Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dunn-McCampbell Royalty International v. National Park Service

Jan 7: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, Case No. 09-40187, Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The Appeals Court explains the depth of entanglement of the case saying, before 1963, there was no Padre Island National Park off the coast of the State of Texas. It took a lot of maneuvering between the State of Texas and the United States to create the national park out of these coastal island lands, much belonging to the State of Texas, some belonging to private parties. The Texas Consent Statute, the deeds of conveyance, the federal Enabling Act of 1962, and the Oil and Gas Management Plan of 2001, as well as the Energy Policy Act of 2005, are all involved in this appeal.
    Now, almost fifty years later, the case presents a conflict between the National Park Service (the Service) and owners of certain mineral estates in the Padre Island National Seashore (the Seashore), with respect to those mineral owners' rights of ingress and egress over the Seashore's surface; such rights, if recognized, would allow the owners to exploit the subsurface minerals contained on the Island.
    In 2001, the Service attempted to strike this balance through its Oil and Gas Management Plan (the Plan). In this Federal action, three related companies (collectively, Dunn-McCampbell) sought declaratory relief under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), arguing that the Plan exceeded the Service's regulatory power over the Seashore because it denies Dunn-McCampbell its rights of ingress and egress as provided by the special provisions of state and Federal law that established the Seashore. The district court agreed and entered a declaratory judgment in Dunn-McCampbell's favor.
    The Service appealed. The Appeal Court said, "Although we assume that the Service's normally broad regulatory authority over park lands is limited by the agreements between Texas and the Service that were made when the Seashore was established, we hold that these limitations do not provide the relief Dunn-McCampbell seeks today. We reverse, vacate, and remand." The Appeals Court said further, "We thus conclude that because Dunn-McCampbell does not fall under any of the special protections provided in the Enabling Act, the trial court erred in granting Dunn-McCampbell summary judgment, and accordingly we thus reverse and vacate the district court's declaratory judgment and remand for entry of judgment in favor of the Service."
    Access the complete opinion (click here).