Justia Government & Administrative Law 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
Wells et al. v. Spera
Brothers Newton and Jason Wells (plaintiffs) and their mother Beverly Wells, filed suit in September 2017 seeking to partition real property they held as tenants in common with defendant Pall Spera in Stowe, Vermont. The court granted plaintiffs’ summary-judgment motion on the question of whether they were entitled to partition as a matter of law, and issued an order of appointment of commissioners and order of reference by consent of the parties. The order appointed three commissioners and directed them to determine whether the property could be divided, assigned to one of the parties, or sold. They were ordered to determine the fair market value of the property and each person’s equitable share. Neither party reserved the right to object to the commissioners’ report. Ultimately, the commissioners concluded that physical division would cause great inconvenience to the parties. Finding division inequitable, the commissioners awarded defendant first right of assignment due to his ability to buy out plaintiffs’ interest immediately, while plaintiffs required a loan to do so, and because partition would constitute the dissolution of the partnership agreement, which defendant had wished to continue. Plaintiffs filed a motion objecting to the report, citing Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 53(e)(2)(iii). Plaintiffs’ main argument was that the commissioners exceeded their mandate as provided by the order of reference in concluding that partition would result in zoning violations, and the commissioners erred on that question as a matter of law. In the alternative, they argued the equities favored assigning the property to them. The court denied the motion, including plaintiffs’ request for a hearing, and adopted the report without qualification. It reasoned that plaintiffs had not reserved their right to object to the report as required by the plain language of Civil Rule 53(e)(2)(iii). Finding no reversible error in this decision, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Wells et al. v. Spera" on Justia Law
City of Jackson v. Cities of Pearl & Flowood, & Rankin County, Mississippi
Pursuant to Mississippi Code Sections 61-9-1 to -9 (Rev. 2022) the City of Jackson passed an ordinance on August 6, 2019, to incorporate land in Rankin County that surrounded what was known as the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport. Rankin County, the City of Pearl and the City of Flowood appealed the ordinance; the trial court declared the ordinance void because Jackson had failed to obtain the consent and approval of the Rankin County Board of Supervisors before passing the ordinance. Jackson appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court claiming that the trial court erred by finding that approval of the Rankin County Board of Supervisors was required. The Supreme Court found the ordinance void and affirmed the circuit court's judgment. View "City of Jackson v. Cities of Pearl & Flowood, & Rankin County, Mississippi" on Justia Law
Flores-Case ‘Ohana v. University of Haw.
In this case challenging the constitutionality of administrative rules governing access to Mauna Kea's summit under Haw. Const. art XII, 7, the Supreme Court answered questions reserved by the Circuit Court of the Third Circuit by holding (1) in a challenge to the constitutionality of administrative rules based on a violation of Haw. Const. art. XII, 7, the burden of proof does not shift to the government agency defendant and instead remains with the challenging party; and (2) the framework set forth in Ka Pa'akai O Ka'Aina v. Land Use Comm'n, 7 P.3d 1068 (Haw. 2000), applies to challenges to the constitutionality of an administrative rule based on an alleged violation of article XII, section 7, in addition to contested case hearings. View "Flores-Case 'Ohana v. University of Haw." on Justia Law
In re Petition of Ku’ulei Higashi Kanahele
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Land Use Commission (LUC) denying Petitioners' petition for a declaratory order challenging the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), holding that Haw. Rev. Stat. 205-2(e) does not authorize the Commission to exclude or enforce certain land uses within conservation districts.Petitioners in this case sought to use the LUC's districting authority in a manner that would compel the removal of all astronomy facilities located within the Astronomy Precinct. The LUC denied the petition, and Petitioners appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) this Court had jurisdiction to directly review Petitioners' appeal; (2) the LUC correctly determined that it lacked jurisdiction to issue the requested declaratory orders; and (3) Petitioners were not entitled to relief on their remaining claims of error. View "In re Petition of Ku'ulei Higashi Kanahele" on Justia Law
Owens v. Ada County Board of Commissioners
Stephanie Owens appealed a district court’s order affirming the findings of fact and conclusions of law made by the Ada County Board of Commissioners (the “Board”) in which it determined that Owens was an “applicant” under the Medical Indigency Act (the “Act”) and, therefore, required to pay reimbursement for the medical expenses incurred by her two children at public expense. In 2017, Owens’s children were involved in a serious car accident and suffered substantial injuries, which later resulted in the death of one of the children. Because the children’s father, Corey Jacobs, was unable to pay for the children’s medical bills, he filed two applications for medical indigency with the Board. Owens and Jacobs were never married and did not have a formal custody agreement for their children. At the time of the accident, the children resided with their father. The Board determined that Owens and her children met the statutory requirements for medical indigency. Although Jacobs filed the applications for medical indigency, the Board concluded that Owens was also an “applicant” under the Act and liable to repay the Board. As a result, the Board “recorded notices of statutory liens” against Owens’s real and personal property and ordered Owens to sign a promissory note with Ada County to repay the medical bills. Owens refused to sign the note and instead challenged the sufficiency of her involvement with the applications via a petition for reconsideration with the Board and a subsequent petition for judicial review. Both the Board and the district court ultimately concluded that Owens was an “applicant” and liable for repayment of a portion of the children’s medical bills. Owens timely appealed. The Idaho Supreme Court reversed: because she never signed the medical indigency applications for her children and she did not affirmatively participate in the application process, Owens was not an "applicant" as defined by the Act. As a result, the Board acted outside its authority when it ordered Owens to reimburse Ada County for its expenses and when it placed automatic liens on her property. View "Owens v. Ada County Board of Commissioners" on Justia Law
Pacific Palisades Residents Assn., Inc. v. City of Los Angeles
People who do not want an eldercare facility built near them have been fighting the project since 2017. Others want the facility, saying the project would fit the neighborhood and the public needs it. The trial court rejected the opponents’ challenge, which was based on Los Angeles zoning laws, the California Environmental Quality Act, and the Coastal Act. These neighbors appealed. The three respondents—the City of Los Angeles, the California Coastal Commission, and the developer— defend the trial court ruling. At issue is whether a reasonable person could agree with the City’s conclusion that adding this urban building to this urban area was compatible with the plan for Brentwood and Pacific Palisades. The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court explained that a reasonable person could have reached the same conclusion as the City: that this proposal for an urban building is compatible with the plans for this urban area. Further, the court explained that it was for the Commission to weigh conflicting evidence; and the court may reverse only if a reasonable person could not have reached the same conclusion. For example, the neighbors raise the specter of a parking calamity, but the Commission concluded the nominal increase in traffic would not significantly displace street parking for hikers bound for the trails. The eldercare facility would, after all, include underground parking. This logic is sound. Substantial evidence supports the Commission’s and the City’s decisions. View "Pacific Palisades Residents Assn., Inc. v. City of Los Angeles" 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
Robinson v. Super. Ct.
Southern California Edison Company (Edison), an investor-owned public utility, filed a complaint in eminent domain to condemn an easement across a landowner’s property for the purpose of accessing and maintaining existing power transmission lines. Edison also filed a motion for order of prejudgment possession under the quick-take provisions of Code of Civil Procedure section 1255.410.1 The trial court granted the motion. The landowners filed a petition for writ of mandate requesting the court vacate the order granting Edison prejudgment possession. The Fifth Appellate District vacated the order of prejudgment possession and directed the trial court to conduct further proceedings on the motion. Because the maintenance of power transmission lines is a matter of urgency, the court issued a peremptory writ in the first instance. The court explained a trial court evaluating a quick-take motion in the absence of a timely opposition shall grant the motion “if the court finds each of the following: (A) The plaintiff is entitled to take the property by eminent domain (B) The plaintiff deposited pursuant to Article 1 an amount that satisfies the requirements of that article.” Here, the trial court did not make express findings. Among other things, the court did not expressly find that it was necessary for the access easement to be 16 feet wide, that the 16-foot-wide access easement was compatible with the least private injury, or that it was necessary for Edison to have the right to move guy wires and anchors, crossarms, and other physical fixtures onto the property. View "Robinson v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law