(b)(6)") on June 30, 2010. (Docket No. 18.) Plaintiffs allege three claims in their complaint under the Quiet Title Act ("QTA") and Administrative Procedures Act ("APA"), which are pled in the alternative. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief which would provide them a patent conveying fee simple ownership of the surface estate and three structures associated with the Oro Grande mining claim. Defendants argue that the plain language of Wilderness Act of 1964's (the "Wilderness Act") precludes Plaintiffs from obtaining a patent conveying fee simple ownership of the real property and structures at issue in this case. Plaintiffs oppose Defendants' dismissal motion and challenge Defendants' interpretation of the Wilderness Act.

I. LEGAL STANDARD

A Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal motion tests the legal sufficiency of the claims alleged in the complaint. Novarro v. Black, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). A pleading must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief...." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The complaint must "give the defendant fair notice of what the [plaintiff's] claim is and the grounds upon which relief rests...." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

To avoid dismissal, the plaintiff must allege "only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 547. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Plausibility, however, requires more than "a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.

In evaluating a dismissal motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court "accept[s] as true all facts alleged in the complaint, and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Al-Kidd v. Ashcroft, 580 F.3d 949, 956 (9th Cir. 2009). However, neither conclusory statements nor legal conclusions are entitled to a presumption of truth. See Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50.

Plaintiffs' opposition brief includes a number of exhibits which were not attached to Plaintiffs' complaint. However, in ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion, a court may generally consider only allegations contained in the pleadings, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters properly subject to judicial notice. See Swartz v. KPMG LLP, 476 F.3d 756, 763 (9th Cir. 2007). Since Plaintiffs have not explained why these exhibits may be considered in deciding Defendants' dismissal motion, these exhibits are disregarded.

II. PLAINTIFFS' ALLEGATIONS AND CLAIMS

Plaintiffs are co-owners of the Oro Grande mining claim. (Compl. ¶¶ 10-12.) The Oro Grande mining claim is an approximately 20-acre placer mining claim located northwest of Redding, California, along the South Fork Salmon River in the Trinity Alps Wilderness area. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiffs "actively mine the Oro Grande mining claim when the South Fork Salmon River level is low enough to conduct suction dredging operations, when the State of California suction dredging season is open, and when access to the site is possible." (Id. ¶ 22.) The Oro Grande mining claim was located in its current configuration on June 23, 1953. (Id. ¶ 20.) There are three structures erected on the land above the Oro Grande mining claim: a cabin, a workshop and an outhouse. (Id. ¶ 23.) "All three structures were expressly noted in the 1953 Notice of Location of Mining Claim." (Id.)

Plaintiffs allege "[t]he General Mining Law of 1872... provides that unpatented mining claim owners may apply for and receive patent to their... mining claim" and "[o]nce all prerequisites are met, the claimants are entitled to a patent conveying full fee simple title to the mining claim." (Id. ¶ 2.) Plaintiffs further allege that "[w]ith the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1131-1136, Congress limited the patenting provisions of the General Mining Law with respect to mining claims subsequently located in areas designated by Congress as wilderness pursuant to the Wilderness Act[;] [however,] [a]s to existing claims, the Wilderness Act preserved the claimants' rights to [a] patent" conveying fee simple ownership. (Id. ¶ 3.)

Plaintiffs filed an application to obtain a patent to the Oro Grande mining claim in 1992. (Id. ¶ 27.) The Secretary of the Interior issued a First Half Mineral Entry Final Certificate on December 1, 1994. (Id. ¶ 29.) On October 3, 2008, the Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") issued Plaintiffs a patent to the Oro Grande mining claim. (Id. ¶ 37.) However, the patent conveyed only "the mineral deposits" within the Oro Grande mining claim and "reserved to the United States all title in or to the surface estate and products there of and a right-of-way thereon for ditches or canals constructed by the authority of the United States." (Id. ¶ 38.)

Plaintiffs allege that "[i]n accordance with the Wilderness Act, General Mining Law, BLM regulations, and BLM Manual H-3860-1, Defendants were required to convey fee simple title to the Oro Grande mining claim" and that "[b]y conveying only the mineral deposits... and reserving to the United States all title in or to the surface estate and products thereof... Defendants violated the Wilderness Act... and the General Mining Law." (Id. ¶¶ 57-58.) Plaintiffs seek an order "[q]uiet[ing] title, in favor of Plaintiffs, to the Oro Grande mining claim in fee simple, including all surface and mineral estates" and compelling the BLM "to supplement the patent to the Oro Grande mining claim to convey to Plaintiffs fee simple ownership...." (Prayer for Relief ¶¶ 1-3.) Alternatively, Plaintiffs seek a declaration that "the issuance of the Oro Grande patent [was] arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with law" and an order compelling "BLM to cancel the Oro Grande patent and reissue to Plaintiffs a lawful patent that conveys fee simple title...." (Id. ¶¶ 5, 8.) Plaintiffs seek in the "further alternative" an order "[q]uiet[ing] title[] in favor of Plaintiffs, to the structures on the Oro Grande mining claim, specifically the cabin, workshop, and outhouse." (Id. ¶ 10.)

III. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiffs' APA ...


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