Southern Oregon Miner Defeats United States Forest Service in Court

In a recent decision issued on November 9th, 2011, United States District Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the United States Forest Service, and particularly Cottage Grove District Ranger Deborah Schmidt, violated the constitutional rights of 83 year old Oregon miner, James Edgar.

Edgar, of Eugene, Oregon, alleged that the United States Forest Service and especially District Ranger Deborah Schmidt, had violated his rights when Schmidt ordered USFS Law Enforcement to impound structures on his mining claim in November of 2008 and declared them to be "government property". Climaxing nearly fifteen years of conflict with the United States Forest Servivce, in early June of 2009, agents of USFS dismantled the structures on Edgar's mineral property with a backhoe and then destroyed the remnants by use of fire. The Bone of Contention between Schmidt and Edgar lied in Edgar's unwillingness to post what he vbelieved was an unfair bond. On November 25th, 2009, Edgar filed suit against the United States, as well as District Ranger Deborah Schmidt.

USFS maintained that the "plaintiff had no legitimate property interest in his structures after they became property of the government through the impoundment process, and therefore the destruction of the structures did not interfere with plaintiff's right to control them".

However, Judge Aiken ruled that Edgar had "a clearly established, protectable property interest in his mining structures (and added that) Schmidt and the Forest Service had no authority to impound and assert government ownership over plaintiff's mining structures for the purpose of destroying them."

She also added that "Schmidt and the Forest Service offer no explanation why (the) plaintiff was not given an opportunity to administratively or judicially contest the impoundment or destruction of his property".

In the meantime, Schmidt argued that the recent cases involving Brunskill, Moore and especially Clifford Tracy proved that Edgar's failure to post a bond created a forfeiture or abandonment of his property, to which Judge Aiken responded that "The decisions ... do not hold or even suggest that the defendants forfeited or abandoned their property interests in their mining structures, nor did the courts imply that the Forest Service could remove the structures." and then added that "In fact, by filing suit against the defendants in each case, the Forest Service recognized the property interests at stake".

District Ranger Deborah Schmidt alleged that she had no direct involvement in the destruction of Edgar's buildings and requested qualified immunity. However, Judge Aiken said that "Schmidt is the District Ranger and, based on the current record before the court, referred the removal of plaintiff's structures to law enforcement. At minimum, Schmidt's decisions triggered the impoundment and demolition of plaintiff's structures. Further, in March 2009, Schmidt informed plaintiff that the Forest Service was "moving forward with reclamation," and in April 2009, Schmidt again informed plaintiff that the impoundment and reclamation process would go forward and that she would not interfere with that process. Schmidt is also listed as the "Accountable Property Manager" on the report describing the plan to dismantle and dispose of plaintiff's property. Therefore, I reject Schmidt's contention that she had no involvement in the destruction of plaintiff's mining structures."

Schmidt's request for immunity was denied and Aiken ruled that in fact, she had a direct hand in the violation of Edgar's due process rights, which are protected by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Our hat is off to Mr. Edgar for fighting for his mining rights, which are the rights of all.

Read the Case


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