Case Summary

One of the worst ways government agencies can harm people is by deliberately doing nothing. Agency bureaucrats delay for years or even decades and hope that the families will run out of money while fighting for their land rights, or else will simply give up. Rather than denying people’s permits, petitions, and applications, agencies simply refuse to take any action at all. It’s wrong, and it’s is precisely what the government has done to the Ray family.

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Federal District Court for the District of Columbia

Case History

Emerson and Fay Ray were a young couple, recently married, when they first came to California. It was the height of the Great Depression and Emerson had heard he might be able to get a job in California pouring concrete. It was hard, hot work out in the desert sun, but it put food on the table. Neither Emerson nor Fay had ever been the type to shy away from a hard day’s work. 

It was during this time that Emerson and Fay fell in love with the stark beauty of the Mojave Desert. It was the place they chose to raise their five children, and where they would eventually start the small business that would support their growing family for more than fifty years.

The story of the Ray family is like that of so many American families. They built a prosperous life for themselves on a foundation of hard work, made possible by the freedom and opportunity that can be found here like nowhere else on earth.

Emerson and Fay first staked a claim on what would become known as the Cima Cinder Mine in 1948. There they produced red and black cinder for the Las Vegas and Los Angeles construction markets. The cinder produced at Cima was used as landscaping rock, to make cinder blocks, and in other consumer and industrial applications. 

Multiple generations of the Ray family have worked the Cima Cinder Mine, and Emerson and Fay watched their children, grandchildren, and greatgrandchildren grow up in and around the little cabin they built with their bare hands on the site. Over the more than fifty years that the business was allowed to operate, the mine became almost another member of the family.

In 1991, the Ray family applied to patent their mining claims—the process by which prospectors who were able to prove that they had found a valuable source of minerals could obtain full legal ownership over the lands encompassed by their claims. They had sensed the growing hostility to mineral extraction within certain political circles, and hoped patenting their claims would protect them from overzealous government regulators. The Rays completed their application, paid full purchase price for the patents, and received their First Half Final Certificate—the point at which equitable title to the patents vested—in the spring of 1992.

The Ray family’s concern proved prescient when President Clinton’s new Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, ordered BLM officials to stop processing patent applications in 1993 and Congress followed up with a moratorium on the processing of all new patent applications the next year.[1] Fortunately, having completed their patent application prior to the law going into effect, the Rays’ application was grandfathered in, and Congress ordered the Secretary to grant or deny 90% of grandfathered applications within five years. 

The government had a moral and legal obligation to make a decision, and not leave families like the Rays hanging in permanent limbo. The government’s inaction made it impossible for the Rayco, LLC–the company run by the family–to get its plan of operations approved. As a result, the family business has tragically fallen into decay since the government forced them out.

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. The Cima Cinder Mine lies in ruins and has stood idle for more than two decades, due to the government’s refusal to act on their mining claims.

That was nearly two decades ago, and the Ray family’s patent application is still pending. Unpatented mining claims are not allowed to be used without an approved plan of operations. Thus the government has harmed this family with its deliberate inaction.

The Secretary of the Interior has a clear duty under law to process mineral patent applications and either grant them or deny them within a reasonable length of time. A delay of more than 27 years from the date of original application is far from reasonable. 

The Ray family mine is more than a family business, it represents the hopes and dreams of Emerson and Fay Ray. It is a legacy of love, hard work, and devotion to their family that they established more than seventy years ago when they started out, back when they had nothing but each other. They worked to make a better life for themselves. That was Emerson and Fay’s dream.

MSLF is fighting to make sure that the government does not take that dream away from this family. The family is entitled to the patents they applied and paid for, but at the very least the Ray family is entitled to a final decision. MSLF is asking the court to issue what is known as a writ of mandamus—a court order to force the government to finally process the family’s applications like it is legally required to do.

[1]Omnibus Consolidated Rescissions and Appropriations Act of 1996, Pub.L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (“Moratorium Act”)

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