Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, et al.
The Pueblo of Jemez filed a quiet title action against the United States relating to lands comprising the Valles Caldera National Preserve (“Valles Caldera”), which the United States purchased from private landowners in 2000. In an earlier appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the district court’s ruling dismissing the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court reversed and remanded, finding that an 1860 federal grant of title to private landowners would not extinguish the Jemez Pueblo’s claimed aboriginal title. Upon remand, the Jemez Pueblo could establish that it once and still had aboriginal title to the lands at issue. After a twenty-one-day trial, the district court ruled that the Jemez Pueblo failed to establish ever having aboriginal title to the entire lands of the Valles Caldera, failing to show that it ever used the entire claimed land to the exclusion of other Indian groups. The Jemez Pueblo moved for reconsideration under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). But rather than seek reconsideration of its complaint’s QTA claim to the entire Valles Caldera, the Jemez Pueblo shrunk its QTA claim into claims of title to four discrete subareas within the Valles Caldera: (1) Banco Bonito, (2) the Paramount Shrine Lands, (3) Valle San Antonio, and (4) the Redondo Meadows. The district court declined to reconsider all but Banco Bonito, on grounds that the Jemez Pueblo hadn’t earlier provided the government notice of these claims. Even so, being thorough, the court later considered and rejected those three claims on the merits. Of the issues raised by the Jemez Pueblo on appeal, we primarily address its challenge to the district court’s ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erroneously interpreted "Jemez I" in ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. So in accordance with longstanding Supreme Court precedent, and by the district court’s findings, the Court held the Jemez Pueblo still had aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Court reversed in part the denial of the Jemez Pueblo’s motion for reconsideration, and vacated in part and remanded with instructions to the district court. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, et al." on Justia Law
Wyo-Ben Inc. v. Haaland, et al.
Plaintiff-Appellant Wyo-Ben, Inc., (“Wyo-Ben”) appealed a district court’s dismissal of its complaint against the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (the “Secretary”) and the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM;” collectively, “Respondents”) asserting a single claim under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). In 1993, Wyo-Ben filed a mineral patent application with BLM. While that application was pending, in 1994, Congress enacted a moratorium on processing mineral patent applications. In the same legislation, Congress also enacted an exemption to the moratorium: if a patent application was still pending by September 30, 1994, and it otherwise complied with certain conditions, the patent application was not subject to the moratorium and the Secretary was required to process the application. On October 3, 1994, BLM—not the Secretary—determined that Wyo-Ben’s mineral patent application did not qualify for the exemption. Congress thereafter reenacted the 1995 Act (including the moratorium and exemption) annually through 2019. In 2019, Wyo-Ben filed suit alleging that, pursuant to § 706(1) of the APA, the Secretary “unlawfully withheld” and “unreasonably delayed” agency action by failing to review Wyo-Ben’s pending application to determine whether it was exempt from the moratorium. The court found that Wyo-Ben’s claim was statutorily barred by 28 U.S.C. § 2401(a), reasoning that Wyo-Ben’s § 706(1) claim first accrued on the date BLM determined that Wyo-Ben’s patent application was not exempt (i.e., October 3, 1994) and that the limitations period expired six years later (i.e., October 3, 2000). On appeal, Wyo-Ben contended the district court misconstrued its § 706(1) claim by characterizing the allegedly unlawful conduct as BLM’s decision that Wyo- Ben’s application falls within the moratorium. Respondents maintained: (1) Wyo-Ben submitted an incomplete application in that BLM rejected its tender of the purchase price before the moratorium took effect; and (2) BLM properly determined in 1994, pursuant to authority the Secretary lawfully delegated to BLM, Wyo-Ben’s application fell within the moratorium. The district court did not resolve either of the foregoing two issues in dismissing Wyo-Ben’s claim. And, specifically as to the second issue, the court did not determine whether the lawful effect of any such delegation from the Secretary was that BLM properly stood in the shoes of the Secretary for purposes of determining that Wyo-Ben’s application was subject to the moratorium. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit remanded the action to the district court for further proceedings. View "Wyo-Ben Inc. v. Haaland, et al." on Justia Law
High Lonesome Ranch v. Board of County Commissioner, et al.
For years, the High Lonesome Ranch restricted access to two roads by locking a gate. But in 2015, during a county meeting, the Garfield County Commission directed the Ranch to remove the locked gate after concluding that the two disputed roads were subject to public rights-of-way. The Ranch refused and filed a declaratory-judgment action in Colorado state court opposing the County’s position. At first, the County asked the state court to dismiss the case for failure to name the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) as a party. But rather than dismissing, the state court ordered the Ranch to join the United States (BLM) as a necessary party, and the Ranch did so. The United States removed the case to federal district court. In October 2020, after a five-day bench trial, the district court ruled that the entire lengths of the two disputed roads were subject to public rights-of-way. On appeal—and for the first time—the Ranch contended that various procedural shortcomings deprived the district court of subject-matter jurisdiction. It also challenged the district court’s rights-of-way rulings. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s adverse-use ruling, but reversed its Colorado R.S. 2477 ruling and remanded for the court to reconsider that ruling under recent circuit authority governing acceptance of R.S. 2477 rights. The Court also remanded for the district court to determine the locations and widths of the rights-of-way by survey. View "High Lonesome Ranch v. Board of County Commissioner, et al." on Justia Law
Bruce v. City and County of Denver, et al.
Douglas Bruce sued the City and County of Denver (“Denver”) and others (collectively, “Appellees”) in federal district court for alleged constitutional violations arising from a Colorado state court’s determination that Bruce’s liens on several properties were inferior to Denver’s liens. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Bruce contended that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not apply because he was not a party to the state court litigation. After review, the Tenth Circuit disagreed and affirmed the dismissal. View "Bruce v. City and County of Denver, et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Real Estate & Property Law
Johnson v. Heath, et al.
Defendants Michael and Dawn Heath sold Plaintiff Harry Johnson a gasoline and automobile-service station in Wells, Nevada. Soon after the sale, Plaintiff allegedly discovered that the property had material, undisclosed defects and that Defendants had artificially inflated the business’s profits by scamming customers over the years. In suing them, Plaintiff asserted many state-law claims against both Defendants and a claim against Defendant Michael Heath under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”). The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s RICO claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state claims. The issue Plaintiff's appeal raised for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether Defendants’ actions as alleged plausibly violated the federal RICO statute. Because the Court concluded they did not, it affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Johnson v. Heath, et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Business Law, Contracts, Real Estate & Property Law
Nelson, et al. v. United States
Plaintiff-appellee James Nelson was seriously injured while riding his bicycle on a trail on Air Force Academy property in Colorado. He and his wife, Elizabeth Varney, sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). Nelson sought damages for his personal injuries; Varney sought damages for loss of consortium. After several years of litigation, the district court ruled the government was liable for Nelson’s accident and injuries. The court based its decision on the Colorado Recreational Use Statute (“CRUS”). The court awarded Nelson more than $6.9 million, and awarded Varney more than $400,000. In addition to the damages awards, the district court also ordered the government to pay plaintiffs' attorney’s fees. CRUS contained an attorney’s-fees-shifting provision, allowing prevailing plaintiffs to recover their fees against defendant landowners. Providing an exception to the United States’s sovereign immunity, the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) provided that “[t]he United States shall be liable for such fees and expenses to the same extent that any other party would be liable under the common law or under the terms of any statute which specifically provides for such an award.” The district court concluded that the government had to pay for plaintiffs' fees. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the district court erred in ordering the government to pay the attorney's fees after holding the CRUS qualified under the EAJA as “any statute which specifically provides for” an attorney’s fees award. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Nelson, et al. v. United States" on Justia Law
Herrera, et al. v. City of Espanola, et al.
Appellants Darren Herrera and Paula Garcia purchased a home in the City of Espanola, New Mexico (the “City”). At the time Appellants purchased the home, the existing owner, Charlotte Miera, was not current on her water and sewer bill. Although the City initially provided water service to Appellants, it discontinued service in February 2017, and declined to recommence it until someone paid the water and sewer bill. In June 2020, Appellants filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the New Mexico Tort Claims Act (“NMTCA”) based on the City’s refusal to provide them water service unless someone paid Miera’s bill. The City filed a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion, arguing the statute of limitations had elapsed before Appellants filed their action. Although Appellants conceded a three-year statute of limitations governed their section 1983 claims, and a two-year statute of limitations governed their NMTCA claim, they argued the limitations period had not expired on their claims because the City repeatedly denied their requests for water service between February 2017 and February 2020. They expressly relied on the continuing violation doctrine to extend the limitations period, and also argued facts consistent with the related repeated violations doctrine. The district court granted the City’s motion to dismiss. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part and reversed in part. The Court agreed with the district court that Appellants’ action first accrued no later than March 2017. Further, although it held the continuing violation doctrine was available within the section 1983 context, the Court concurred with the district court that it did not save Appellants’ claims against the City or their NMTCA claim. The Court found Appellants’ claims premised on the City’s alleged policy of conditioning water service to new property owners on the payment of bills owed by prior property owners was not time-barred under the repeated violation doctrine and Hamer v. City of Trinidad, 924 F.3d 1093 (10th Cir. 2019). View "Herrera, et al. v. City of Espanola, et al." on Justia Law
LKL Associates, et al. v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.
The Union Pacific Railroad charged Heber Rentals, LC (“Heber”) and L.K.L. Associates, Inc. (“L.K.L.”) rent under a lease that allowed L.K.L. to continue operating a building materials supply business on land that was owned in fee by Heber—and leased to L.K.L.—but encumbered by Union Pacific’s right of way. After the Supreme Court stated in 2014 that railroad rights of way like Union Pacific’s were “nonpossessory” easements, L.K.L. and Heber stopped paying rent and filed suit against Union Pacific. In addition to requesting declaratory relief, L.K.L. and Heber sought to have their leases rescinded and to receive restitution for rent already paid. Union Pacific brought counterclaims arising out of their nonpayment. On summary judgment, the district court held that Union Pacific’s easement, while nonpossessory, gave it exclusive use and possession rights “insofar as Union Pacific elected to use the land subject to its easement for a railroad purpose.” Although it found that the lease agreements served no railroad purpose, it denied the rescission claim as “untimely and redundant.” In a follow-up order, it ruled that L.K.L. and Heber had abandoned their remaining claims. The district court also rejected all of Union Pacific’s counterclaims. The Tenth Circuit agreed with Union Pacific that its right of way included the unqualified right to exclude L.K.L. and Heber, but the Court agreed with L.K.L. and Heber that their leases were invalid. “Even if the incidental use doctrine applies, neither the leases nor the underlying business conduct furthered a railroad purpose, as the easement requires.” The Court: reversed the district court’s declaratory judgment rulings to the extent they are inconsistent with the Court’s opinion; affirmed the district court’s ruling that the rescission claim was time-barred; affirmed the district court’s rejection of Union Pacific’s counterclaim for breach of contract; reversed its rejection of Union Pacific’s other substantive counterclaims; and reversed the district court’s finding of abandonment. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "LKL Associates, et al. v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law
Posted in: Landlord - Tenant, Real Estate & Property Law
Ohlsen v. United States
In the summer of 2016, a large fire, later known as the Dog Head Fire, engulfed Isleta Pueblo and United States Forest Service land in the Manzano Mountains of New Mexico. The fire resulted from forest-thinning work performed by Pueblo crewmembers under an agreement with the Forest Service. Insurance companies and several owners of destroyed property (collectively, “Appellants”) sued the government, alleging negligence under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). The government moved to dismiss, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction and, alternatively, for summary judgment on that same basis. The district court granted the government summary judgment, concluding: (1) the Pueblo crewmembers had acted as independent contractors of the government, and thus, the government wasn’t subject to FTCA liability based on the Pueblo crewmembers’ negligence; and (2) Appellants’ claims premised on the Forest Service employees’ own negligence, under the FTCA’s discretionary-function exception, were barred. On appeal, Appellants contended the district court erred in ruling that the FTCA jurisdictionally barred their claims. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Ohlsen v. United States" on Justia Law
Marcantel v. Michael & Sonja Saltman Family
In 2015, Michael and Sonja Saltman sold a vacant lot in Park City, Utah, to Curt Marcantel. Marcantel pushed to close the deal quickly, but at the time of the sale, the Saltmans knew something that Marcantel didn’t: a ten-foot wide sewer easement (including a sewer pipe within it) ran under a portion of the property, rendering infeasible Marcantel's plans to redevelop the property. The Saltmans did not tell Marcantel about the pipe, and the company Marcantel hired discover the easement did not find it. Because of an indexing error by the county recorder, at least three different title companies on four separate occasions failed to find and note the sewer easement on the property. Marcantel first heard about the easement when his prospective buyer alerted him to it; that buyer fortuitously learned of the easement from a neighboring property owner. The prospective buyer then balked at Marcantel’s asking price. Marcantel eventually sold the lot at a significant loss. Marcantel sued the Saltmans for, among other things, fraudulent nondisclosure and breach of the parties’ real estate purchase contract, arguing the Saltmans’ silence breached their contractual and common-law duties to disclose the easement. The Saltmans claimed they had assumed Marcantel knew about the easement, and in any event, Marcantel had constructive notice of the easement because it was publicly recorded. The district court granted the Saltmans summary judgment on all Marcantel’s claims. On appeal, Marcantel argued the district court repeatedly misapplied Utah law and disregarded summary-judgment procedure that required it to draw inferences in Marcantel’s favor. To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed, reversing in part the trial court's grant of summary judgment, but affirmed in all other respects. View "Marcantel v. Michael & Sonja Saltman Family" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Real Estate & Property Law