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Central Pines Land Co. v. United States

Citation: 32 ELR 20362
No. No. 00-31024, 274 F.3d 881/(5th Cir., 11/23/2001)

The court upholds a district court decision that Louisiana Act 315 of 1940 cannot be applied retroactively to mineral servitudes created prior to the Act but can be applied prospectively to post-1940 transfers. In 1929, a mineral servitude was created for two parcels of land in Louisiana. Between 1933 and 1938, the U.S. government acquired the surface estate of the parcels. Between 1952 and 1970, the United States instituted a mineral moratorium that prevented the owners of the mineral rights from entering those lands. The moratorium was terminated in 1978. In 1992, the United States granted leases allowing exploration of minerals under the two parcels. The original holders of the mineral rights then filed suit against the United States seeking to quiet title to the mineral servitudes on the land and a declaration that the leases were invalid. They relied on Louisiana Act 315 of 1940, which provides that mineral rights shall be imprescriptible when the United States owns the surface estate.

The court first holds that federal law applies. Thus, Louisiana Act 315 cannot be applied retroactively as a matter of federal common law because it is hostile to the interests of the United States. Nevertheless, the court next holds that residual (pre-1940) Louisiana law may provide the federal rule of decision for pre-1940 transactions. Louisiana law has consistently recognized that a mineral servitude may expire, or prescribe, after 10 years of non-use. Here, no obstacle existed after the moratorium ended in 1978 to legally suspend the moratorium. Moreover, an obstacle must cover the entirety of the land subject to the servitude before it can suspend prescription as a matter of Louisiana law. The servitudes at issue, therefore, have prescribed for non-use. The court also holds that Louisiana Act 315 may be applied prospectively to post-1940 transfers. Thus, a mineral servitude created after 1940 on a third parcel of land is imprescriptible.

The full text of this decision is available from ELR (15 pp., ELR Order No. L-414).

Counsel for Plaintiff
Andrew J. Gray III
The Gray Law Firm
One Lakeshore Dr., Ste. 900, Lake Charles LA 70602
(337) 494-0694

Counsel for Defendant
John L. Smeltzer
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

[OPINION OMITTED BY PUBLISHER IN ORIGINAL SOURCE]

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