January 5, 2007
January 5, 2006 - On Dec. 2, 2006, the Supreme Court agreed to review a 10th Circuit Court decision involving ranchers, property rights, Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), constitutional torts and other issues.
A summary of the 10th Circuit decision, Robbins v. Wilkie, No. 04-8016, (10th Cir. Jan. 10, 2006), is as follows:
Robbins sued the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employees under the RICO Act and for a Bivens constitutional tort for allegedly attempting to extort a right-of-way across his property. In response to his refusal to grant a right-of-way across his property, the BLM allegedly refused to maintain the road providing access to his property; threatened to cancel, and then cancelled, his right-of-way across federal lands; stated they would "bury Frank Robbins"; cancelled his recreation use permit and grazing privileges; brought unfounded criminal charges against him; trespassed on his property; and interfered with his guest cattle drives.
The court first found that individuals have a Fifth Amendment right to exclude the government from one's private property and the government may not retaliate against an individual for exercising that right. The BLM employees were not entitled to immunity from suit for allegedly violating that right.
The court then found the BLM employees to have violated RICO. The court ruled as a matter of law that if the employees had engaged in lawful actions with an intent to extort a right-of-way, then the alleged conduct could give rise to a violation of RICO. The court remanded the case to the district court for a trial of facts on the allegations.
This decision establishes important property rights principles and limits on conduct by government officials.
The Public Lands Council (PLC) views this case as an example of the government over stepping their limits and, because of the importance of the property rights issues in the case, PLC has decided to file an amicus brief. PLC has retained Holland and Hart for representation in this matter.