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North Dakota, ex rel. Stenehjem v. United States

United States District Court, D. North Dakota

October 31, 2019

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 GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART THE COUNTIES' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING THE UNITED STATES' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Daniel L. Hovland, Chief Judge

         Before the Court are two motions: “Plaintiffs Billings County, et al.'s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment” and the “United States' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment” filed on April 19, 2019. See Doc. Nos. 237 and 238. On July 30, 2012, Billings County, McKenzie County, Slope County, and Golden Valley County initiated an action against the Defendant 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 Doc. No. 1 (No. 1:12-cv-102). The State of North Dakota then filed a complaint on September 14, 2012, against the Defendant 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 Doc. No. 1 (No. 1:12-cv-125). The Counties[1]filed an amended complaint on October 4, 2012, and later filed a second amended complaint upon leave of the Court on February 19, 2013. See Doc. Nos. 6 and 15 (No. 1:12-cv-102). The Court eventually consolidated the two actions, with North Dakota's action designated as the lead case (No. 1:12-cv-125) and the action by the Counties as the consolidated case (No. 1:12-cv-102). See Doc. No. 24. After consolidation, the Counties twice more amended their complaint.[2] See Doc. Nos. 163 and 229.

         Several years after the two cases were consolidated, the United States filed motions to dismiss both North Dakota and the Counties' claims to quiet title to section line rights-of-way within the Dakota Prairie Grasslands in North Dakota. See Doc. Nos. 88 and 169. On June 26, 2017, the Court granted the United States' motions to dismiss North Dakota's claim to quiet title to section line rights-of-way in the Dakota Prairie Grasslands and the Counties' claim to quiet title to section line rights-of way in the Little Missouri National Grassland. The Court held it lacked jurisdiction over the claims because the Quiet Title Act (“QTA”) limitation period had run before the actions were commenced. See Doc. No. 190. Therefore, six causes of action brought by the Counties, as alleged in the Counties' fourth amended and supplemental complaint, remain in dispute: (2) Quiet Title to County Road #193, (3) Quiet Title to Township Road #172/Road #1, (4) Quiet Title to Road #2, (5) Quiet Title to Road #3, (6) Quiet Title to Township Road #169, and (7) Quiet Title to County Road #30. See Doc. No. 229.

         In their motion for partial summary judgment, the Counties request the Court quiet title to several of the enumerated roads in its favor. In its motion for partial summary judgment, the United States' contends the Court lacks jurisdiction over several of the Counties' claims to specific roads, and, alternatively, the United States contends it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law for several roads. The United States filed a response in opposition to the Counties' motion for summary judgment on May 24, 2019. See Doc. No. 254. The Counties also filed a response to the United States' motion for summary judgment on May 24, 2019. See Doc. No. 253. Both the Counties and the United States filed reply briefs on June 14, 2019. See Doc. Nos. 255 and 256. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the United States' motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and denies its motion for summary judgment and denies in part and grants in part the Counties' motion for summary judgment.

         I. PROCEDURAL & FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         In its previous order dismissing the Counties' first cause of action to quiet title to rights-of-way along section lines within the Little Missouri National Grassland as well as North Dakota's claims to section line rights-of-way, the Court extensively discussed the historical backdrop and procedural history of this matter. See Doc. No. 190. For the purposes of reviewing the motions before it, the Court's discussion of the procedural and factual background is limited to McKenzie County's remaining claims. The remaining claims by McKenzie County against the United States arise from the parties' controversy surrounding the parties' interest in certain roads, not wholly located along section lines, within the Little Missouri National Grassland. Specifically, in its fourth amended complaint, McKenzie County seeks to quiet title to certain enumerated roads within McKenzie County: County Road #193 (Claim 2), Township Road #172/Road #1 (Claim 3), Road #2 (Claim 4), Road #3 (Claim 5), Township Road #169 (Claim 6), and County Road #30 (Claim 7). See Doc. No. 229.

         The Counties allege County Road #193, also known as “Long X Divide Road, ” was established by public use as early as 1884, while the lands it traverses were part of the public domain. Id. at 20. County Commissioners later established County Road #193 through petition. Id. at 21.

         According to the Counties, Township Road #172 was established as a public right-of-way by petition and road order, with the road declared open and established on August 17, 1922, while Road #1 was established as a public right-of-way through prescriptive use across private lands. Id. at 26-29. Beginning in 1934, the United States reacquired the property transected by Township Road #172/Road #1 through condemnation proceedings, “subject to and excepting all existing public roads, public utility easements and rights-of-way.” Id. at 29.

         Roads #2 and #3, as alleged in the complaint, were “established along a section line and as a prescriptive road established pursuant to North Dakota law” although they deviate to conform to topography. Id. at 31-32, 35. The Counties further allege Roads #2 and #3 were established as public roads across public domain and across private lands under state law. Id. at 33, 35. More specifically, the Counties allege Roads #2 and #3 were established through prescription prior to the United States' reacquisition of the private lands they traverse. Id.

         The Counties allege Township Road #169, also known as “Charlie Bob Creek Road, ” was established by petition and road order. Id. at 40. Specifically, the Counties allege the road was declared open and established on August 17, 1922. Id. at 41. Township Road #169 was then extended in 1925 and the Rhoades Township Supervisors paid damages to the landowners whose land was crossed by the extension of Township Road #169. Id. at 42. According to the Counties, Rhoades Township again relocated a portion of Township Road #169 and McKenzie County later reconstructed another portion of the road to make it safer. Id. at 42-43. The Counties allege the lands over which Township Road #169 cross were acquired by the United States by warranty deed, with some deeds specifically providing that the parcels were acquired “subject to a right-of-way for public roads along section lines as created by statutes. Id. at 45.

         County Road #30, as alleged in the complaint, was established by petition and road order pursuant to North Dakota law and the road was declared open on July 20, 1908. Id. at 46-47. The United States acquired some of the lands crossed by County Road #30 by condemnation judgment “subject to and excepting all existing public roads, public utility easements and rights of way as now located on and across parts of said lands.” Id. at 48-49.

         In its motion before the Court, the United States contends this Court lacks jurisdiction over the Counties' second (County Road #193), third (Township Road #172), fourth (Road #2), and fifth (Road #3) causes of action because the Counties failed to bring those claims within the Quiet Title Act's statute of limitations. Alternatively, the United States posits it is entitled to judgment in its favor as a matter of law as to the Counties' third (Township Road #172), fourth (Road #2), and fifth (Road #3) causes of action because the Counties “have failed to show a genuine issue of material fact” as to those claims. In their opposing motion, the Counties contend they are entitled to summary judgment for their second (County Road #193), third (Township Road #172), fourth (Road #2), sixth (Township Road #169), and seventh (County Road #30) causes of action because there is no dispute as to the material facts which establish the existence of these roads before the United States reacquired the land traversed by the roads, and such reacquisition was subject to McKenzie County's interest in the roads.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In its motion before the Court, the United States requests the Court dismiss some of the Counties' claims and, alternatively moves for summary judgment as to certain claims. It appears the United States requests the Court treat its motion to dismiss as one for summary judgment as the United States refers to the standard of review for motions for summary judgment and entitled its motion one for “partial summary judgment.” However, because the United States' request to dismiss the Counties' claims to County Road #193, Township Road #172/Road #1, Road #2, and Road #3 challenges the Court's jurisdiction, the Court treats this portion of the United States' motion as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         A. MOTION TO DISMISS

         In its motion, the United States first requests the Court dismiss the Counties' claim to County Road #193, Township Road #172/Road #1, Road #2, and Road #3 as alleged in the Counties' fourth amended complaint. When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must generally construe the complaint liberally and assume all factual allegations to be true. Eckert v. Titan Tire Corp., 514 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2008). Dismissal will not be granted unless it appears beyond a reasonable doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would entitle the plaintiff to relief.

         Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs challenges to subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Here, the United States asserts a factual challenge to the Court's jurisdiction. In such a factual 12(b)(1) motion, the trial court's jurisdiction - its very power to hear the case - is at issue, and the trial court is “free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case.” Osborn v. United States, 918 F.2d 724, 730 (8th Cir. 1990). As a result, “no presumptive truthfulness attaches to the plaintiff's allegations” and the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims. Spirit Lake Tribe v. North Dakota, 262 F.3d 732, 744 (8th Cir. 2001). The burden is on the plaintiff to demonstrate jurisdiction exists. Id.

         B. SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         In its motion for partial summary judgment, the United States alternatively requests the Court grant summary judgment in its favor as to the Counties third cause of action (Township Road #172), fourth cause of action (Road #2), and fifth cause of action (Road #3). In a competing motion for summary judgment, the Counties request the Court grant judgment in their favor as to their second (County Road #193), third (Township Road #172), fourth (Road #2), sixth (Township Road #169), and seventh (County Road #30) causes of action.

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence, viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, indicates that no genuine issues of material fact exist and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Davison v. City of Minneapolis, 490 F.3d 648, 654 (8th Cir. 2007); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment is not appropriate if there are factual disputes that may affect the outcome of the case under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of material fact is genuine if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id.

         The Court must inquire whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require the submission of the case to a jury or whether the evidence is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Diesel Mach., Inc. v. B.R. Lee Indus., Inc., 418 F.3d 820, 832 (8th Cir. 2005). The moving party bears the responsibility of informing the court of the basis for the motion and identifying the portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011). The non- moving party may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather, its response must set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Id.; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). If the record taken as a whole and viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial and summary judgment is appropriate. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The Court must consider the substantive standard of proof when ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

         Before addressing the parties' competing motions for summary judgment, the Court first addresses the United States' contention this Court lacks jurisdiction over some the Counties' claims.

         A. MOTION TO DISMISS

         The Counties' complaint was brought pursuant to the Quiet Title Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2409a. The United States' contends this Court lacks jurisdiction over the Counties' claims to rights-of-way for County Road #193, Township Road #172/Road #1, Road #2, and Road #3 because the Counties failed to bring these claims within the QTA's limitation period. Specifically, the United States contends the 1977 Travel Plan for the Little Missouri National Grassland, and the United States' closure of segments of County Road #193 and Road #2 when the fencing of the southern border of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park[3] in the 1950s and 1980s put the Counties on notice of the United States' claim to County Road #193, Township Road #172/Road #1, Road #2, and ...


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