CHAMBERS, Circuit Judge:
On June 12, 1959, Mary Brandt and Natalie Shell submitted a non-competitive oil and gas lease offer to the Los Angeles office of the Bureau of Land Management.
Although appellants were advised of their right to appeal the decision, they chose to submit another offer form which deleted any reference to unequal interests. Shortly thereafter, one Raymond J. Hansen entered the picture by filing a protest against the issuance of an oil and gas lease to the appellants. Apparently, Hansen's priority was junior only to that of appellants in that Hansen had filed a lease offer for the identical land described in appellants' lease offer thirteen days after appellants first filed their offer. The Los Angeles office held against Hansen and he appealed the decision to the director of the Bureau of Land Management. The director dismissed Hansen's protest on the ground that the Los Angeles office erred in requiring the appellants to submit amended lease forms because the original lease offer was correct. Hansen then appealed to the Secretary of the Interior, who reversed the director's decision. The Secretary concluded that the amended offer was an attempt to create a new offer and that by failing to appeal from the decision of the Los Angeles office concerning the validity of the original lease offer, the appellants lost any right to assert the validity of the original offer. The Secretary also held that the land office had no authority to give the new Brandt-Shell offer filed on September 25, 1961, priority over Hansen's offer which was filed on June 25, 1959.
Appellants filed an action in the district court seeking judicial review of the Secretary's decision. Hansen and the Secretary (then Stewart Udall) were named as defendants but service was not obtained on Hansen. The district court granted the government's motion for summary judgment, and denied plaintiff-appellants' motion for summary judgment and entered judgment ordering the appellants' second amended complaint be dismissed with prejudice. On appeal, this court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction because of the absence of an order as required by Rule 54(b), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Following remand, Hansen was personally served and appeared by way of filing a motion for summary judgment on the same grounds set forth in the government's motion. The district court granted Hansen's motion for summary judgment and judgment was entered accordingly. A new appeal was taken and since no new issues were raised appellants' motion for an order permitting the use herein of the record and briefs filed in the prior appeal (case #21,217) was granted.
The district court's jurisdiction to review the Secretary's decision in these circumstances is well established in the Ninth Circuit. In Coleman v. United States, 9 Cir., 363 F.2d 190, reversed on other grounds, 390 U.S. 599, 88 S.Ct. 1327, 20 L.Ed.2d 170, we held that "although the Administrative Procedure Act does not permit a trial de novo of administrative decisions, it does authorize and require judicial review under the standards of the Administrative Procedure Act * * *." 363 F.2d at 193 (citations omitted). In reviewing Coleman, the Supreme Court did not find it necessary to discuss jurisdictional difficulties although jurisdiction under the Administrative Procedure Act was an issue before the Court.
In deciding whether appellants' right to appeal from the decision of the Los Angeles office was frustrated, the applicable standard is whether the decision was a reasoned conclusion clearly apprising appellants of the action taken, thus enabling them to determine whether their interests were adversely affected. We conclude that the decision did not satisfy due process requirements of notice in two major aspects.
The first deficiency is that the decision did not adequately inform appellants that they were adversely affected. That is, the decision affirmatively promised that an adverse effect need not result:
Unfortunately for appellants, the promise that loss of priority would not result was unauthorized by statute, regulation, or decision. The Secretary attached no weight to the unauthorized promise other than to term it regrettable and decided that he could not be bound or collaterally estopped by the fact that the land office decision gave misinformation to appellants. Not every form of official misinformation will be considered sufficient to estop the government. See 2 K. Davis, Administrative Law Treatise Section 17.01 et seq. Yet some forms of erroneous advice are so closely connected to the basic fairness of the administrative decision making process that the government may be estopped from disavowing the misstatement. Cases where the Secretary of the Interior has been held collaterally estopped from disavowing offical advice include: Seaton v. Texas Co., 103 U.S. App.D.C. 163, 256 F.2d 718; Chapman
The second major aspect in which the land office decision was defective was its ambiguity as to whether it was a final decision. The ambiguity regarding finality lies in the statements that "the subject offer is hereby held for rejection" and "failure to submit a new offer form will result in the final rejection and closing of the case without further notice." (Emphasis added.) Concluding that "there can be no mistake as to what the decision meant," the Secretary interpreted the decision as "saying that the old offer is defective and will be rejected unless a new substitute offer is filed; in that event, the old offer is supplanted and ceases to exist, consequently no final rejection of it is necessary." The Secretary's interpretation is only one of several possible interpretations of the finality language and due process is not satisfied by a decision which is subject to several constructions of an element such as finality.
Since the appellants were denied an effective right of appeal and thereby deprived of due process of law, the judgment of the district court is reversed and the appellants' right to appeal through Interior channels from the land office decision of September 12, 1961, conditionally rejecting their original lease offer is reinstated.
We cannot now order the Secretary to make a lease but certainly it seems clear to us what should be done. To say to these appellants, "The joke is on you. You shouldn't have trusted us," is hardly worthy of our great government.
We would have a much different case if the booby trap unwittingly set for Mrs. Brandt and Mrs. Shell had somehow hurt the government. Bad advice cannot ordinarily justify giving away to individuals valuable government assets. This is no such case.