Wyo-Ben Inc. v. Haaland, et al., No. 20-8065 (10th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff-Appellant Wyo-Ben, Inc., (“Wyo-Ben”) appealed a district court’s dismissal of its complaint against the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (the “Secretary”) and the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM;” collectively, “Respondents”) asserting a single claim under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). In 1993, Wyo-Ben filed a mineral patent application with BLM. While that application was pending, in 1994, Congress enacted a moratorium on processing mineral patent applications. In the same legislation, Congress also enacted an exemption to the moratorium: if a patent application was still pending by September 30, 1994, and it otherwise complied with certain conditions, the patent application was not subject to the moratorium and the Secretary was required to process the application. On October 3, 1994, BLM—not the Secretary—determined that Wyo-Ben’s mineral patent application did not qualify for the exemption. Congress thereafter reenacted the 1995 Act (including the moratorium and exemption) annually through 2019. In 2019, Wyo-Ben filed suit alleging that, pursuant to § 706(1) of the APA, the Secretary “unlawfully withheld” and “unreasonably delayed” agency action by failing to review Wyo-Ben’s pending application to determine whether it was exempt from the moratorium. The court found that Wyo-Ben’s claim was statutorily barred by 28 U.S.C. § 2401(a), reasoning that Wyo-Ben’s § 706(1) claim first accrued on the date BLM determined that Wyo-Ben’s patent application was not exempt (i.e., October 3, 1994) and that the limitations period expired six years later (i.e., October 3, 2000). On appeal, Wyo-Ben contended the district court misconstrued its § 706(1) claim by characterizing the allegedly unlawful conduct as BLM’s decision that Wyo- Ben’s application falls within the moratorium. Respondents maintained: (1) Wyo-Ben submitted an incomplete application in that BLM rejected its tender of the purchase price before the moratorium took effect; and (2) BLM properly determined in 1994, pursuant to authority the Secretary lawfully delegated to BLM, Wyo-Ben’s application fell within the moratorium. The district court did not resolve either of the foregoing two issues in dismissing Wyo-Ben’s claim. And, specifically as to the second issue, the court did not determine whether the lawful effect of any such delegation from the Secretary was that BLM properly stood in the shoes of the Secretary for purposes of determining that Wyo-Ben’s application was subject to the moratorium. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit remanded the action to the district court for further proceedings.