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Utah v. United States of America

Legal Question:

To invoke a district court’s jurisdiction under the Quiet Title Act to adjudicate the merits of a quiet title action, must a State establish facts that show affirmative action by the United States that demonstrates its claim to title in the property, or can a State rely on facts that raise a cloud on the State’s title?

Petitioner

State of Utah

Respondent

United States of America

Amicus Curiae:

Mountain States Legal Foundation

Court:

Supreme Court of the United States
None

 

In 2005 and 2006, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Kanab Field Office completed an inventory of routes within its jurisdiction.  In 2008, the BLM Kanab Field Office released the Kanab Field Office Management Plan.  The Plan provided guidance for acreage managed by the Kanab Field Office and was based expressly upon the 2005 and 2006 road inventory.  A map in the plan notes what roads are designated as open, closed, or limited for motor vehicle use, but does not identify the Hancock or Sand Dunes Roads.  In 2009, the BLM identified the Hancock and Sand Dunes roads as “Class 3 primary roads,” a change never part of a formal amendment process.               

In April of 2008, Kane County, Utah initiated an action pursuant to the Quiet Title Act (QTA) against the United States seeking to quite title to fifteen roads within Kane County.  The State of Utah later joined as an intervenor.  In 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, Central Division, held a nine-day bench trial.  In 2013, the district court found the BLM’s actions created an “ambiguity” as to the legal status of the roads and quieted title in favor of Kane County and the State of Utah as to twelve of the roads and in favor of the United States as to three of the roads.  At the Tenth Circuit, the United States argued the district court lacked jurisdiction over Kane County’s claims to the Sand Dunes, Hancock, and four Cave Lakes Roads (collectively the Six Roads) because it had never specifically claimed an interest in those roads.

“[A]ctions of the United States that merely produce some ambiguity regarding a plaintiff’s title are insufficient to constitute ‘disputed title,’” declared the panel and ruled that the district court had no jurisdiction to hear the dispute.  At issue is the question of the QTA, which waives sovereign immunity as to issues of real property ownership regarding land “in which the United States claims an interest.”  Kane County and Utah filed petitions for rehearing en banc, but their petitions were denied.

On June 18, 2015, Kane County filed a petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States.  On July 2, 2015, Utah filed a petition for writ of certiorari.  On August 6, 2015, MSLF filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of MSLF and in support of Utah’s petition, arguing that the Tenth Circuit’s interpretation of the QTA will allow the United States to avoid QTA litigation merely by remaining neutral—that is neither claiming nor disclaiming an interest in property.  The Tenth Circuit’s flawed decision also creates a circuit split and destroys the congressional intent behind the QTA.  On September 8, 2015, the United States filed a brief in opposition.  On October 13, 2015, the Supreme Court denied certiorari.



  • Western Legal Group Sides with Utah In Quiet Title Case

    Aug 6, 2015
    A western nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation with decades of experience seeking to quiet title to land in the face of actions by the federal government disputing a landowner’s rights today filed a friend of the court brief in support of Utah in its action against the United States of America.


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