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November 01, 2023 - MoFo Pro Bono

MoFo Wins Dismissal for Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness

Pro Bono Week

Morrison Foerster secured a significant victory for its pro bono client, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (NMW), obtaining the dismissal of a mining company’s lawsuit that threatened to undo government efforts to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a million-acre wilderness region known for its pristine waters. This victory is the latest step in a lengthy legal battle involving mining interests whose activities pose a significant and irreversible threat to the Boundary Waters. MoFo has represented NMW since 2016 in a series of cases in federal court in Minnesota and the District of Columbia regarding mining activity in the Boundary Waters watershed.

In August 2022, Twin Metals Minnesota and its subsidiary, Franconia Minerals, both of which are part of Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta plc, filed suit in federal district court in the District of Columbia challenging a series of actions taken by the U.S. Department of the Interior that precluded Twin Metals from developing a sulfide-ore copper mine within the watershed of the Boundary Waters. Twin Metals claimed that the cancellation of its leases and rejection of its lease applications and mine plan of operations were arbitrary and capricious. The U.S. government moved to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. Our client, NMW, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the Boundary Waters, together with a group of environmental organizations and recreational businesses, joined as defendant-intervenors in May 2023 and moved to dismiss shortly thereafter.

On September 6, 2023, the court granted defendants’ and defendant-intervenors’ motions to dismiss in full. As we argued, the court determined Twin Metals’ claims related to the leases were essentially contract claims that fell within the exclusive jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The court also held the plaintiffs failed to state legally viable claims regarding the rejection of their lease applications and mine plan of operations.

The MoFo team representing NMW is led by Washington, D.C. partner Alex Ward, together with Washington, D.C. associates Haydn Forrest, Robin Smith, Krista Nunez, and Roke Iko, New York associate Hannah Yang, and Washington, D.C. paralegal Sulay Ozturk-Gunertem.

Commenting on the court’s recent decision, Alex said, “It’s gratifying to see such a thoughtful, well-reasoned opinion on this important issue. The MoFo team has worked long and hard to help our clients preserve the Boundary Waters. This is a major step toward lasting protection for this very special place.”

Learn more about the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters