Pacific Legal Foundation files amicus brief supporting Drakes Bay Oyster Company's Supreme Court petition

May 19, 2014 | By TONY FRANCOIS

How many Americans own property, or own or work at a business, which relies on a federal permit of some kind? Probably millions. For example, tens of thousands of cattle ranches hold permits to graze on federal land in the Western United States. Thousands of hotels and other businesses operate in units of the National Park and National Forest systems. Thousands own private property surrounded by federal land that can only be accessed via federally permitted rights of way. Can federal bureaucrats refuse to renew those permits for any reason (or no reason)? If they refuse to renew, can the displaced property or business owner seek relief in the federal courts? You would think there is one answer to these questions, but the truth is that it depends on where you live.

Our friends at Drakes Bay Oyster Company are fighting for survival after the Interior Secretary refused to renew a long standing permit to operate in the Point Reyes National Seashore, on land that the farm’s prior owners donated to the Seashore. Sadly, federal judges so far have ruled that the federal courts do not even have jurisdiction to review whether the Secretary illegally refused to renew the permit. The oyster farm has asked the United States Supreme Court to resolve this question, and today Pacific Legal Foundation filed this amicus brief, along with the California Cattlemen’s Association, in support of the petition.

We argue that the Court can resolve far more than whether lower courts have jurisdiction to review the Secretary’s illegal refusal to renew the oyster farm’s permit. With this case, the Court can also resolve whether or not federal bureaucrats are accountable to the courts when they illegally refuse to renew thousands of grazing and other permits involving hundreds of millions of acres federal lands. Right now, members of the California Cattlemen’s Association and thousands of other public lands ranchers endure a type of second class citizenship if they live in the appellate jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, because agency actions on their permits are not reviewable in federal court in this circuit.  These ranchers and property owners have a less valuable First Amendment right to petition their government because they cannot petition the courts to review cancellations and nonrenewals of their permits.  We hope the Court will grant Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s petition, and take this opportunity to establish that all federal refusals to renew existing natural resource permits are subject to judicial scrutiny.

Learn more about the oyster farm’s fight for survival by watching our video: