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Kane County, Utah v. United States

ELR Citation: 44 ELR 20254
Nos. 13-4108 et al., (10th Cir., 12/02/2014)

The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part a lower court decision granting a Utah county rights-of-way over 12 roads that cross federal lands. The county sought to quiet title to 15 roads or road segments under the Quiet Title Act. The county asserted rights-of-way under §8 of the Mining Act of 1866, commonly known as R.S. 2477, which grants “the right of way for the construction of highways over public lands, not reserved for public uses.” R.S. 2477 was repealed in 1976 by FLPMA, but it preserved existing rights-of-way. The lower court held that it had subject matter jurisdiction under the Quiet Title Act over each of the 15 roads at issue. It then held that the county had proven R.S. 2477 rights-of-way on 12 of the 15 roads at issue and determined widths for the rights-of-way. But the lower court erred in concluding it had jurisdiction over all 15 roads. To satisfy the “disputed title” element of the Quiet Title Act, a plaintiff must show that the United States has either expressly disputed title or taken action that implicitly disputes it. Although the lower court was correct in finding ambiguity as to the legal status of some of the roads, that ambiguity is insufficient to constitute a “disputed title” under the Quiet Title Act. The court, therefore, reversed the lower court's finding of jurisdiction for several of the roads. In addition, the scope of the rights-of-way for three roads was remanded because the lower court failed to base the right-of-way widths on uses that were established as of 1976, when R.S. 2477 was repealed. It also improperly allowed room for unspecified future improvements to those roads. The lower court's decision was otherwise affirmed.