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Franconia Minerals (US) LLC v. United States

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

February 21, 2017

Franconia Minerals (US) LLC, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
United States of America, et al., Defendants.

          Daniel S. Volchok, Paul R.Q. Wolfson, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, Michael J.P. Hazel, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, Mark R. Kaster, and Steven J. Wells, Dorsey & Whitney LLP, for Plaintiffs.

          Clare Boronow, Marissa Piropato, Sean C. Duffy, U.S. Department of Justice- Environment and Natural Resources Division, Stuart C. Gillespie, U.S. Department of Justice- Environmental and Natural Resources Division, and David W. Fuller, United States Attorney's Office, for Defendants.

          James A. Tucker, Joseph R. Palmore, Joseph A. Ward, Morrison & Foerster LLP, Amy S. Conners, Thomas B. Heffelfinger, Best & Flanagan LLP, and Stephen J. Snyder, Snyder & Brandt, P.A., for Movant Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on the motion of Movant Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (“NMW”) to intervene as a defendant. (See Mot. to Intervene [Doc. No. 25].) NMW contends that it is entitled to intervene as a matter of right pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2). Alternatively, it asks the Court to permit it to intervene under Rule 24(b)(1)(B), which governs permissive intervention. Because the Court concludes that intervention is warranted pursuant to Rule 24(b)(1)(B), NMW's motion is granted.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. The Parties

         Plaintiff Twin Metals Minnesota LLC (“Twin Metals”) is a privately owned mining company headquartered in Minnesota that focuses on developing and operating mining projects in northeastern Minnesota. (See Pls.' Mot. to File Suppl. and Am. Compl. [Doc. No. 56], Ex. A (“Suppl. Compl.”) at ¶ 14.) Franconia Minerals (US) LLC (“Franconia”), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Twin Metals, engages in the discovery and development of base metals and platinum-group metals in the United States. (Id. at ¶ 14.) Franconia is “the owner by assignment of any and all rights, titles, and interests” in the two federal hardrock mineral leases that form the basis of this action. (Id.)

         Movant NMW is a non-profit corporation based in Ely, Minnesota. (Heffelfinger Decl. [Doc. No. 28], Ex. A (“Rom Decl.”) at ¶ 2.) It was formed in 1996 and today has approximately 5, 300 members and 93, 000 additional supporters. (Id. at ¶¶ 2, 6.) NMW describes its mission as “to protect and preserve wilderness and wild places in Minnesota's Arrowhead region, to advocate for the protection of the Boundary Waters [Canoe Area Wilderness] and Voyageurs National Park and the enhancement of their wilderness aspect, and to foster education about the value of wilderness and wild places.” (Movant's Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Intervene [Doc. No. 27] (“Movant's Mem.”) at 3 (citing Heffelfinger Decl., Ex. B (“Piragis Decl.”) at ¶ 2).) “NMW's members rely on, appreciate, and benefit from the natural resources in the Superior National Forest, especially the waters, lands, plant communities and wildlife in the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park, and have had a long-standing interest in lynx, moose, wolf, and forest conservation, both in the Boundary Waters and across the Superior National Forest.” (Id.)

         Defendants include the United States, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the Secretary of the Interior, the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Forest Service, the Chief of the Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”). All individual defendants are sued in their official capacities. (Suppl. Compl. at ¶¶ 18, 19, 22, 24.) Defendants have filed no briefing on this matter and do not oppose intervention. (See Hr'g Tr. [Doc. No. 68] at 23:24-24:1.)

         B. The Complaint

         The present action stems from BLM's decision to reject Plaintiffs' application to renew two mining leases on land located in the Superior National Forest. (See Suppl. Compl. at ¶¶ 1, 2, 11.) Plaintiffs' predecessor-in-interest first acquired the leases in 1966, after lengthy negotiation with BLM. (See Id. at ¶¶ 58-63.) The initial lease term was for twenty years, with an option to renew for ten year intervals thereafter. (See Id. at ¶ 65.) Of central importance to the case, Plaintiffs contend that the option to renew was invested in the lessee and was essentially non-discretionary on the part of BLM. (See Id. at ¶¶ 4, 67, 72.) Pursuant to the renewal option, Plaintiffs' predecessors-in-interest successfully renewed the lease in 1989 and in 2004. (See Id. at ¶¶ 70, 78, 82.) In 2012, however, when Franconia applied for a third lease renewal, things did not go as smoothly. According to Plaintiffs, various environmental organizations-presumably including NMW-“put intense pressure on officials at the Department of the Interior, BLM, and the Forest Service to deny the renewal application, arguing that BLM had the authority to do so.” (Id. at ¶ 88.) Whether as a result of that pressure or for another reason, BLM asked defendant Hilary Tompkins, the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior, for an opinion as to whether it had the discretion to deny Franconia's application for renewal. (Id. at ¶ 89.) On March 8, 2016, Tompkins issued her opinion-which is binding on BLM-concluding that Franconia did not have a non-discretionary right to renewal, and that BLM could grant or deny the application at its discretion. (Id. at ¶ 90.)

         Based on the Solicitor's opinion, BLM announced its intention to consider Franconia's application as if it were an application for an initial lease. This process included asking the Forest Service whether it consented to renewal of the lease, and an environmental analysis pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). (Id. at ¶ 93.) On December 14, 2016, the Forest Service issued its decision declining to consent to renewal of the leases. (Id. at ΒΆ 101.) Based in part on that decision, as ...


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