Family Fights on After 30 Years in Bureaucratic Purgatory
How long should an American have to wait for the wheels of justice to turn – 5 years? 20 years? 30 years? – for the federal government to definitively rule on a routine mining patent request that could make or break the success of a family-owned business?
And what recourse does that business owner have if the government, rather than approve or disapprove a request, just sits, and sits, and sits on it, leaving the applicant forever trapped in bureaucratic purgatory?
That was the situation facing Monte Ray and his family in 1999, when they were forced to shutter a successful Mojave Desert cinder mine they had operated since his father Emerson staked the claim in the 1940’s because the Department of Interior refused to decide, yay or nay, on a patent mining application the Rays made with the Bureau of Land Management in 1991. Instead of providing materials to help supply the Las Vegas housing boom, the Rays’ mine overnight became another California ghost town, which it remains to this day.
Mountain States Legal Foundation last year made headway in breaking the logjam when a 2019 petition for a writ of mandamus it filed forced the Department of Interior to act on the application, resulting in a partial win for the Rays. The Rays were given a patent on only 10 acres of the original 692.5 acres they sought, but the Ray’s right to a patent was now established, laying the predicate for further legal action.
This week’s MSLF filing challenges Interior’s stingy drawing of mine boundaries, arguing that the agency’s misrepresentation of the law and complete failure to consider basic facts vital to an accurate understanding of the situation rendered its long-delayed decision arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. MSLF wants the agency to go back to the drawing board and come back with a more carefully considered decision on the patent application, in light of the facts it ignored the first go-around. That’s the least the Rays are owed after the prolonged indifference and disdain the government showed towards the Rays, according to MSLF’s lead attorney on the case.
“The Rays waited for nearly three decades to get an answer from the BLM on their patent application, and now that we’ve finally forced the government to respond, it gave them a slap in the face,” said MSLF Attorney David A. McDonald. “By filing this complaint, we’re making a statement that not even the federal government can get away with treating people this way.”
Monte Ray’s niece, Robin Ray, slammed the government’s mistreatment of her family as unjust and disgraceful. “Government tyranny has many faces; sometimes it comes in the form of a flagrant disregarding of an American family’s request to continue its family business,” Ray said in response to the latest filing, “Just ignore them and they will go away, is what they planned. But we didn’t go away. Is this any way for the American government to treat its hard-working citizens?”