Federal Land Exchange: Lawsuit
What is the PolyMet land exchange lawsuit?
On January 30, 2017, just three weeks after the PolyMet Land Exchange was approved, WaterLegacy filed suit in Minnesota federal court challenging the PolyMet land exchange as a violation of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. WaterLegacy asked that the PolyMet Land Exchange be found illegal and asked for a preliminary injunction, so the court would prevent harm to the forests and wetlands on the proposed PolyMet mine site while the case was proceeding. Several other environmental groups filed related lawsuits in the spring of 2017.
WaterLegacy’s lawsuit claimed that the PolyMet Land Exchange was a “sweetheart deal” for PolyMet at the expense of users of public lands and Minnesota and federal taxpayers. An expert appraisal review submitted by WaterLegacy documented that the federal lands to be transferred to PolyMet were undervalued at only $550 per acre, while other lands sold by private northeast Minnesota landowners to mining companies commanded prices as high as $3885 per acre. As summarized in the Pioneer Press:
What is the current status of the lawsuit?
The PolyMet Land Exchange lawsuits were all “dismissed without prejudice” on September 30, 2019, as a result of PolyMet’s repeated motions to dismiss on the basis of standing. What a dismissal “without prejudice” means is that WaterLegacy and other groups are not precluded from filing their cases again. The court’s order for dismissal focused, in part, on timing issues to find that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to bring their cases.
It is highly likely that WaterLegacy will file a second lawsuit to overturn the PolyMet Land Exchange.
Understanding the Court Process:
Jan. 30, 2017
WaterLegacy files its Complaint in federal court starting the litigation. WaterLegacy argues that the Federal Land Policy and Management Act prohibits an exchange of public lands for a private use unless the values are equal. WaterLegacy also argues that the PolyMet Land Exchange undervalued public lands to the detriment of users of public lands and taxpayers.
Feb. 23, 2017
March 10, 2017
Late March, 2017
Aug. 28, 2017
A hearing is held on WaterLegacy’s motion for an injunction and PolyMet’s motion to dismiss. In that hearing and in a letter to the Court on August 24, 2017, the U.S. Forest Service states that, in response to WaterLegacy’s motion, the Forest Service and PolyMet put a “litigation contingency” in the transfer agreement. In other words, the Forest Service can “delay or suspend” the land exchange, even after it is signed, to comply with any court order. The Forest Service claims that, with this litigation contingency, signing the PolyMet Land Exchange “will cause no damage to Plaintiff.”
Aug. 31, 2017
Some members of the Minnesota delegation to the U.S. Congress launch a legislative effort to block court review of the PolyMet Federal Land Exchange.
Nov. 28, 2017
A bill to mandate the PolyMet Land Exchange and block court review is adopted in the U.S. House of Representatives – but not in the U.S. Senate.
March 6, 2018
Without any motion by a party or any opportunity for plaintiffs to respond, the court issues an order staying the proceedings and denying PolyMet’s motion to dismiss “without prejudice.” This means that PolyMet can file again if the case resumes. The order is based on the PolyMet Land Exchange bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on November 28, 2017.
Dec. 24, 2018
Jan. 31, 2019
In response to motions by WaterLegacy and other plaintiffs, the court lifts the stay on the PolyMet Land Exchange cases. WaterLegacy and other plaintiffs request an injunction to prevent construction and preconstruction activities, since by this time, PolyMet has been granted a permit to mine by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and a water pollution permit by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
April 17, 2019
Sept. 19, 2019
The court issues an order dismissing plaintiffs’ claims without prejudice. This order does not prevent WaterLegacy and other plaintiffs from refiling lawsuits to challenge the PolyMet Land Exchange.