HICKEL V. OIL SHALE CORP., 400 U. S. 48 (1970)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Hickel v. Oil Shale Corp., 400 U.S. 48 (1970)

Hickel v. Oil Shale Corp.

No. 25

Argued October 22, 1970

Decided December 8, 1970

400 U.S. 48


The General Mining Act of 1872 provided that, until a patent issued for a mineral location on lands belonging to the United States "not less than $100 worth of labor shall be performed or improvements made during each year," and that a patent could issue on a showing that the claimant had expended $500 of labor or improvements on the claim. Failure to do the assessment work generally entitled others to relocate the claim. Under the Mineral Lands Leasing Act of 1920, lands theretofore open to location and acquisition of title became available only on a lease basis, but a Saving Clause covered valid claims existent on February 25, 1920, "and thereafter maintained in compliance with the laws under which initiated." All the claims involved in this suit were canceled by the Secretary of the Interior in the early 1930's because the annual assessment work, required by the 1872 Act, had not been performed. In attempting to establish their oil shale claims in Colorado under the 1872 Act, respondents brought this action in the District Court to require the Secretary of the Interior to patent the claims or to expunge his rulings canceling the claims for lack of annual assessment work and to enjoin him from enforcing them. The District Court and the Court of Appeals, ruling in favor of respondents, held that the Department of the Interior had no jurisdiction to cancel the claims. The courts relied on Wilbur v. Krushnic, 280 U. S. 306, and Ickes v. Virginia-Colorado Development Corp., 295 U. S. 639, where this Court declined to interpret the Mineral Leasing Act as requiring the return to the Government of full possessory rights to lands subject to oil shale claims for defaults in assessment work. The decisions indicated that failure to perform such work made the claims subject to relocation by others but not forfeiture to the Government.

Held: The Saving Clause of the Mineral Leasing Act makes the United States the beneficiary of all claims that are invalid for lack of assessment work or otherwise, and the Department of the Interior had subject matter jurisdiction to determine whether respondents' claims were "maintained" within the meaning of that clause, including the performance

Page 400 U. S. 49

of adequate assessment work. Krushnic, supra, and Virginia-Colorado, supra, must be confined to situations where there has been substantial compliance with the assessment work. Pp. 400 U. S. 51-58.

406 F.2d 759, reversed and remanded.

DOUGLAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BLACK, BRENNAN, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART, J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 400 U. S. 61. HARLAN, WHITE, and MARSHALL, JJ., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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