Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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In 2008, Kane County, Utah sued the United States under the Quiet Title Act, which was “the exclusive means by which adverse claimants c[an] challenge the United States’ title to real property.” Kane County alleged that it held title to fifteen rights-of-way under Section 8 of the Mining Act of 1866, more commonly known as “Revised Statute (R.S.) 2477.” In this case’s third trip before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, the issue this time was Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s (SUWA) challenge to the district court’s denial of its second motion to intervene. SUWA filed this second motion after the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s determinations on the width of rights-of-way on three roadways. Responding to the issues raised, the Tenth Circuit concluded: SUWA had standing to intervene as a party defendant; SUWA’s second motion to intervene was reviewable de novo and not for an abuse of discretion; and SUWA met all requirements to intervene as of right under Rule 24(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court therefore reversed the district court’s denial of SUWA’s second motion to intervene. View "Kane County, Utah v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Stephen Hamer resided in Trinidad, Colorado, confined to a motorized wheelchair, and a qualified individual with a disability under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“RA”). He did not own a car or otherwise use public transportation. Instead, he primarily used the City’s public sidewalks to move about town. Plaintiff contended many of the City’s sidewalks and the curb cuts allowing access onto those sidewalks did not comply with Title II of the ADA and section 504 of the RA. Plaintiff filed an ADA complaint with the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) informing the government about the state of the City’s sidewalks, and continued to lodge informal ADA and RA complaints at City Council meetings over several months. Apparently in response to Plaintiff’s multiple complaints and the results of a DOJ audit, City officials actively began repairing and amassing funding to further repair non-compliant sidewalks and curb cuts. Even so, Plaintiff nonetheless filed suit against the City for violations of Title II of the ADA and section 504 of the RA, seeking a declaratory judgment that the City’s sidewalks and curb cuts violated the ADA and RA, injunctive relief requiring City officials to remedy the City’s non-compliant sidewalks and curb cuts, monetary damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs. The district court granted summary judgment to the City on statute-of-limitations grounds, finding the applicable “statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the existence and cause of the injury which is the basis of his action.” The Tenth Circuit held a public entity violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act each day that it fails to remedy a noncompliant service, program, or activity. As a result, the applicable statute of limitations did not operate in its usual capacity as a firm bar to an untimely lawsuit. “Instead, it constrains a plaintiff’s right to relief to injuries sustained during the limitations period counting backwards from the day he or she files the lawsuit and injuries sustained while the lawsuit is pending.” Because the district court applied a different and incorrect standard, the Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hamer v. City of Trinidad" on Justia Law

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In 1988, defendant United States Forest Service designated a 2,380 acre portion of the Manti-La Sal National Forest’s highest elevations, namely the summits and ridges of Mt. Peale, Mt. Mellenthin, and Mt. Tukuhnikivatz, as the Mt. Peale Research Natural Area (RNA). In June 2013, the Utah Wildlife Board approved UDWR’s “Utah Mountain Goat Statewide Management Plan.” Among other things, UDWR’s plan anticipated the release of a target population of 200 mountain goats into the La Sal Mountains adjacent to the Manti-La Sal National Forest for the express purposes of hunting and viewing. The FS, concerned the goats might adversely affect the habitat of the higher alpine regions of the national forest, asked the Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources (UWDR) to delay implementation of its plan while the FS in coordination with UDWR studied the plan’s expected impact on the national forest and the RNA. UDWR rejected the FS’s request for an outright delay, and indicated it would begin implementing its plan by transplanting a small number of goats into the mountains, but would work cooperatively with the FS to assess impacts and develop a strategy to prevent overutilization of the habitat. In September 2013, UDWR released twenty mountain goats on State lands adjacent to the Manti-La Sal National Forest. A year later, UDWR released an additional fifteen mountain goats on the same State lands. The goats moved into the La Sal Mountains’ higher elevations, wallowing and foraging within the national forest and more particularly within the Mt. Peale RNA. Plaintiff Grand Canyon Trust demanded the FS: (1) prohibit UDWR from introducing additional mountain goats onto State lands adjacent to the national forest; (2) regulate UDWR’s occupancy and use of the national forest by requiring it to obtain special use authorization before releasing additional mountain goats on State lands; and (3) immediately remove the mountain goats already in the national forest. Determining UDWR did not release the goats on federal lands, the FS elected to "wait and see" before initiating any action against UDWR, and to "gather and evaluate data sufficient to determine whether action was warranted." GCT thereafter filed for declaratory and injunctive relief. The Tenth Circuit upheld the district court's dismissal of GCT's complaint, concurring with the trial court that GCT "cleverly amalgamated federal law in an attempt to find some pathway to judicial review." The Tenth Circuit concluded GCT failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and affirmed dismissal of the complaint. View "Utah Native Plant Society v. U.S. Forest Service" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Maralex Resources, Inc. (Maralex), Alexis O’Hare and Mary C. O’Hare (the O’Hares) filed this action against the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (Secretary), the Department of the Interior, and the United States seeking review of a decision of the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) the upheld four Notices of Incidents of Noncompliance that were issued by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Tres Rios Field Office to Maralex for failing to allow a BLM representative to access certain oil and gas lease sites operated by Maralex on land owned by the O’Hares. The district court affirmed the IBLA’s decision. The Tenth Circuit determined the BLM, in issuing the Notices of Incidents of Noncompliance, lacked authority to require plaintiffs to provide BLM with a key to a lease site on privately-owned land or to allow the BLM to install its own locks on the gates to such lease site. Consequently, the Court reversed and remanded to the district court with instructions to enter judgment in favor of plaintiffs on this “key or lock” issue. View "Maralex Resources v. Barnhardt" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Enable Oklahoma Intrastate Transmission, LLC (“Enable”), appealed the district court’s dismissal of its case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to join an indispensable party. Enable also challenged the amount of attorney fees the court awarded to the landowner defendants. Because the Tenth Circuit’s decision in Public Service Company of New Mexico v. Barboan, 857 F.3d 1101 (10th Cir. 2017), was dispositive of the subject matter jurisdiction issue, the Court affirmed the district court’s order dismissing the action. View "Enable Oklahoma Intrastate v. 25 Foot Wide Easement" on Justia Law

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A Settlement Agreement sought to end a longstanding, complex dispute dating from 2008. In 2008, environmental groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (collectively, “SUWA”) challenged six resource management plans (“RMPs”) and associated travel management plans (“TMPs”) adopted by the United States Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”). Six other parties intervened as respondents, including the State of Utah and several counties in Utah (collectively, “Utah”). When BLM, SUWA, and multiple intervenors entered into a settlement and sought to dismiss the case in January 2017, Utah challenged the settlement. Utah contended, among other arguments, that the Settlement Agreement illegally codified interpretative BLM guidance into substantive rules, impermissibly binds the BLM to a past Administration’s policies, infringes valid federal land rights (known as “R.S. 2477 rights”), and violated a prior BLM settlement. The district court disagreed and approved the Settlement Agreement. On appeal to the Tenth Circuit, Utah sought to reverse the district court for primarily the same issues raised at trial. The Tenth Circuit concluded it lacked jurisdiction over the claims and dismissed. View "Southern Utah Wilderness v. Burke" on Justia Law

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The issue at the center of this decades-long water rights case involved the Pojoaque Basin of New Mexico. A settlement was reached among many of the parties involved. The district court overruled the objectors and entered a final judgment. The objecting parties appealed, arguing the settlement was contrary to law because it altered the state-law priority system, and the New Mexico Attorney General could not agree to enforce the settlement without the state legislature's approval. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined, as provided in the agreement, the State Engineer promulgated rules for the administration of water rights in the Basin. Those rules explicitly provided that non-settling parties “have the same rights and benefits that would be available without the settlement agreement” and that those rights “shall only be curtailed . . . to the extent such curtailment would occur without the settlement agreement.” However, though the settlement preserved their rights, it did not confer the objector-appellants standing to challenge it. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded the case for dismissal of the objections for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "New Mexico v. Aamodt" on Justia Law

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Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town (“AQTT”) appeals several orders entered in favor of the United States, the Secretary and Associate Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior (“DOI”), the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation (the “Creek Nation”). AQTT was a federally recognized Indian Tribe organized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act (“OIWA”). AQTT filed a complaint against the United States and several federal officials (collectively, the “Federal Defendants”) alleging property known as the Wetumka Project lands were purchased under OIWA for the benefit of AQTT. It requested a declaratory judgment and an order compelling the government to assign the Wetumka Project lands to AQTT and provide AQTT with a full and complete accounting of related trust funds and assets. On the Federal Defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings, the district court dismissed AQTT’s claim for land assignment and denied the motion as to an accounting of trust assets. The parties then promptly filed cross-motions for summary judgment. All were denied. The case was remanded to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (“IBIA”) for further development of the trust accounting issue. After the IBIA decided that the government did not hold any funds in trust for AQTT, the case returned to district court. AQTT filed an amended complaint, adding the Creek Nation as a defendant and arguing that the IBIA’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. The Creek Nation moved to dismiss, and that motion was granted on sovereign immunity grounds. In the amended complaint, AQTT also attempted to revive its land assignment claim based on newly discovered evidence. The district court again dismissed the claim. AQTT and the Federal Defendants then renewed their crossmotions for summary judgment. The district court upheld the IBIA’s decision. In granting the government’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, the district court dismissed AQTT’s claims for assignment of the Wetumka Project lands for failure to join the Creek Nation, an indispensable party because the IBIA determined the Creek Nation, not AQTT, was the legal beneficiary of the funds related to the Wetumka Project lands. In affirming the district court, the Tenth Circuit concluded the IBIA’s determination was supported by substantial evidence and was not arbitrary or capricious: the deeds of conveyance for the Wetumka Project lands plainly placed the land in trust for the Creek Nation, and did not create a vested beneficial interest in any other entity. View "Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town v. United States" on Justia Law

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The United States Bureau of Land Management leased 2,500 acres of geothermal mineral rights in Hidalgo County, New Mexico to Plaintiff Lightning Dock Geothermal HI-01, LLC (LDG), a Delaware company. LDG developed and owned a geothermal power generating project in Hidalgo County. LDG also developed a geothermal well field on the subject tract as part of its project. Defendant AmeriCulture, a New Mexico corporation under the direction of Defendant Damon Seawright, a New Mexico resident, later purchased a surface estate of approximately fifteen acres overlying LDG’s mineral lease, ostensibly to develop and operate a tilapia fish farm. Because AmeriCulture wished to utilize LDG’s geothermal resources for its farm, AmeriCulture and LDG (more accurately its predecessor) entered into a Joint Facility Operating Agreement (JFOA). The purpose of the JFOA, from LDG’s perspective, was to allow AmeriCulture to utilize some of the land’s geothermal resources without interfering or competing with LDG’s development of its federal lease. Plaintiff Los Lobos Renewable Power LLC (LLRP), also a Delaware company, was the sole member of LDG and a third-party beneficiary of the JFOA. The parties eventually began to quarrel over their contractual rights and obligations. Invoking federal diversity jurisdiction, Plaintiffs LDG and LLRP sued Defendants Americulture and Seawright in federal court for alleged infractions of New Mexico state law. AmeriCulture filed a special motion to dismiss the suit under New Mexico’s anti-SLAPP statute. The district court, however, refused to consider that motion, holding the statute authorizing it inapplicable in federal court. After review of the briefs, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed. View "Los Lobos Renewable Power v. Americulture" on Justia Law

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The United States Bureau of Land Management leased 2,500 acres of geothermal mineral rights in Hidalgo County, New Mexico to Plaintiff Lightning Dock Geothermal HI-01, LLC (LDG), a Delaware company. LDG developed and owned a geothermal power generating project in Hidalgo County. LDG also developed a geothermal well field on the subject tract as part of its project. Defendant AmeriCulture, a New Mexico corporation under the direction of Defendant Damon Seawright, a New Mexico resident, later purchased a surface estate of approximately fifteen acres overlying LDG’s mineral lease, ostensibly to develop and operate a tilapia fish farm. Because AmeriCulture wished to utilize LDG’s geothermal resources for its farm, AmeriCulture and LDG (more accurately its predecessor) entered into a Joint Facility Operating Agreement (JFOA). The purpose of the JFOA, from LDG’s perspective, was to allow AmeriCulture to utilize some of the land’s geothermal resources without interfering or competing with LDG’s development of its federal lease. Plaintiff Los Lobos Renewable Power LLC (LLRP), also a Delaware company, was the sole member of LDG and a third-party beneficiary of the JFOA. The parties eventually began to quarrel over their contractual rights and obligations. Invoking federal diversity jurisdiction, Plaintiffs LDG and LLRP sued Defendants Americulture and Seawright in federal court for alleged infractions of New Mexico state law. AmeriCulture filed a special motion to dismiss the suit under New Mexico’s anti-SLAPP statute. The district court, however, refused to consider that motion, holding the statute authorizing it inapplicable in federal court. After review of the briefs, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed. View "Los Lobos Renewable Power v. Americulture" on Justia Law