U.S. v. NYE COUNTY, NEV. No. CV-S-95-232-LDG (RJJ).
920 F.Supp. 1108 (1996)
UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. NYE COUNTY, NEVADA, et al., Defendants.
United States District Court, D. Nevada.
March 28, 1996.
Lois J. Schiffer, Peter D. Coppelman, K. Jack Haugrud, Caroline M. Zander, Allison B. Rumsey, Margo D. Miller, Environment & Natural Resources Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, Kathryn Landreth, United States Attorney, Blaine T. Welsh, Assistant United States Attorney, Las Vegas, Nevada, for U.S.
Robert S. Beckett, Nye County District Attorney, Tonopah, NV, Roger J. Marzulla, Akim, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, L.L.P., Washington, DC, for Nye County, Nevada.
GEORGE, Chief Judge.
Plaintiff United States of America renews its motion for partial summary judgment (# 87) (Plaintiff's Renewed Motion) on Counts I and IV of its complaint. In its complaint, the United States alleges that it owns and has authority to manage certain public lands within Nye County. By statute, Defendant State of Nevada claimed ownership of this public land in 1979. In late 1993, Defendant Nye County passed Resolution 93-48, declaring that Nevada owns the disputed public lands in Nye County and that only the state and the county have authority to manage the land. At the same time, Nye County passed Resolution 93-49 asserting that, with limited exceptions, Nye County owns the rights-of-way for all roads and corridors crossing the public lands. Importantly, Nye County acted upon its denial that the United States owns and has authority to
This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1345, as the United States is the plaintiff in this action. Venue is appropriate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b), as the claims arise from alleged actions taken or threatened within this District.
Motion for Summary Judgment
Summary judgment disposes of those claims or defenses in which the moving party has shown (1) the absence of genuine issues as to the material facts, and (2) that the court may grant judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.Pro. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
On February 2, 1848, following the Mexican American War and pursuant to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 9 Stat. 922, Mexico ceded lands, including the area comprising present day Nevada, to the United States. On March 21, 1864, the United States Congress enacted the Nevada Enabling Act, 13 Stat. 30 (1864), authorizing a convention to draft a state constitution for ratification by the residents of the Nevada Territory. As a condition of statehood, the Nevada Enabling Act required that the convention adopt an ordinance agreeing and declaring that Nevada would "forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States." Id., at § 4. In July 1864, the convention adopted the Nevada State Constitution and passed the Ordinance of the Constitution disclaiming all right and title to unappropriated public lands. The President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, then proclaimed Nevada admitted to the Union on October 31, 1864. See 13 Stat. 749.
Presently, the United States asserts ownership of nearly 87% of the lands in Nevada. In Nye County, the United States' assertion of ownership increases to nearly 93% of the lands. These federal lands include portions of the Humboldt and Toiyabe National Forests (administered by the Forest Service, Department of Agriculture), a portion of the Death Valley National Monument, a large part of the Nellis Air Force Range (Department of Defense), most of the Nevada Test Site (Department of Energy), and the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. The remaining federal lands are public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior, pursuant to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), 43 U.S.C. § 1701. The FLPMA formally ended the policy of transferring federal lands to private ownership and adopted a policy of retention of these lands by the federal government.
Nye County is a political subdivision of the State of Nevada, administered by an elected Board of Commissioners. Nye County has claimed that the United States does not own and that it lacks authority to manage public lands within its exterior boundary. See, June 7, 1994 Letter from Nye County Board of Commissioners, Exhibit C to Plaintiff's Renewed Motion. In claiming that the public lands belong to Nevada, however, Nye County asserts that Nevada owns more land than Nevada itself has claimed by statute. For example, while Nevada does not claim ownership of the national forests, Nye County has asserted that Nevada owns the lands managed by the Department of Agriculture, which manages the national forests. See ¶ 1 & 9 on Pages 2 and 4 of November 23, 1993 Letter From Richard Carver, incorporated by reference in Nye County Resolution 93-48, submitted as Exhibit A to Plaintiff's Renewed Motion. Rather, Nye County excludes, from the public lands, only the land ceded by Nevada to the federal government for post offices and federal buildings, and the land within the Nevada Test Site.
In addition to passing Resolution 93-48 declaring that Nevada owns all public lands, Nye County passed Resolution 93-49. This resolution declared that "all ways, pathways, trails, roads, country highways, and similar travel corridors across public lands in Nye County, Nevada, whether established and maintained by usage or mechanical means, whether passable by foot, beast of burden, carts or wagons, or motorized vehicles of each and every sort, whether currently passable or impassable, that was [sic] established in the past, present, or may be established in the future, on public lands in Nye County, are hereby declared Nye County Public Roads." The resolution further declared that "All rights of way ... across public lands that are declared Nye County Public Roads are the property of Nye County as trustee for public users thereof."
In June 1994, Nye County, through Commissioner Richard Carver, the Vice-Chairman of the Nye County Board of Commissioners who acted with authority for and on behalf of Nye County,
In August 1994, Nye County informed the Bureau of Land Management by letter that the BLM could not enforce its Final Multiple Use Decisions for the Razorback and Montezuma Grazing Allotments because the BLM has not provided proof of ownership of the public lands or proof of constitutional jurisdiction. August 2, 1994, Letter from to Tonopah Resource Area Manager Ted Angle from Nye County Board of Commissioners, Exhibit F to Plaintiff's Renewed Motion.
In August 1994, Nye County, again acting through Commissioner Carver, informed the Forest Service that the San Juan and Cottonwood Canyon Roads, which were previously closed by the Forest Service and which are located in the Toiyabe National Forest, were Nye County Public Roads. August 22, 1994 Letter to Austin District Ranger Dayle Flanigan, Exhibit H to Plaintiff's Renewed Motion. In October 1994, the Nye County Board of Commissioners voted to reopen the San Juan and Cottonwood Canyon Roads. Exhibit I to Plaintiff's Renewed Motion. On October 15, Commissioner Carver again used a county-owned equipment to reopen San Juan Road.
The United States brought this suit against Nye County. Following briefing and arguments on cross-motions for partial summary judgment as to Counts I and IV, this court required the parties to file supplemental briefs on the issue whether the State of Nevada asserts ownership of the public lands within Nye County. In response, the United States moved to amend its complaint to join Nevada as a Defendant. The court granted leave and permitted the parties to renew their motions for summary judgment, allowing Nevada to file briefs stating its position. The United States filed the renewed motion presently before the court, and Nye County and Nevada have filed oppositions. Nye County did not renew its cross-motion for summary judgment. This court requested and received supplemental memoranda and heard oral arguments.
Ownership and Management of Public Lands
Case or Controversy
In Count I, the United States seeks a declaration that it owns and has authority to manage the public lands in Nye County. Nye County argues that the United States has not alleged a case or controversy since Nye County has not claimed an adverse title to any public lands within Nye County and Nevada no longer claims title to the public lands. The argument fails for several, obvious reasons. First, Nevada concedes that, by statutes enacted in 1979, it claims ownership of some of the lands in question. Nevada's enactment of statutes claiming ownership is sufficient to create an adverse legal interest to the United States' assertion of ownership. See United States v. Oregon,
Second, Nye County ignores that, in Count I, the United States seeks not only a declaration as to the ownership of the public lands, but also seeks a declaration whether the United States has the authority to manage the public lands. As Nye County recognizes in its opposition, a "controversy must be definite and concrete, touching the legal relations of parties having adverse legal interests." Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Haworth,
Third, Nye County's argument mis-characterizes the United States' claim against Nye County as one seeking quiet title. Having reviewed the complaint and the undisputed actions of Nye County, the court finds that the claim is also analogous to an action in trespass. Rather than seeking damages as in a typical trespass action, the United States seeks a declaration that will preclude future trespasses in the context of Nye County's past trespass. Nye County's claim is that their legal interest in this property, that is, their interest in managing the property, results not only from the superior claim of the State to ownership of the public lands, but that the United States lacks any legal interest in the land that would limit or affect Nye County's authority to manage the land. Thus, Nye County's actions are valid only if the United States does not own or have authority to manage the public lands.
Finally, the parties have acted upon their alleged legal interests. Indeed, Nye County has challenged the United States' claim of ownership and jurisdiction to lands located within the national forests, lands to which even Nevada does not claim ownership. On July 4, 1994, Nye County reopened a road located within a national forest. As noted before, it is undisputed that, in reopening the road, Nye County strayed from the right-of-way and performed work on national forest land, disturbing the land and damaging the flora. An employee of the United States acted to stop Nye County from damaging the national forest land, ordering Nye County to stop its actions. Nye County has also challenged the jurisdiction of BLM over certain grazing allotments, threatening lawsuits for enforcement of federal action within those allotments. As Nye County acknowledges, the United States now seeks to resolve these challenges by establishing that it has a lawful claim of ownership to, and the authority to manage, the public lands. By considering the questions raised by Nye County's actions and entering a declaration, this court can resolve the disputed legal relationship of the parties to the extent of determining whether the United States owns and has authority to manage the lands. Accordingly, the United States has stated a justiciable case or controversy.
Nye County next argues that the United States has failed to show that the controversy is "of sufficient immediacy and reality to warrant the issuance of a declaratory judgment." Lake Carriers' Assn. v. MacMullan,
Ownership of the Public Lands within Nye County
The parties do not dispute that, prior to Nevada's statehood, the United States held title to the public lands within the territory that was to become Nevada. Nye County argues that it does not assert a claim of title to public lands, Nye County Opposition at 4, and thus its authority to manage public lands derives from and is limited to the claim of title by the State of Nevada. By statute, Nevada has claimed title to all public lands within Nevada, and thus within Nye County, excluding land located in congressionally authorized national parks and monuments, national forests, wildlife refuges, lands acquired by the consent of the legislature, and lands controlled by the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. Nev.Rev.Stat. §§ 321.596-321.599. Although Nye County has claimed that Nevada also owns certain of these excluded lands, it has not offered any argument suggesting that Nevada has made that claim. Accordingly, there is no dispute that the United States owns the lands within the national parks and monuments, the national forests, the wildlife refuges, the lands acquired by the consent of the legislatures, and the lands controlled by the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. The remaining question that this court must decide is whether title to the remaining public land within Nye County passed to Nevada. The court concludes that title did not pass to Nevada, but remains within the United States.
As noted earlier, while Nevada has statutorily claimed the public lands within Nye County, it now concedes that this claim is constitutionally untenable. While this concession is tantamount to a consent to judgment, the court also concludes that the statutory claim is unsupported, unconstitutional, and fails as a matter of law.
Equal Footing Doctrine
In claiming ownership of the public lands within its outer boundaries, the Nevada legislature asserted that title to the unappropriated lands passed from the federal to the state government under the equal footing doctrine. Nev.Rev.Stat. § 321.596(2). "The equal footing doctrine ensures that each state shares `those attributes essential to its equality in dignity and power with other states.'" Nevada v. Watkins,
The Supreme Court has long recognized that certain types of property — specifically lands submerged by navigable or tidal waters — must pass to the states as a circumstance of sovereignty.
United States v. Oregon,
In deciding this question, the court finds that Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Mississippi,
For example, in Phillips, the Supreme Court noted that it "has consistently interpreted the common law as providing that the lands beneath waters under tidal influence were given States upon their admission into the Union." Id., (emphasis added). This tidal test for determining state ownership does not require navigability-in-fact. Id. In recognition of the thousands of miles of non-tidal, navigable waters on the American continent, the Supreme Court extended the test for determining state ownership to include non-tidal waters that were navigable-in-fact. Id., at 479, 108 S.Ct. at 798-97. "[T]his rule represents the American decision to depart from what it understood to be the English rule limiting Crown ownership to the soil under tidal waters." Id., (emphasis added). Thus, states do not gain title to lands submerged by waters that are navigable-in-fact because the original thirteen states gained those lands at the time of the revolution. The original states could not have gained title to these lands as an attribute of sovereignty since this American rule was not developed until after the revolution. Instead, all states gained title to lands submerged by navigable waters because the Supreme Court decided that this was an appropriate extension of what it understood to be the English rule of sovereign rights to submerged lands.
Briefly looking to the Supreme Court's decisions indicates that it has held that tidal and navigable waters pass to the states because it understood that, under the English common law, the sovereign owned these lands as a public trust. This public trust doctrine was first developed in Martin v. Waddell's Lessee, 41 U.S. (16 Pet.) 367, 10 L.Ed. 997 (1842). Recognizing that the powers and attributes of sovereignty had vested in New Jersey, the court found that, "the people of New Jersey have exercised and enjoyed the rights of fishery for shell-fish and floating fish, as a common and undoubted right...." Id. 41 U.S. (16 Pet.) at 417 (emphasis added). Accordingly, the Court held that New Jersey, and each of the original thirteen states, gained "absolute right to all their navigable waters, and the soils under them for their own common use, subject only to the rights since surrendered by the Constitution." Id. at 410 (emphasis added).
The Court extended this holding to the new states in Pollard's Lessee v. Hagan, 44 U.S. (3 How.) 212, 11 L.Ed. 565 (1845). At issue in Pollard's Lessee was whether, subsequent to Alabama's admission, the federal government could transfer title to lands that had been submerged by navigable waters at the time of statehood. Citing Martin v.
In sum, these cases identify a coherent principle set forth by the Supreme Court that this court must acknowledge. Specifically, the attribute of sovereignty that is so identified with title to submerged lands, the attribute of sovereignty that passed to the original thirteen states, is the public trust to these lands. Not only were these lands to be held for the common good, but title to these lands resided in the sovereign so that the sovereign could ensure that the people continued to hold and have access to the lands. In contrast, the court is unaware of any Supreme Court decision holding that the original thirteen states gained title to the dry lands as a public trust, that is, to hold in common for all people. Rather, states could and did pass ownership of the unappropriated dry lands to private individuals to the exclusion of the people in common.
At least as important as this general principle underlying the Supreme Court's decisions, however, is that the Supreme Court has held that title to lands that are not submerged navigable-in-fact or tidal waters, including dry and fast lands, did not pass to the states upon admission. In addition to holding that "if the waters are not navigable in fact, the title of the United States to land underlying them remains unaffected by the creation of the new state," United States v. Oregon, 295 U.S. at 14, 55 S.Ct. at 615, the Supreme Court expressly held that title to dry lands does not pass to states upon admission in Scott v. Lattig,
Noting that the Snake River is navigable, the Supreme Court recognized that title to the bed of Snake River had passed to the state upon admission since "lands underlying navigable waters within the several states belong to the respective states in virtue of their sovereignty." Id. at 242, 33 S.Ct. at 244. As such, Idaho law governed the question whether ownership of the shore lands included a right to the bed of the Snake River. The Court, however, rejected the notion that Idaho law also governed ownership of title to the island, instead finding that title remained in the federal government.
Id., at 244, 33 S.Ct. at 244.
It is, of course, beyond dispute that the dry lands within Nye County are further removed from navigable waters than the island at issue in Scott. As in Scott, the dry lands within Nye County are neither submerged by navigable nor tidal waters. Nye County has failed to offer any evidence suggesting that, at the time of statehood, the dry lands within Nye County were submerged by navigable or tidal waters. The Supreme Court has not held that the ownership of dry lands, or lands submerged by non-navigable and non-tidal waters, was an attribute of the original thirteen states' sovereignty. Rather, it has held that these lands do not pass to states upon admission. In sum, the entire weight of the Supreme Court's decisions requires a finding that title to the federal public lands within Nye County did not pass to the State of Nevada upon its admission pursuant to the equal footing doctrine.
Lack of Constitutional Authority or Power to Own Lands
Another legal theory upon which the Nevada legislature asserts ownership of public lands in its findings is that the federal government lacks either an express or necessarily implied power to retain public lands. See Nev.Rev.Stat. § 321.596(4) & (6). This theory was rejected by the Supreme Court, which has held that the Property Clause, Art IV, § 3 of the Constitution, vests such power in the federal Government. Elucidating upon the Property Clause, the Court has noted, "[t]he term territory, as here used, is merely descriptive of one kind of property; and is equivalent to the word lands. And Congress has the same power over it as over any other property belonging to the United States; and this power is vested in Congress without limitation...." United States v. Gratiot, 39 U.S. (14 Pet.) 526, 537, 10 L.Ed. 573 (1840). The Court then declined the invitation to construe the phrase `dispose of,' to "vest in Congress the power only to sell, and not to lease such lands." Id., 39 U.S. (14 Pet.) at 538. Rather, the Court continued, "[t]he disposal must be left to the discretion of Congress."
More recently, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the broad power of the federal government to retain and regulate public lands in Kleppe v. New Mexico,
Authority to Manage the Public Lands
Prior to this suit, Nye County denied that the United States had any authority to manage the public lands within its boundaries. See Nye County Resolution 93-48, Exhibit A to Plaintiff's Renewed Motion. All parties, including Nye County, now agree with the Supreme Court that
Kleppe, 426 U.S. at 543, 96 S.Ct. at 2293. See Plaintiff's Renewed Motion at p. 43; Nevada's Opposition at 12; Nye County's Opposition at 10.
Nye County argues, however, that merely recognizing that the local and federal governments have concurrent jurisdiction of public lands is virtually meaningless. The court would tend to agree but for Nye County's actions establishing that, prior to this suit, Nye County refused to acknowledge the holding of Kleppe. Those actions indicate that, as to Nye County, a declaration is required to establish that the federal government
The court tends to agree with Nye County and Nevada that the present suit is not the appropriate vehicle to define the broad boundaries between local and federal jurisdiction over the public land in Nye County. Like the Supreme Court, this court will decline "to decide important questions regarding `the scope and constitutionality of legislation in advance of its immediate adverse effect in the context of a concrete case,' or in the absence of `an adequate and full-bodied record.'" Kleppe, 426 U.S. at 546, 96 S.Ct. at 2295 (citations omitted). This limitation, however, does not preclude this court from deciding the question raised by Nye County's actions. This suit did not arise over a dispute as to the relative line between federal and local jurisdiction, but arose because Nye County disputed the existence of any federal jurisdiction. Accordingly, this court's only determination is that absent consent or cession Nevada undoubtedly retains jurisdiction over federal lands within Nye County, but Congress equally surely retains the power to enact legislation respecting those lands pursuant to the Property Clause. And when Congress so acts, the federal legislation necessarily overrides conflicting state laws under the Supremacy Clause.
To the extent Nye County's remaining arguments — under the equal footing doctrine, the Guarantee Clause, and the transfer of core state functions — seek to define the constitutional boundary of jurisdiction over the public lands, the arguments are raised outside the context of an immediate and concrete case. To the extent Nye County raises these arguments to suggest that the federal government lacks any jurisdiction, the arguments are refuted by Nye County's own concession that such jurisdiction exists pursuant to the Property Clause. Accordingly, the court will not consider the remaining arguments and, to the extent set forth above, partial summary judgment is granted as to Count I.
Constitutionality of Resolution 93-49
In Count IV, the United States seeks a declaration that Nye County Resolution 93-49 is unconstitutional and preempted to the extent it applies to roads and other corridors for which no valid right-of-way exists under federal law. Nye County opposes the claim, asserting that Resolution 93-49 is nothing more than a statement of opinion by the Board of Commissioners of Nye County, creating neither legal rights, duties, nor obligations. As nothing more than a statement of opinion, the County asserts the resolution is protected speech under the First Amendment. The federal government counters that Nevada has recognized that counties can act by either ordinance or resolution, and that Nye County has acted by resolution in this instance.
Nye County concedes, and Nevada and amici Eureka and White Pine Counties concur, "that counties in Nevada can and do act or legislate by way of motions, orders, resolutions and ordinances." Nye County Supplemental Brief at 4. Nye County further concedes that Nevada has not made distinct the differences in "the legal effects of ordinances and resolutions." Id., at 5. Nevertheless,
The distinction urged by Nye County does not withstand scrutiny in light of Nevada statutory and case law. Nevada recognizes that counties can enact legislation of general applicability by resolution. "When a municipal council is given power to legislate in regard to a particular subject matter, and the statute is silent as to the mode in which the power shall be exercised, an enactment by the municipal council is valid whether it is in the form of an ordinance or resolution.'" Blanding v. City of Las Vegas, 52 Nev. 52, 75, 280 P. 644 (1929) (citations omitted). As to the decision to regulate by ordinance or resolution, "it is within the discretionary powers of the governing municipal board to balance [the] public and private interests against each other in determining the proper course and method of regulation." Primm v. City of Reno, 70 Nev. 7, 14,
Although Nye County now asserts that Resolution 93-49 created neither legal rights, duties nor obligations, Nye County plainly intended that the resolution would have the effect of law. As an attempt to formally express the opinion or will of the Board of Commissioners, the resolution offers only an example of poor writing. Other than its title, the resolution does not use any language suggesting it is an opinion, view, idea, or belief, but employs language attempting to create a legal right of Nye County in public roads. It declares all ways, trails, roads, and highways on public lands in Nye County to be Nye County Public Roads, declares the rights-of-way for these Nye County Public Roads to be the property of Nye County, requires that the width of all roads be as established by other ordinances, ratifies historic practice as a method of establishing roads, and precludes any action against Nye County or its officers for damage suffered on unmaintained roads. And other than the last sentence indicating an ordinance would follow, the resolution lacks any language of future intent or will.
Neither is the subject of the resolution simply an alteration of administrative rules, a censure, a vote of thanks, or a note of recognition, or an expression of intent to take future actions. Rather, the subject of Resolution 93-49 is one of general applicability, declaring County ownership of existing federally recognized rights-of-way and declaring County ownership of new rights-of-way that are not federally recognized.
In addition, Nye County has relied upon Resolution 93-49 in its chosen field of battle: the reopening of roads. On July 4, 1994, Commissioner Carver used a County-owned bulldozer to reopen Jefferson Canyon road within the national forest. A month prior to the reopening, Commissioner Carver, apparently on behalf of Nye County, informed the forest service: "As you know, on December 7, 1993 the Board adopted Resolution # 93-49 which declares certain public travel corridors across public lands within Nye County as Nye County roads. Jefferson Canyon Road is one of the roads considered to be a Nye County public road."
Similarly, the County reopened San Juan Canyon road, also within a national forest, in October 1994. Commissioner Carver again used a County-owned bulldozer to accomplish
Nye County further asserts that relief cannot be granted to the United States because the relief sought is over broad. Nye County argues that, pursuant to Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co.,
In Euclid, the Supreme Court stated that "[t]he inclusion of a reasonable margin, to insure effective enforcement, will not put upon a law, otherwise valid, the stamp of invalidity." Id., at 388-389, 47 S.Ct. at 118. In the present matter, and contrary to Nye County's assertions, the United States is not seeking to place upon Resolution 93-49 a stamp of invalidity in its entirety. Rather, the United States seeks a declaration that the resolution is invalid only to the extent that it applies to roads for which no valid rights-of-way exist under federal law. The United States concedes that the resolution does not violate the Supremacy Clause to the extent it applies to roads for which a valid right-of-way exists under federal law. In addition, it is beyond reasonable dispute that the resolution's inclusion of roads for which no valid right-of-way exists is not a reasonable margin necessary to insure effective enforcement. At no time in this litigation has Nye County offered any argument that it can declare or establish rights-of-way across federal public lands that are not recognized by federal law without violating the Supremacy Clause. Neither has Nye County offered any argument that the obvious overbreadth of the inclusion of alleged rights-of-way was a reasonable margin to insure effective enforcement. Rather, only the federal government has offered argument concerning the validity of the resolution as it pertains to rights-of-way that are not recognized by the federal government. The United States has shown that it has enacted a comprehensive right-of-way regulation, generally allowing new rights-of-way to be granted only under Title V of the FLPMA. 43 U.S.C. §§ 1761-1771. In short, Resolution 93-49 does violate the Supremacy Clause to the extent that it applies to roads and other corridors for which no valid right-of-way exists under federal law. Therefore, for good cause shown,
IT IS FURTHER
- No Cases Found