Environment | Law

10th Circuit enforces hard 90-day deadline in lawsuit against DOI

A group of energy companies failed to sue the Interior Department within 90 days, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday.

On February 4, 2009, Secretary Ken Salazar announced he was withdrawing oil and gas leases on federal land in Utah. He wrote down his decision on February 6 and the Bureau of Land Management followed up with a letter to the high bidders of a public auction on February 12.

The energy companies sued exactly 90 days after the February 12 letter. But 10th Circuit said they were too late and should have sued within 90 days of Salazar's "final decision" on February 6.

"Thus, it is undisputed that the government communicated to the energy companies its position that February 6 was the date of the Secretary’s decision, and the companies acknowledged the possibility that the government’s position would hold sway," the 10th Circuit wrote in a per curiam decision.

"Despite this knowledge, the energy companies gambled. They filed suit exactly 90 days after February 12, risking their claims on the court’s acceptance of their limitations theory," the court added. The 90-day deadline is found in the Mineral Leasing Act.

The vote to dismiss the lawsuit as time-barred was 2-1. However, there was significant discussion of the Administrative Procedure Act, which was at issue in the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Salazar v. Patchak.

In Patchak, the court allowed a lawsuit against DOI after a 30-day deadline in federal land-into-trust regulations. The court said the six-year statute of limitations in the APA applied instead.

Get the Story:
Appeals court rejects oil companies’ challenge to Utah lease withdrawals (The Salt Lake Tribune 9/6)
Appeals court upholds suspension of Utah oil-and-gas leases sold by Bush administration (AP 9/5)

10th Circuit Decision:
Impact Energy Resources v. Salazar (September 5, 2012)