Rep. Phil Lyman files $10 million suit against BLM

Former San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman has filed a $10 million civil lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for its actions related to the 2014 protest in Recapture Canyon.

Lyman, now serving in the Utah House of Representatives, filed the private action on November 8 in the U.S. District Court District of Utah.  Lyman is serving as his own attorney.

Lyman was tried and convicted in federal court of misdemeanor counts related to his participation in the May 10, 2014 protest in Recapture Canyon. The event was organized by Lyman and other local residents to protest the prolonged closure of the canyon. 

While Lyman stayed on a pipeline maintenance road throughout the protest, more than 100 people traveled along a makeshift road through the canyon.

Lyman served ten days in federal prison and was fined $96,000.

Since that time, a series of appeals and additional filings by Lyman on the matter have been heard and dismissed in federal court.  

The latest filing states, “Now, as plaintiff in this civil action, Lyman sues for a resolution to the most basic question of his criminal case: Is the road on which Mr. Lyman traveled on May 10, 2014 a maintenance road granted under Title V by the BLM, or is it a valid and existing county road?”

Lyman presents information regarding the matter, including the right of way granted to the San Juan Water Conservancy District for the maintenance road.  

Lyman characterized the actions of the BLM as “…a type of tyranny which this court and our laws were instituted to deter, not promote.”

In the filing, Lyman characterizes the actions of the BLM as “false charges,” “fake damage reports,” “false testimony,” “choreographed fallacy,” “false information,” and “collusion.” 

He states that a number of BLM officials lied under oath.

Lyman adds that “…the chain of events that were set off by the misrepresentations of the BLM related to this tiny stretch of existing county road are incalculable.” 

“The BLM’s collusion with media, the U.S. Attorney’s office, special interest groups, including The Old Broads for Wilderness, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Wilderness Society, to name just a few, was malicious, knowingly inaccurate, and calculated as an effective form of character assassination against Mr. Lyman.”

The filing states that the BLM did not follow its own procedures and failed to consult with local officials when it closed the road.

The filing asks for a jury trial and adds “the venue for trial should be in San Juan County.”

Lyman seeks for a ruling on the road issues, seeks “the costs he has incurred in pursuing this action, including attorney’s fees,” and “punitive damages in the amount of not less than $10,000,000.”

In addition to the fine, Lyman has faced significant legal fees related to his trial defense. He has served as his own attorney through much of the appeals process and subsequent filings.

In January 2018, Lyman filed a federal tort claim in which he sought $2.5 million for various allegations associated with the criminal charges filed in the Recapture Canyon matter. 

In May 2019, a federal solicitor, Patricia J. Reedy, reviewed the claim and stated, “I do not find that the Department of the Interior is legally liable for the damages you seek. As a result, your claim is denied.”

Reedy added that if Lyman acted within six months, he could ask for a reconsideration of the ruling or “file suit in an appropriate United States District Court.”

The most recent court action by Lyman was filed on the six-month anniversary of the solicitor’s ruling.

The BLM did not comment on the latest filing, stating it does not comment on pending litigation.

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