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Archived: Private Property Legal Cases

Since its creation in 1977, MSLF has been one of the nation's leading centers fighting to ensure that property owners are accorded all rights guaranteed by the Constitution. MSLF defends property owners who cannot afford to fight back against government lawyers and environmental groups to protect their property rights. MSLF's litigation has helped to ensure the preservation of one of America's most valuable and valued freedoms--the right to own and use property.

Lacano Investments, LLC v. Sullivan

Legal Question:

Whether Alaska may claim title to lands underlying non-navigable streams that were conveyed by the federal government into private ownership prior to Statehood?

Plaintiffs:

Lacano Investments, LLC, Nowell Avenue Development, and Ava L. Eads, for themselves and for the class they represent

Defendants:

Dan Sullivan, Commission, Alaska Department of Natural Resources and Brent Goodrum, Director, Division of Mining, Land & Water, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, both in their official capacities

Court:

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Unknown.

Early in the 1900s and continuing until 1959 when Alaska became a State, federal surveyors set aside navigable rivers—"highways of commerce"'—for the future State of Alaska. Small streams, which were not navigable, were included in the property that landowners bought from the government to be used as homesteads, mining claims, or townsites. Since that time, the landowners treated these streams as their private property. In some location, they have been principle sources of sand and gravel for several cities; inn other places they were filled in and are now the sites of commercial and residential development.

Recently, Alaska's Department of Natural Resources instituted a "Navigability Policy" that revisits these decade-old determinations by federal surveyors. Alaska says, if a recreational rubber raft can float down a stream, it is "navigable!" Then it uses air photos from 1959 to redraw property lines from the old survey plats, and when a landowner seeks a permit to use his land, Alaska says it owns the land and wants payment for a "lease."

On December 20, 2012, the Alaska landowners filed their complaint and a motion for class certification in Alaska federal district court.  On January 17, 2013, the Alaska officials moved to dismiss the lawsuit on Eleventh Amendment grounds. On February 19, 2013, the Alaska landowners filed a response. On March 12, 2013, the Alaska officials filed a motion to dismiss. Oral arguments were heard regarding the motion to dismiss on May 31, 2013, in Juneau, Alaska. 

On August 15, 2013, the district court granted the motion to dismiss while expressing concern that the actions of the Alaska officials may effectively be confiscating private property, but concluding that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case due to the Eleventh Amendment arguments raised by the Alaska officials. 

On September 12, 2013, the Alaska landowners filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and, on January 24, 2014, filed their opening brief. Defendants filed their answer brief on April 25, 2014.  On May 16, 2014, the Alaska landowners filed their reply.  Oral arguments were conducted on June 3, 2014, in Anchorage, Alaska.  On August 28, 2014, a panel of the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court's ruling. 

No Status Updates
  • Alaskans Lose Appeal of Alaska Land Seizure Federal Case

    Aug 28, 2014
    Alaskans in Juneau and Seward today failed to win their appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit seeking to overturn an Alaska federal district court’s dismissal of their lawsuit against Alaska Department of Natural Resources officials challenging their claim to beds of small streams that cross private property.
  • Alaskans Argue Appeal of Alaska Land Seizure Federal Case

    Jun 3, 2014
    Alaskans in Juneau and Seward today had their appeal argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in an effort to reverse an Alaska federal district court’s dismissal of their lawsuit against Alaska Department of Natural Resources officials challenging their claim to beds of small streams that cross private property.
  • Alaskans Reply In Appeal of Alaska Land Seizure Federal Case

    May 16, 2014
    Alaskans in Juneau and Seward today filed their reply brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit appealing an Alaska federal district court’s dismissal of their lawsuit against Alaska Department of Natural Resources officials challenging their claim to beds of small streams that cross private property.
  • Alaskans File Brief In Appeal of Alaska Land Seizure Federal Case

    Jan 24, 2014
    Alaskans in Juneau and Seward today filed their opening brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit appealing an Alaska federal district court’s dismissal of their lawsuit against Alaska Department of Natural Resources officials challenging their claim to beds of small streams that cross private property.
  • Alaskans File Notice of Appeal in Alaska Land Seizure Federal Case

    Sep 12, 2013
    Alaskans in Juneau and Seward today filed their notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit after an Alaska federal district court dismissed their lawsuit against Alaska Department of Natural Resources officials challenging their claim to beds of small streams that cross private property.
  • Alaska Federal Court Dismisses Alaskans Land Seizure Case

    Aug 15, 2013
    Alaskans in Juneau and Seward today expressed dismay with an Alaska federal district court’s decision to dismiss their lawsuit against Alaska Department of Natural Resources officials challenging their claim to beds of small streams that cross private property.
  • Alaskans Argue Against Dismissal Of Land Seizure Case

    May 31, 2013
    Property owners in Juneau and Seward, for themselves and others in Alaska, today appeared through legal counsel in Alaska federal district court to argue against an attempt by the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources officials to dismiss their lawsuit challenging Alaska’s claim to the beds of small streams that cross private property.


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