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United States v. Nye County

ELR Citation: 26 ELR 21285
Nos. CV-S-95-232-LDG (RJJ), 920 F. Supp. 1108/(D. Nev., 03/28/1996)

The court holds that the United States owns and has the power and authority to manage and administer the unappropriated public lands and National Forest System lands within Nye County, Nevada. The court first holds that the case involves a justificiable case or controversy. The state's enactment of statutes claiming ownership of public lands in Nevada creates an adverse legal interest to U.S. assertion of ownership. While Nevada conceded that its statutory claim is legally untenable, that concession does not moot the question of whether the state claims ownership of the public lands. In addition, the legal interest of Nye County and the United States are adverse because the county denies that the United States has any legal interest in managing the public lands, and the United States claims and has acted as if it has a legal interest in managing those lands. Also, the county has acted on its alleged ownership interest by reopening a national forest road. The court next holds that under the equal footing doctrine, title to federal lands in Nye County did not pass to Nevada on its admission to the Union. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that title to lands that are not submerged by navigable or tidal waters did not pass to the states on admission. The court further holds that the broad power granted to the federal government by the Property Clause of the U.S. Constitution to regulate land owned by the United States necessarily includes the power to own the regulated public lands. Although the county now recognizes that the local and federal governments have concurrent jurisdiction over public lands, the court concludes that it would not be meaningless to declare that the federal government also has the power to manage and regulate public lands in the county. Lastly, the court holds that the county's resolution declaring that it owns all the travel corridors crossing public lands in the county violates the Supremacy Clause to the extent that it applies to roads for which no valid right-of-way exists under federal law. Nye County did not, as it claimed, pass the resolution as a mere statement of opinion. Rather, the county enacted the resolution as a law creating legal rights, obligations, and duties.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Lois J. Schiffer
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Counsel for Defendants
Roger J. Marzulla
Akim, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld
1333 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 887-4000