Case Summary

Federal bureaucrats, including the Secretary of the Interior, have no authority to cancel a lawfully issued oil and gas lease unless Congress has provided them that authority. Our client, Sidney Longwell, first purchased a federal oil and gas lease in Montana’s Lewis and Clark National Forest in 1982. Despite passing decade-long environmental and archeological reviews, the Clinton administration suspended his lease in 1993, and continued to suspend the lease ultimately for over two decades—for a list of ever-changing reasons. A federal judge ruled that the Department of the Interior wrongly cancelled his oil and gas lease. But the government is appealing and our fight for Mr. Longwell continues.

Case History

Patience is a virtue—so the old saying goes. That’s especially true when you are fighting against government bureaucrats who never seem to tire in their battles for control over the land.

In the case of Sidney Longwell, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, his patience was tested to the utter limit. For thirty-five years, Mr. Longwell fought a David vs. Goliath battle against the ultimate legal foe—the federal government.

Thankfully, with the help of Mountain States Legal Foundation, Mr. Longwell won his case. But the government appealed, and the battle continues. The bureaucrats never tire in their quest for power to control the land and the lives of U.S. citizens.

Mr. Longwell first purchased a federal oil and gas lease in Montana’s Lewis and Clark National Forest in 1982. Despite passing decade-long environmental and archeological reviews, the Clinton administration suspended his lease in 1993, and continued to suspend the lease ultimately for over two decades—for a list of ever-changing reasons.

Mr. Longwell’s thirty five-year battle with the federal government appeared to end on September 24th, when a federal judge ruled that the Department of the Interior had wrongly cancelled his oil and gas lease and revoked his right to drill on the lease.

In his ruling, Judge Richard J. Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia criticizes the federal government for its “unreasonable agency delay,” which he characterized as “Kafkaesque.”

In 2015, Mr. Longwell won his initial court battle over the government’s unreasonable delays. In 2016, however, the federal government, when pressed by the judge to make a decision regarding whether Mr. Longwell could drill on his lease, did the unthinkable and unprecedented—it responded by cancelling Mr. Longwell’s lease altogether and voided the permit to drill he received in 1993!

Imagine if a business owner behaved that way. It after the customer paid for the product and then waited in line for thirty-five years only to be told, “Sorry, we’re not giving you what you paid for but we’re keeping your money!”

Judge Leon pulled no punches in his ruling. He blasted the government’s decision to cancel the lease after three decades as “arbitrary and capricious”: “Federal defendants appear to argue that no time-period, however long, would prove too attenuated to reconsider the issuance of a lease under newly discovered legal theories… Horsefeathers!”

Judge Leon ordered Mr. Longwell’s lease and his right to drill reinstated.

But the government has already appealed Judge Leon’s ruling. So far, the Trump administration has continued to support the decision of Obama’s Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, to cancel the lease. More ominously, radical environmental groups that intervened in Mr. Longwell’s lawsuit say they will never give up on their demand that Mr. Longwell’s rights be taken away from him.

When fighting a court battle against the government in defense of their rights, many people run out of money to pay the high legal costs involved, or they simply run out of willpower and give up. Thankfully, MSLF’s supporters have made it possible for us to stand and fight next to him over the course of this decades-long struggle to uphold the rule of law.

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