The Ray family received some welcome news last week: their application got denied.
Now, I know what you’re thinking; getting a rejection letter is rarely cause for celebration. But for the Rays, this isn’t a setback so much as an opportunity — an opportunity that has, until now, been denied to them.
When the Rays applied to the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) to patent the family’s small cinder mine in the early 1990s (a mineral patent is similar to a patent for an invention—it gives the owner exclusive right and title to their mining claim), they were looking forward to a fairly straightforward application process that should have given them an answer within about six months.
It ultimately took twenty-nine years and a federal lawsuit from Mountain States Legal Foundation for the BLM to turn them down.
Why did it take nearly three decades for the BLM—an agency with an annual budget of $1.16 billion and a payroll of over 11,000 employees—to process a single patent application? Because the BLM didn’t want to grant the mineral patent applications, which had fallen out of favor at the agency, but an outright denial would have given the Rays a right to appeal.
Rather than support its decision not to issue a patent in court, the BLM simply delayed indefinitely, hoping that the Rays would run out of money or willpower and just walk away. That’s why last week’s rejection letter was such welcome news: for the first time in years, they have the legal right to fight for what’s rightfully theirs. The arbitrary decisions of distant bureaucrats will finally face the bright light of day.
After twenty-nine years, the federal government is finally going to be forced to explain itself for the harm it has caused this family, and regardless of how their case ultimately turns out, the Rays will no longer be ignored.
Members of the Ray family with MSLF attorney David McDonald (right) at the family’s cinder mine located in the Mojave Desert in Southern California.