What happens when a miner strikes gold (metaphorically and sometimes literally speaking) under someone else’s land? As the Latin maxim states, “cuius est solum, eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos,” which translates to “whoever owns [the] soil, [it] is theirs all the way [up] to Heaven and [down] to Hell.” It would seem the answer to who has a right to minerals below their property would be straight forward based on this Latin maxim. However, this is not truly the case. Over the last century, courts have expanded the idea of “extralateral rights” and allowed an adjacent landowner to claim a right to the minerals underneath someone else’s land, even if the minerals were outside of the mining landowner’s property lines. Beginning in the late nineteenth century and culminating with Swoboda v. Pala Mining Co. 844 F.2d 654 (1988), courts (in particular the Ninth Circuit in this case) have slowly chipped away at the idea that a landowner has a rightful claim to everything located below his land.
Mahdi Ibrahim & Judge Robert C. Coates,
The Ninth Circuit Expands the Mining Law's Extralateral Rights Doctrine to Pegmatite Dikes,
San Diego J. Climate & Energy L.
Available at: https://digital.sandiego.edu/jcel/vol11/iss1/7