Silver Buckle Mines, Inc. owns 72 active, unpatented lode mining claims in Idaho, which were located prior to August 10, 1993.  In 2001, Congress amended the statute requiring payment of annual maintenance fees on mining claims, eliminating these fees for pre-1993 unpatented lode mining claims. However, in 2012, BLM assessed 2013 maintenance fees on Silver Buckle’s mines, which U.S. Silver Corporation, Silver Buckle’s lessee, paid.

Silver Buckle sued in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, seeking refund of the fees that it alleged BLM had collected in violation of the statute, and seeking to certify a class of all similarly situated mine owners. Silver Buckle asserted that BLM had illegally exacted maintenance fees in 2013.

The Government moved to dismiss the case for lack of standing, claiming that, because Silver Buckle did not pay the 2013 maintenance fee, Silver Buckle suffered no injury-in-fact. The Government also moved to amend the class definition.

The Court rejected the Government’s argument that Silver Buckle lacked standing, concluding that Silver Buckle had suffered injury-in-fact because, although the maintenance fees were paid by a third party, “a third party payment is attributable to the person or entity responsible for making such payment – in this case, the claim holder.”  The Court further explained that Silver Buckle suffered a pecuniary harm because it received a lower net income due to BLM’s imposition of the fees. Specifically, although U.S. Silver paid BLM the assessed maintenance fees in 2013, it later deducted the amount paid for the assessments from the royalties it paid to Silver Buckle.

Finally, the Court denied the Government’s motion to amend the class definition, ruling that the class was correctly defined as turning “on whether or not the 2013 maintenance fees were paid, directly or indirectly.”  The Court instructed the parties to confer and submit a joint status report for further proceedings.

Read Judge Sweeney’s full opinion here.