Western bought some land that
had once been owned by the Federal government, but had long ago been given
away to a homesteader (under the Stock-Raising Homestead Act (SRHA) (43 U.S.C §299).
Western got a permit from Wyoming and began extracting gravel from the
The Bureau of Land Management
(BLM) stepped in, demanded their gravel back, and fined Western for
trespass. Western appealed.
BLM argued that even though
the land had been given to a homesteader for grazing cattle, the SRHA reserved the rights to "all the coal and
other minerals" in the land, so Western was stealing their minerals.
That's known as a split
estate, where one person owns the mineral
estate s and another person owns the
Western argued that gravel
was not a "mineral" as defined in the SRHA.
The Interior Board of Land
Appeals (IBLA) affirmed. Western appealed.
The Trial Court affirmed.
The Appellate Court reversed.
The US Supreme Court reversed.
The US Supreme Court found
that gravel was a mineral reserved by the Federal government under the SRHA.
The Court noted that gravel
had been the basis of claims for land patents under various mining laws,
which strongly implied that it could be a valuable "mineral."
See United States v.
Coleman (390 U.S. 599 (1968)).
The Court defined
"minerals" as substances that are inorganic, can be removed
from the soil, can be used for commercial purposes, and that there is no
reason to suppose were intended to be included in the surface estate.
Note that in BedRoc Ltd.
LLC v. United States (541 U.S. 176
(2004)), the US Supreme Court found that the Federal government had not
reserved the rights to gravel under a similar law (the Pittman
Underground Water Act). The Court
distinguished this case by saying that the Pittman Act only reserved "valuable minerals,"
while SRHA reserved all
So according to the US
Supreme Court, gravel is a "mineral" but not a "valuable
mineral" and the difference in wording between Statutes is