Government Strings Small Business Owner Along for More Than Three Decades

Denver, CO — June 6, 2019 — Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) filed its principal brief on appeal Wednesday in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia in the case Solenex, LLC v. Bernhardt.

One man’s thirty five-year battle with the federal government appeared to end last September, when a federal judge ruled that the Department of the Interior had wrongly cancelled his oil and gas lease.

But the battle was not over.

Sidney Longwell, of Baton Rouge, first purchased an oil and gas lease in the Lewis and Clark National Forest in 1982. Despite passing environmental and historical review on four separate occasions, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) suspended the lease in 1993, and continued to suspend the lease every year for nearly two decades—for a list of ever-changing reasons. 

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

In 2015, Mr. Longwell won his initial court battle over those unreasonable delays. However, in 2016, the federal government, when pressed by the judge to make a decision regarding whether Mr. Longwell could drill on his lease, cancelled Mr. Longwell’s lease altogether. 

In his September ruling, Judge Leon a blasted the government’s decision to cancel the lease after three decades of arbitrary and capricious delays: “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 that Mr. Longwell’s lease and his right to drill be reinstated. 

Apparently unwilling to take the loss, the government appealed to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals and continues to make the same assertions of unlawful authority. 

 “As Judge Leon recognized, the government here is arguing in bad faith,” said David McDonald, a Mountain States attorney representing Solenex. “I’m confident that, after having the opportunity to read the briefs filed in this case, the DC Circuit will reach the same conclusion as the district court and affirm the reinstatement of Solenex’s lease.”

Mountain States Legal Foundation is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system. Its offices are located outside Denver, Colorado.

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Solenex, LLC v. Bernhardt

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