by: Megan J. Spencer
In its decision, filed January 7, 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, vacated and remanded the opinion of a Texas district court that had found that the National Park Service’s Oil and Gas Management Plan was invalid under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) because it denied Plaintiffs rights of ingress and egress established in the state and federal law creating the park. Dunn-McCampbell Royalty Interest Inc. v. Nat’l Park Serv., 09-40187 (5th Cir. 2011). The case involved land in the Padre Island National Park, created in 1963. The conflict arose between the National Park Service (“Service”), owner of surface estates, and Plaintiffs who were owners of mineral estates. The Service appealed the decision of the district court.
The Service made two arguments on appeal. First, it advanced a plain language argument based on the text of the Texas law creating that park. The Texas law made an exception for the use of the surface of the land for the reasonable development of oil, gas, and other minerals – including the right of ingress and egress. However, this right was only granted to the “grantors or successors in title” of surface land to the United States. Plaintiffs argued that this language in the statute was ambiguous, and thus even though they were not grantors or successors in title, the right of ingress and egress applied to them. The Service argued that the language of the statute was clear, and the right of ingress and egress was only granted to the mineral owners who conveyed surface land to the Service. The Court agreed with the Service’s plain language interpretation, finding that the right of ingress and egress did not apply to the Plaintiffs here.
Second, the Service argued that a second exception in the law creating the park did not apply to the Plaintiffs because the Plaintiffs’ mineral estates were within the Seashore’s boundaries. The act creating the park excluded from ingress and egress restrictions those minerals that were removed from outside the boundaries of the seashore. Thus, Plaintiffs argued that because they privately owned the mineral estates, these mineral estates were technically not within the park boundaries. The Fifth Circuit found that despite the private ownership of the mineral estates below the surface of the land, Plaintiffs’ mineral estates were within the park’s boundaries.
Although the case deals with laws specific to the Padre Island National Park and Seashore, it has broader implications for mineral estate owners who have mineral estates located partially or fully within national park boundaries. The Fifth Circuit joined the position of three other circuit courts finding that “land that is not owned by the Service can still exist within the boundaries of a national park.”
The full text of the opinion is available at the following link: www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/09/09-40187-CV0.wpd.pdf