Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Knezovich, et al. v. United States
Victims of the 2018 Roosevelt Fire in Wyoming sued the United States Forest Service, alleging it negligently delayed its suppression response. The Forest Service moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that it was not liable for the way it handled the response to the fire. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, a government actor could not be sued for conducting a so-called “discretionary function,” where the official must employ an element of judgment or choice in responding to a situation. The government contended that responding to a wildfire required judgment or choice, and its decisions in fighting the fire at issue here met the discretionary function exception to the Act. The district court agreed and dismissed the suit. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals also concluded the Forest Service was entitled to the discretionary function exception to suit, and the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear the complaint. View "Knezovich, et al. v. United States" on Justia Law
Bay, et al. v. Anadarko E&P Onshore, et al.
Marvin and Mildred Bay (“the Bays”) challenged a court order dismissing their trespass claim against Anadarko E&P Onshore LLC and Anadarko Land Corporation (collectively, “Anadarko”). Anadarko, an oil and gas company, owned the mineral rights under the Bays’ farm. The Bays brought a putative class action along with other surface landowners against Anadarko, alleging that Anadarko’s mineral lessees had exceeded the scope of their mineral rights by drilling multiple vertical wells on the surface owners’ land when it was possible to drill fewer wells of the “directional” type. At the conclusion of the Bays’ presentation of evidence, the district court found that the Bays’ evidence failed as a matter of law to demonstrate that Anadarko’s activities amounted to a trespass and dismissed the case. Finding that the district court applied the wrong legal standard, the Tenth Circuit reversed the dismissal in "Bay I," finding that Colorado’s common law of trespass required the Bays to show that Anadarko’s lessees had “materially interfered” with the Bays’ farming operations. The appellate court questioned whether the record demonstrated that the Bays met this standard in their trial, but because Anadarko had not raised this specific issue, the case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings. On remand, the district court again granted judgment as a matter of law to Anadarko on the material interference issue. Specifically, the court first held that it was bound by the Tenth Circuit's interpretation in Bay I of the material interference standard, then found that the Bays showed only that Anadarko’s conduct inconvenienced them—which was insufficient to satisfy the material interference standard. The Bays again appealed, arguing that the Tenth Circuit's discussion of the material interference standard in Bay I was dictum; thus, the district court incorrectly determined that it was bound to apply that standard. They further argued the material interference standard applied by the district court was inconsistent with the Colorado standard for trespass outlined in Gerrity Oil & Gas Corp. v. Magness, 946 P.2d 913 (Colo. 1997), and that the evidence they presented in their trial established a prima facie case of material interference under Gerrity. The Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not err in its second dismissal and affirmed judgment. View "Bay, et al. v. Anadarko E&P Onshore, et al." on Justia Law
Black, et al. v. Occidental Petroleum, et al.
Plaintiffs-landowners alleged Anadarko Petroleum Corporation's intracompany practice of leasing its mineral interests to its affiliated operating company, including its 30% royalty rate, had the intent and effect of reducing the value of Plaintiffs’ mineral interests. Plaintiffs claimed Anadarko thereby maintained and furthered its dominant position in the market for leasing oil and gas mineral interests in violation of the Sherman Act § 2 and Wyoming antitrust laws. Plaintiffs sought treble damages and attorneys’ fees under § 4 of the Clayton Act. The federal district court certified a class action, for liability purposes only, comprised of “[a]ll persons . . . having ownership of Class Minerals during the Class Period.” Anadarko appealed the district court’s class certification pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f). The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court applied the correct legal standard in deciding whether the class satisfied the requirements of Rule 23, and it did not abuse its discretion in certifying the class. The Court therefore affirmed the district court’s class certification. View "Black, et al. v. Occidental Petroleum, et al." on Justia Law
Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, et al.
The Pueblo of Jemez filed a quiet title action against the United States relating to lands comprising the Valles Caldera National Preserve (“Valles Caldera”), which the United States purchased from private landowners in 2000. In an earlier appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the district court’s ruling dismissing the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court reversed and remanded, finding that an 1860 federal grant of title to private landowners would not extinguish the Jemez Pueblo’s claimed aboriginal title. Upon remand, the Jemez Pueblo could establish that it once and still had aboriginal title to the lands at issue. After a twenty-one-day trial, the district court ruled that the Jemez Pueblo failed to establish ever having aboriginal title to the entire lands of the Valles Caldera, failing to show that it ever used the entire claimed land to the exclusion of other Indian groups. The Jemez Pueblo moved for reconsideration under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). But rather than seek reconsideration of its complaint’s QTA claim to the entire Valles Caldera, the Jemez Pueblo shrunk its QTA claim into claims of title to four discrete subareas within the Valles Caldera: (1) Banco Bonito, (2) the Paramount Shrine Lands, (3) Valle San Antonio, and (4) the Redondo Meadows. The district court declined to reconsider all but Banco Bonito, on grounds that the Jemez Pueblo hadn’t earlier provided the government notice of these claims. Even so, being thorough, the court later considered and rejected those three claims on the merits. Of the issues raised by the Jemez Pueblo on appeal, we primarily address its challenge to the district court’s ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erroneously interpreted "Jemez I" in ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. So in accordance with longstanding Supreme Court precedent, and by the district court’s findings, the Court held the Jemez Pueblo still had aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Court reversed in part the denial of the Jemez Pueblo’s motion for reconsideration, and vacated in part and remanded with instructions to the district court. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, et al." on Justia Law
Wyo-Ben Inc. v. Haaland, et al.
Plaintiff-Appellant Wyo-Ben, Inc., (“Wyo-Ben”) appealed a district court’s dismissal of its complaint against the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (the “Secretary”) and the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM;” collectively, “Respondents”) asserting a single claim under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). In 1993, Wyo-Ben filed a mineral patent application with BLM. While that application was pending, in 1994, Congress enacted a moratorium on processing mineral patent applications. In the same legislation, Congress also enacted an exemption to the moratorium: if a patent application was still pending by September 30, 1994, and it otherwise complied with certain conditions, the patent application was not subject to the moratorium and the Secretary was required to process the application. On October 3, 1994, BLM—not the Secretary—determined that Wyo-Ben’s mineral patent application did not qualify for the exemption. Congress thereafter reenacted the 1995 Act (including the moratorium and exemption) annually through 2019. In 2019, Wyo-Ben filed suit alleging that, pursuant to § 706(1) of the APA, the Secretary “unlawfully withheld” and “unreasonably delayed” agency action by failing to review Wyo-Ben’s pending application to determine whether it was exempt from the moratorium. The court found that Wyo-Ben’s claim was statutorily barred by 28 U.S.C. § 2401(a), reasoning that Wyo-Ben’s § 706(1) claim first accrued on the date BLM determined that Wyo-Ben’s patent application was not exempt (i.e., October 3, 1994) and that the limitations period expired six years later (i.e., October 3, 2000). On appeal, Wyo-Ben contended the district court misconstrued its § 706(1) claim by characterizing the allegedly unlawful conduct as BLM’s decision that Wyo- Ben’s application falls within the moratorium. Respondents maintained: (1) Wyo-Ben submitted an incomplete application in that BLM rejected its tender of the purchase price before the moratorium took effect; and (2) BLM properly determined in 1994, pursuant to authority the Secretary lawfully delegated to BLM, Wyo-Ben’s application fell within the moratorium. The district court did not resolve either of the foregoing two issues in dismissing Wyo-Ben’s claim. And, specifically as to the second issue, the court did not determine whether the lawful effect of any such delegation from the Secretary was that BLM properly stood in the shoes of the Secretary for purposes of determining that Wyo-Ben’s application was subject to the moratorium. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit remanded the action to the district court for further proceedings. View "Wyo-Ben Inc. v. Haaland, et al." on Justia Law
High Lonesome Ranch v. Board of County Commissioner, et al.
For years, the High Lonesome Ranch restricted access to two roads by locking a gate. But in 2015, during a county meeting, the Garfield County Commission directed the Ranch to remove the locked gate after concluding that the two disputed roads were subject to public rights-of-way. The Ranch refused and filed a declaratory-judgment action in Colorado state court opposing the County’s position. At first, the County asked the state court to dismiss the case for failure to name the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) as a party. But rather than dismissing, the state court ordered the Ranch to join the United States (BLM) as a necessary party, and the Ranch did so. The United States removed the case to federal district court. In October 2020, after a five-day bench trial, the district court ruled that the entire lengths of the two disputed roads were subject to public rights-of-way. On appeal—and for the first time—the Ranch contended that various procedural shortcomings deprived the district court of subject-matter jurisdiction. It also challenged the district court’s rights-of-way rulings. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s adverse-use ruling, but reversed its Colorado R.S. 2477 ruling and remanded for the court to reconsider that ruling under recent circuit authority governing acceptance of R.S. 2477 rights. The Court also remanded for the district court to determine the locations and widths of the rights-of-way by survey. View "High Lonesome Ranch v. Board of County Commissioner, et al." on Justia Law
Bruce v. City and County of Denver, et al.
Douglas Bruce sued the City and County of Denver (“Denver”) and others (collectively, “Appellees”) in federal district court for alleged constitutional violations arising from a Colorado state court’s determination that Bruce’s liens on several properties were inferior to Denver’s liens. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Bruce contended that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not apply because he was not a party to the state court litigation. After review, the Tenth Circuit disagreed and affirmed the dismissal. View "Bruce v. City and County of Denver, et al." on Justia Law
Johnson v. Heath, et al.
Defendants Michael and Dawn Heath sold Plaintiff Harry Johnson a gasoline and automobile-service station in Wells, Nevada. Soon after the sale, Plaintiff allegedly discovered that the property had material, undisclosed defects and that Defendants had artificially inflated the business’s profits by scamming customers over the years. In suing them, Plaintiff asserted many state-law claims against both Defendants and a claim against Defendant Michael Heath under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”). The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s RICO claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state claims. The issue Plaintiff's appeal raised for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether Defendants’ actions as alleged plausibly violated the federal RICO statute. Because the Court concluded they did not, it affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Johnson v. Heath, et al." on Justia Law
Nelson, et al. v. United States
Plaintiff-appellee James Nelson was seriously injured while riding his bicycle on a trail on Air Force Academy property in Colorado. He and his wife, Elizabeth Varney, sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). Nelson sought damages for his personal injuries; Varney sought damages for loss of consortium. After several years of litigation, the district court ruled the government was liable for Nelson’s accident and injuries. The court based its decision on the Colorado Recreational Use Statute (“CRUS”). The court awarded Nelson more than $6.9 million, and awarded Varney more than $400,000. In addition to the damages awards, the district court also ordered the government to pay plaintiffs' attorney’s fees. CRUS contained an attorney’s-fees-shifting provision, allowing prevailing plaintiffs to recover their fees against defendant landowners. Providing an exception to the United States’s sovereign immunity, the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) provided that “[t]he United States shall be liable for such fees and expenses to the same extent that any other party would be liable under the common law or under the terms of any statute which specifically provides for such an award.” The district court concluded that the government had to pay for plaintiffs' fees. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the district court erred in ordering the government to pay the attorney's fees after holding the CRUS qualified under the EAJA as “any statute which specifically provides for” an attorney’s fees award. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Nelson, et al. v. United States" on Justia Law
Herrera, et al. v. City of Espanola, et al.
Appellants Darren Herrera and Paula Garcia purchased a home in the City of Espanola, New Mexico (the “City”). At the time Appellants purchased the home, the existing owner, Charlotte Miera, was not current on her water and sewer bill. Although the City initially provided water service to Appellants, it discontinued service in February 2017, and declined to recommence it until someone paid the water and sewer bill. In June 2020, Appellants filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the New Mexico Tort Claims Act (“NMTCA”) based on the City’s refusal to provide them water service unless someone paid Miera’s bill. The City filed a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion, arguing the statute of limitations had elapsed before Appellants filed their action. Although Appellants conceded a three-year statute of limitations governed their section 1983 claims, and a two-year statute of limitations governed their NMTCA claim, they argued the limitations period had not expired on their claims because the City repeatedly denied their requests for water service between February 2017 and February 2020. They expressly relied on the continuing violation doctrine to extend the limitations period, and also argued facts consistent with the related repeated violations doctrine. The district court granted the City’s motion to dismiss. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part and reversed in part. The Court agreed with the district court that Appellants’ action first accrued no later than March 2017. Further, although it held the continuing violation doctrine was available within the section 1983 context, the Court concurred with the district court that it did not save Appellants’ claims against the City or their NMTCA claim. The Court found Appellants’ claims premised on the City’s alleged policy of conditioning water service to new property owners on the payment of bills owed by prior property owners was not time-barred under the repeated violation doctrine and Hamer v. City of Trinidad, 924 F.3d 1093 (10th Cir. 2019). View "Herrera, et al. v. City of Espanola, et al." on Justia Law