National Wildlife Federation v. Burford
871 F.2d 849 (9th Cir. 1989)

  • The Department of the Interior (DOI) held an auction to lease the mineral rights to mine for coal on 23k acres of Federally-owned land.
    • Because they auctioned so much at one time, and due to the economic conditions of the day, the bids were much lower ($60M-$100M) than they might have otherwise been.
    • There were rumors that BLM had leaked what the minimum accepted bids were, so people knew not to bid too much.
  • NWF sued for an injunction, saying that the auction violated the Mineral Leasing Act (30 U.S.C. 201).
    • 201(a)(1) said that no bids less than fair market value (FMV) "as determined by the Secretary" would be accepted.
    • NWF argued that the DOI accepted bids that were less than FMV.
    • DOI presented their calculations of what FMV should be, and the bids were within what DOI considered to be an acceptable range.
      • NWF argued that DOI's calculations were flawed.
      • DOI's regulations had said that an independent assessment of FMV was to be prepared by the US Geologic Survey before an auction, but they DOI deleted that requirement the day before the auction and were using their own (much lower) estimate of the FMV for the land.
  • The Trial Court found for DOI. NWF appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court found that DOI acted "unwisely" but they didn't act unreasonably.
    • The Court found that since 201(a)(1) says that FMV will be defined by DOI, unless DOI was so out of line that their actions were arbitrary and capricious, the Court would defer to DOI's judgment.
      • See Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council (467 U.S. 837 (1984)).