United States v. Coleman
390 U.S. 599 (1968)

  • Under the General Mining Law of 1872 (30 U.S.C. 22), people were allowed to make claims to "valuable mineral deposits" they found on Federal lands.
    • Basically, if you discovered a valuable mineral (like gold or copper) you could "stake a claim" and get a permit to mine the mineral and keep the profits.
  • Coleman entered a plot of Federal land and found a mineral called quartzite. He staked a claim. The claim was denied by the Department of the Interior (DOI).
    • DOI found that quartzite was one of the most common of all solid materials, and thus was not "valuable."
    • DOI found that in order to be valuable, it must be shown that the mineral can be "extracted, removed, and marketed at a profit."
      • aka the Marketability Test.
  • Coleman refused to get off the land. DOI sued to have him forcibly ejected.
    • In fact Coleman build a giant home on the land (720 acres of scenic forest within driving distance of Los Angeles.)
  • The Trial Court found for DOI. Coleman appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. DOI appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that the Mining Law did not require a claimant to show that they could profit from the mining activity.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court and denied Coleman's claim.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the Marketability Test was a logical way for DOI to determine if a mineral was "valuable" and thus patentable under the Mining Law.
    • The Court found that if a material cannot be mined for a profit, it implies that the claimant wants the land for some other purpose.
      • Like say, building a beautiful house to live in within driving distance of Los Angeles...
  • This Marketability Test is now sometimes known as the Coleman Test.
    • The Marketability Test is a refinement of the earlier Prudent Man Test defined in Castle v. Womble (19 L.D. 455 (1894)).
      • Under the Prudent Man Test in order to qualify as "valuable mineral deposits," the discovered deposits must be of such a character that "a person of ordinary prudence would be justified in the further expenditure of his labor and means, with a reasonable prospect of success, in developing a valuable mine."