MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case involves six groups of claims to oil shale located in Colorado and asserted under the General Mining Act of 1872, 17 Stat. 91, now 30 U. S. C. §§ 22, 26, 28, and 29. Section 28 provides that until a patent issued "not less than $100 worth of labor shall be performed or improvements made during each year."
Some of the claimants in this case applied for patents between 1955 and 1962. The General Land Office rejected the patent applications because the claims had been canceled. On appeal, the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Solicitor, ruled that these cancellations were effective, later judicial determinations of the invalidity of the grounds for cancellation notwithstanding. Union Oil Co., 71 I. D. 169.
Before we come to a consideration of the Krushnic and Virginia-Colorado cases it should be noted that in 1920, Congress by enacting § 21 of the Mineral Lands Leasing Act, 41 Stat. 445, 30 U. S. C. § 241 (a), completely changed the national policy over the disposition of oil shale lands. Thereafter such lands were no longer open to location and acquisition of title but only to lease. But § 37 contained a Saving Clause which covered "valid claims existent on February 25, 1920, and thereafter maintained in compliance with the laws under which initiated, which claims may be perfected under such laws, including discovery." 30 U. S. C. § 193. Respondents contend that their claims fall within that exception.
Respondents assert that a like claim was recognized and approved in the Krushnic case. In that case, however, labor in the statutory amount had been performed, including the aggregate amount of $500. The only default was in the failure to perform labor for one year during the period. Mandamus for the issuance of a patent was directed, the Court saying:
The Court further held that the claims were "maintained" within the Saving Clause of the Leasing Act by a resumption of the assessment work before a challenge of the claim by the United States had intervened.
Virginia-Colorado also involved claims on which labor had been expended except for one year. It was alleged, however, that the claimant had planned to resume the assessment work but for the Secretary's adverse action and that the claims had not been abandoned. The Court held that the claims had been "maintained" within the meaning of the Saving Clause of the Leasing Act of 1920.
Those two cases reflect a judicial attitude of fair treatment for claimants who have substantially completed the assessment work required by 30 U. S. C. § 28. There are, however, dicta both in Virginia-Colorado and in Krushnic that the failure to do assessment work gives the Government no ground for forfeiture but inures only to the benefit of relocators.
Indeed 30 U. S. C. § 28, which derives from the 1872 Act, as already noted,
The problem in those two cases and the present one concerns the Saving Clause in the Leasing Act which, as noted, makes available for patent "valid claims existent on February 25, 1920, and thereafter maintained in compliance with the laws under which initiated." Concededly, failure to maintain a claim made it "subject to disposition only" by leasing by the United States. See § 37 of the 1920 Act, 30 U. S. C. § 193. Hence if we assume, arguendo, that failure to do assessment work as provided in the 1872 Act concerned at the time only the claimant and any subsequent relocator, the United States, speaking through the Secretary of the Interior, became a vitally interested party by reason of the 1920 Act. For it was by that Act that Congress reclaimed portions of the public domain so that land might be disposed of by a different procedure (leasing) to the same end (oil shale production
It appears that shortly before 1920 oil shale claims were affected by a speculative fever. Then came a period of calm. By the late forties and continuing into the sixties speculators sought out the original locators or their heirs, obtained quitclaim deeds from them, and thereupon eliminated all other record titleholders by performing assessment work for one year.
The legislative history of the 1872 Act does not throw much light on the problem. Senator Cole, proponent of that Act, explained, however, that the requirement of assessment work was made to adopt the Spanish law which granted mining titles but subjected them "to what they term denouncement of the title or defeasance of the title upon a failure to work the mine after a certain
The history of the 1920 Act throws a little light on the problem.
In the Senate there was considerable debate over the addition of the words "including discovery" at the end of § 37, which contains the Saving Clause.
If we were to hold to the contrary that enforcement of the assessment work of § 28 was solely at the private initiative of relocators, the "maintenance" provision of § 37 becomes largely illusory, because relocation of oil shale claims became impossible after the 1920 Act. So if enforcement of the assessment work requirement of § 28 were dependent solely on the activities and energies of oil shale relocators, there was no effective enforcement device. While the area covered by the claims might possibly be relocated for wholly different purposes, the likelihood was so remote that the Court of Appeals concluded that: "The old claims were thus sheltered by the  Act." 406 F. 2d, at 763. That meant that a claim could remain immune from challenge by anyone with or without any assessment work, in complete defiance of the 1872 Act.
The Court concluded in Virginia-Colorado that the lapse in assessment work was no basis for a charge of abandonment. 295 U. S., at 645-646. We construe that statement to mean that on the facts of that case failure to do the assessment work was not sufficient to establish abandonment. But it was well established that the failure to do assessment work was evidence of abandonment. Union Oil Co. v. Smith, 249 U.S. 337, 349; Donnelly v. United States, 228 U.S. 243, 267. If, in fact, a claim had been abandoned, then the relocators were not the only ones interested. The United States had an interest in retrieving the lands. See G. Widman, T. Brightwell, & J. Haggard, Legal Study of Oil Shale on Public Lands 189-193 (1969). The policy of leasing oil shale lands under the 1920 Act gave the United States a
Unlike the claims in Krushnic and Virginia-Colorado, the Land Commissioner's findings indicate that the present claims had not substantially met the conditions of § 28 respecting assessment work. Therefore we cannot say that Krushnic and Virginia-Colorado control this litigation. We disagree with the dicta in these opinions that default in doing the assessment work inures only to the benefit of relocators, as we are of the view that § 37 of the 1920 Act makes the United States the beneficiary of all claims invalid for lack of assessment work or otherwise. It follows that the Department of the Interior had, and has, subject matter jurisdiction over contests involving the performance of assessment work. We conclude therefore that the judgments below must be reversed.
Respondents rely upon the response of the Department of the Interior to the Virginia-Colorado case in
These contentions present questions not decided below. Therefore, on remand all issues relevant to the current validity of those contest proceedings will be open, including the availability of judicial review at this time. To the extent that they are found void, not controlling, or subject to review, all issues relevant to the invalidity of the claims will be open, including inadequate assessment work, abandonment, fraud, and the like. Likewise all issues concerning the time, amount, and nature of the assessment work will be open so that the claimants will have an opportunity to bring their claims within the narrow ambit of Krushnic and Virginia-Colorado, as we have construed and limited these opinions.
Reversed and remanded.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, MR. JUSTICE WHITE, and MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
APPENDIX TO OPINION OF THE COURT
One group of claims in question was composed of 48 (Bute) claims located by nine individuals between December 1919 and January 1920, shortly before February 25, 1920, the cutoff date for prior valid claims recognized by the Saving Clause of the 1920 Act.
In January, Ertl transferred all his interest in the above claims to Energy Resources Technology Land, Inc. (ERTL). Mr. Dutton transferred any interest he held in the above claims to ERTL and ERTL conveyed title to 16 of the Bute claims, Nos. 33-48, to Dutton. These 16 claims were eventually purchased by Oil Shale Corp. for $1,536,000. In 1963, Oil Shale leased all of the remaining claims from ERTL for $148,000 per year. Forty-six of the Bute claims, including the 16 purchased by Oil Shale, nine of the Atlas claims and all 20 of the Camp Bird claims are involved in the litigation here.
Another group of 20 claims (Carbon 1-8 and Elizabeth 1-12) passed through several hands, and after notice and forfeiture, as above, is held by Wasatch Development Co. and Joseph Umpleby. Sixteen of these are involved here. Another group of four (SW, NW, NE, & SE) claims has a similar history, and three of those
THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE STEWART dissent. They believe the Court of Appeals in this litigation correctly construed and applied this Court's decisions in Wilbur v. Krushnic, 280 U.S. 306, and Ickes v. Virginia-Colorado Development Corp., 295 U.S. 639. Accordingly, unless those decisions are to be overruled, they would affirm the judgment before us.
"On each claim located after the 10th day of May 1872, and until a patent has been issued therefor, not less than $100 worth of labor shall be performed or improvements made during each year. . . . [U]pon a failure to comply with these conditions, the claim or mine upon which such failure occurred shall be open to relocation in the same manner as if no location of the same had ever been made, provided that the original locators, their heirs, assigns, or legal representatives, have not resumed work upon the claim after failure and before such location. . . ."
Section 29 reads in part:
"The claimant at the time of filing this application, or at any time thereafter, within the sixty days of publication, shall file with the Manager a certificate of the United States Chief Cadastral Engineer that $500 worth of labor has been expended or improvements made upon the claim by himself or grantors . . . ."
"The annual expenditure of $100 in labor or improvements on a mining claim, required by section 2324 of the Revised Statutes (30 U. S. C. 28), is . . . solely a matter between rival or adverse claimants to the same mineral land, and goes only to the right of possession, the determination of which is committed exclusively to the courts." 43 CFR § 3420.4.
"The deposits of . . . oil shale . . . herein referred to, in lands valuable for such minerals . . . shall be subject to disposition only in the form and manner provided [in this Act], except as to valid claims existent on February 25, 1920, and thereafter maintained in compliance with the laws under which initiated, which claims may be perfected under such laws, including discovery."
For the history of the law which allows assessment work on one claim to inure to the benefit of a group of claims see Union Oil Co. v. Smith, 249 U.S. 337, 350-351.