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
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
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.
The Appellate Court reversed.
The Appellate Court found
that the Mining Law did not
require a claimant to show that they could profit from the mining
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
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."