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North Dakota ex rel. Stenehjem v. United States

United States District Court, D. North Dakota

August 22, 2017

North Dakota, ex rel. Wayne Stenehjem, Attorney General for the State of North Dakota, Plaintiff,
v.
United States of America, Defendant. Billings County, North Dakota; Golden Valley County, North Dakota; McKenzie County, North Dakota; and Slope County, North Dakota, municipal entities, Plaintiffs,
v.
United States of America, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS' JOINT MOTION FOR ENTRY OF FINAL JUDGMENT PURSUANT TO RULE 54(B)

          Daniel L. Hovland, Chief Judge.

         Before the Court is a “Joint Motion for Entry of Final Judgment Pursuant to Rule 54(b) by Plaintiffs State of North Dakota and Billings County, et al.” filed on July 19, 2017. See Docket No. 191. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On July 30, 2012, Billings County, McKenzie County, Slope County, and Golden Valley County (collectively “the Counties”) initiated an action against the United States of America (“United States”) to quiet title to their claims of section line rights-of-way in the Little Missouri National Grassland as well as six individual roads claimed by McKenzie County. See Docket No. 1 (Case No. 1:12-cv-102). The State of North Dakota then filed a complaint on September 14, 2012, against the United States to quiet title to its claim of section line rights-of-way within the Little Missouri National Grassland, the Sheyenne National Grassland, and the portion of the Cedar River National Grassland located in North Dakota, all which are a part of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands. See Docket No. 1 (Case No. 1:12-cv-125). On April 16, 2013, the Court consolidated the two actions, with North Dakota's action designated as the lead case (Case No. 1:12-cv-125) and the action by the Counties as the consolidated case (Case No. 1:12-cv-102). See Docket No. 24.

         On September 26, 2014, the United States filed a motion to dismiss the State of North Dakota's amended complaint. See Docket No. 88. The United States subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the first cause of action as to section line rights-of-way in the Counties' third amended complaint on December 9, 2015. See Docket No. 169. In its motions, the United States sought to dismiss the complaints of North Dakota and the Counties for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the claims were untimely under the Quiet Title Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2409a. On June 26, 2017, the Court granted the United States' motions, concluding 28 U.S.C. § 2409a(i) bars North Dakota's claim as well as the Counties' first cause of action and divests the Court of jurisdiction over the matter. See Docket No. 190. After dismissal by the Court of North Dakota's amended complaint and the Counties' first cause of action, McKenzie County's claims to quiet title to six individual roads remain unadjudicated. See Docket No. 163.

         On July 19, 2017, North Dakota and the Counties jointly filed the motion now before the Court, seeking entry of final judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) as to those claims which the Court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction (i.e. claims as to section line rights-of-way). See Docket No. 191. Specifically, North Dakota and the Counties contend entry of final judgment is appropriate because “the section line rights-of-way claims are separate and factually distinct from the remaining individual road claims.” See Docket No. 191, p. 3. On August 2, 2017, the United States filed a response in opposition to the motion. See Docket No. 193. North Dakota and the Counties then filed a joint reply brief on August 9, 2017. See Docket No. 194.

         II. LEGAL DISCUSSION

         It is well-established that orders disposing of fewer than all claims are not immediately appealable. Review must generally await a final judgment disposing of all claims. However, a district court may, pursuant to Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, direct entry of final judgment as to one or more but fewer than all of the claims before resolution of all claims. Interstate Power Co. v. Kansas City Power & Light Co., 992 F.2d 804, 807 (8th Cir. 1993). Rule 54(b) provides as follows:

         Judgment Upon Multiple Claims or Involving Multiple Parties.

When an action presents more than one claim for relief - whether as a claim, counterclaim, crossclaim, or third-party claim - or when multiple parties are involved, the court may direct entry of a final judgment as to one or more, but fewer than all, claims or parties only if the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay. Otherwise, any order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties does not end the action as to any of the claims or parties and may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b).

         The policy of all courts is to avoid piecemeal and interlocutory appeals. See Curtiss-Wright Corp. v. General Elec. Co., 446 U.S. 1, 8 (1980); Interstate Power Co., 992 F.2d at 807; Burlington Northern R.R. Co. v. Bair, 754 F.2d 799, 800 (8th Cir. 1985). As result, Rule 54(b) certification is not granted routinely, but is reserved only for those rare cases that warrant an immediate appeal from a partial resolution of a lawsuit. See Bullock v. Baptist Memorial Hospital, 817 F.2d 58, 59 n.2 (8th Cir.1987). The decision regarding certification under Rule 54(b) rests in the discretion of the district court. Downing v. Riceland Foods, Inc., 810 F.3d 580, 585 (8th Cir. 2016).

         The Eighth Circuit has established a two-step analysis to determine whether certification of an order as final under Rule 54(b) is appropriate:

The court must first determine that it is dealing with a final judgment . . . in the sense that it is an ultimate disposition of an individual claim. Second, the district court must determine whether a just reason for delay exists. In making such determination, the district court must consider both the equities of the situation and judicial ...

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