So Kafkaesque even Kafka would be astonished
Bring a gun to a knife fight: In 1982 Sidney Longwell bought a federal oil and gas lease from the Interior Department, with the intention of making money from the oil he extracted from Montana’s Lewis and Clark National Forest. Such leases were not unusual up until then, and in this case was obtained in a perfectly legal manner.
It was not to be, at least for the next four decades, as the Interior Department under five different Presidents repeatedly changed the rules and made arbitary decisions in an effort to somehow illegally cancel that lease. The story, as described by his non-profit law firm, Mountain States Legal Foundation, is quite ugly.
Sidney Longwell first bought his federal oil and gas lease in 1982. But after years of back-and-forth, the Clinton Administration suspended his lease indefinitely in 1993, placing it in regulatory limbo. A decade of fruitless bureaucratic review followed. Finally, in 2013, and with help from Mountain States Legal Foundation, he took the DOI to court, where the agency was forced to address Sidney’s lease. When pressed in 2016 for a decision, the DOI canceled the lease! So, Mountain States and Sidney sued them again.
Last fall, the court again ordered the reinstatement of Sidney’s lease and permit! As the court wrote, “It is time to put an end to this interminable, and insufferable, bureaucratic chess match.” We couldn’t agree more.
In the ensuing months, the DOI and its activist allies appealed the court’s ruling.
On September 9, 2023, Sidney Longwell’s fight was finally won when the DOI and the environmental groups agreed to settle, though Longwell himself is no longer alive to enjoy that victory, having passed away in 2020 at the age of 81. Both his company Solenex and his law firm had refused to give up, however, and in winning this victory did so in a way that included a significant financial settlement, some of which will be paid by the enviromental activists who helped iinstigate and extend the case.
The federal government and its allies who intervened in the case have signed settlement agreements that uphold Sidney Longwell’s hard-fought victories. And they have agreed to pay Solenex $2.62 million to resolve the case, with the federal government supplying $2 million, and the intervening activists supplying the other $624,700.
What makes this victory important is the settlement amount. Often in cases like this the non-profit law firm only wishes to make a legal point, and though it almost always win it frequently only asks for a symbolic small settlement, after the plainiff pays legal costs.
The non-profit law firm here, Mountain State Legal Foundation, did not do this. Instead, it fought and got a sizeable monetary payment. Such payments will hopefully make both the federal government and the environmental groups think twice before subjecting other innocent Americans to new and similar torturous legal battles.
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