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U.S. Supreme Court

Chapman v. Sheridan-Wyoming Coal Co., Inc., 338 U.S. 621 (1950)

Chapman v. Sheridan-Wyoming Coal Co., Inc.

No. 60

Argued January 9, 1950

Decided February 6, 1950

338 U.S. 621


1. Under the Mineral Lands Leasing Act, the Secretary of the Interior leased coal mining rights in certain public lands to one lessee, and now proposes to lease similar rights in other public lands to a competitor operating coal mines on state lands which are nearing exhaustion. The first lessee sued to enjoin the proposed lease to its competitor. Its lease contained no express covenant not to lease other lands to competitors, but a regulation of the Secretary directs that leases be recommended

"only in cases where there has been furnished a satisfactory showing that an additional coal mine is needed and that there is an actual need for coal which cannot otherwise be reasonably met."

It is assumed that no such showing has been or can be made in this case.

Held: the complaint stated no cause of action. The proposed lease does not breach any contract right or invade any property right of plaintiff, and does not violate any law, but is within the discretionary power of the Secretary. Pp. 338 U. S. 622-631.

(a) The complaint does not show a cause of action to enforce a restrictive covenant or property right against leasing other public lands as authorized by the statute. Pp. 338 U. S. 625-629.

(b) Assuming that the regulation fixes a controlling policy, the Secretary's interpretation of it as not applying to a lease to keep an existing coal mine in operation, is a permissible interpretation which will not be disturbed by the courts. Pp. 338 U. S. 629-631.

2. The Mineral Lands Leasing Act does not authorize anyone to grant or to obtain exclusive rights of access to coal resources in public lands, but seems to contemplate the opening of the public domain to competitive exploitation. Pp. 338 U. S. 628-629.

84 U.S.App.D.C. 288, 172 F.2d 282, reversed.

The proceedings below are stated concisely in the first paragraph of the opinion. Chapman was substituted for Krug as the party petitioner. 338 U.S. 898. The judgment of this Court is reported at p. 338 U. S. 631.

Page 338 U. S. 622

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