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Del-Rio Drilling Programs Inc. v. United States

Citation: 28 ELR 21564
No. 97-5055, 146 F.3d 1358/(Fed. Cir., 06/18/1998)

The court holds that the Court of Federal Claims has jurisdiction over a drilling company's takings and contract claims against the United States arising from the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM's) refusal to issue drilling permits for federal lands covered by the company's mining leases. The court first holds that the U.S. Department of the Interior officials who denied drilling permits to the company and advised the company that it had to obtain rights-of-way from a Native American tribe were acting within the scope of their statutorily authorized duties. It was part of their job to interpret the statutes and regulations governing federal mineral leases, and there is no reason to suppose that their decision reflected anything but a good-faith effort to apply the statutes and regulations as they understood them. The court then holds that the company's Tucker Act complaint is premised on a taking and not on a statutory or regulatory violation. If the government appropriates property without paying just compensation, a plaintiff may sue in the Court of Federal Claims on a takings claim regardless of whether the government's conduct leading to the taking was wrongful, and regardless of whether the plaintiff could have challenged the government's conduct as wrongful in another forum. The court also holds that the company need not obtain a favorable district court ruling under the Administrative Procedure Act before bringing its Tucker Act complaint to the Court of Federal Claims.

Further, the court holds that the Court of Federal Claims has jurisdiction over the company's Tucker Act and breach of contract claims even though their resolution turns on the interpretation of the Tribal Consent Act. The fact that the court may have to interpret the Tribal Consent Act or make other determinations regarding principles of state and federal law in order to resolve the contract claim does not deprive the court of jurisdiction to decide the claim.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Gerald E. Nielson
Law Offices of Gerald E. Nielson
3737 Honeycut Rd., Salt Lake City UT 84106
(801) 278-1558

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

Before Clevenger and Smith, JJ.