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New Mexico ex rel. Energy & Minerals Dep't v. Department of the Interior

Citation: 17 ELR 21104
No. No. 85-6165, 820 F.2d 441/26 ERC 1061/(D.C. Cir., 06/05/1987)

The court holds that the district court did not abuse its discretion in voluntarily dismissing New Mexico's challenge to the Office of Surface Mining's (OSM's) assertion of exclusive regulatory authority over surface mining on Indian lands, since appellant Navajo Tribe was not prejudiced by the dismissal. All parties except the Tribe entered into a settlement agreement in which OSM stated that it would clarify the preamble to its final rule to specify that the definition of Indian lands in § 701(9) of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) does not include individual Indian lands outside reservation boundaries. The settlement agreement does not prejudice the Tribe, which remains free to challenge any regulation adopting this definition of Indian lands.

The court next holds that the district court improperly dismissed the Tribe's counterclaim seeking a declaratory judgment that certain lands in New Mexico are Indian lands under SMCRA over which New Mexico has no authority and an injunction to prevent the state from exercising any authority over them. The district court dismissed the Tribe's SMCRA claims for improper venue under SMCRA § 520(c)(1), which the district court interpreted as a venue provision that may not be waived. The court holds that the district court should have exercised its authority under 28 U.S.C. § 1631 to transfer the case to the proper district court instead of forcing the parties to start over in another court.

A concurring judge would hold that the district court had jurisdiction over the counterclaim under SMCRA § 520(a) and, although venue was improper under § 521(c), New Mexico waived its venue defense. The counterclaim must be returned to the district court, which could then transfer it to the New Mexico federal district court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404.

Counsel for Appellant
Paul E. Frye
Nordhaus, Haltom, Taylor, Paradash & Frye
500 Marquette St. NW, Suite 1050, Albuquerque NM 87102
(505) 243-4275

M. Frances Ayer
Pirtle, Morisset, Schlosser & Ayer
1819 H St. NW, Suite 450, Washington DC 20006
(202) 331-8690

Counsel for Appellee
A. Raymond Randolph, Special Ass't Attorney General
State of New Mexico
Bataan Memorial Bldg., Sante Fe NM 87503
(505) 827-6000

Before: MIKVA and BUCKLEY, Circuit Judges, and PARSONS, Senior District Judge.*