Attorney General’s Office reviews Tenth Circuit opinion in  R.S. 2477 case

Example of a R.S. 2477 road, location and date unknown | Photo courtesy of the Utah Attorney General's Office, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY —The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion Dec. 3 in the R.S. 2477 case of Kane County and Utah v. United States. A three-judge panel affirmed that the state and county have legal title to six of 12 roads and held that there was no dispute as to title in the remaining six. The opinion again rejected the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s claim that the statute of limitations bars the road claims.  The court also determined that the existence of water reserves does not bar road claims.

The court agreed with the United States’ position that there is no dispute with the state and Kane County’s ownership of the Hancock, Sand Dunes, and four Cave Lakes roads.  The court held that because there is no dispute as to title, the court has no jurisdiction to hear the claims to these roads. Without a dispute regarding the ownership of these roads, the state of Utah and Kane County may treat these roads as R.S. 2477 rights-of-way and manage them to ensure that the access provided by these roads remains safe and open.

Despite the apparent acknowledgement by the United States of the state and county’s ownership of the roads, the issue remains ambiguous until a court formally quiets title in the state and county (that is, clarifies ownership of the roads  against other claims) or the United States formally disclaims any ownership of the roads. Therefore, the Office of the Attorney General is considering filing a Petition for Rehearing before the entire Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which must be filed within 45 days. The effect of this opinion on the roads in the other pending cases remains to be determined on a road by road basis.

The court’s decision does not address roads other than the 12 Kane County roads. The state, therefore, intends to continue moving forward developing the evidence as to title on all other R.S. 2477 rights-of-way.  The state is encouraged that the issues of the statute of limitations and the effect of Public Water Reserves have been put to rest.

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5 Comments

  • Brian December 3, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Good news. I’m glad there are still a few honest, sane federal judges here and there.

  • Bender December 3, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    I’m pretty sure this is a press release issued by the Utah Attorney General’s office. It spins the Tenth Circuit Court’s opinion to look like a clear victory for the state. I really wish that St. George News would tag these PRs as such.

  • utahbiller December 3, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    I have read this three times and I still don’t really understand what the decision really means. Did the court just kick the can down the road? How much has the state spent on this? Does this mean that Kane County will have to maintain the roads? How could Kane County afford that? How many people even live in Kane County? Where would the money come from?

    • Zonkerb December 3, 2014 at 11:18 pm

      This article doesn’t clearly answer any questions at all

    • Brian December 4, 2014 at 6:53 am

      R.S. 2477 says the federal government (specifically the forest service / BLM) can’t just come in and shutdown 100 year old county roads whenever it wants to. But, being the federal government, it just kept doing whatever it wanted to regardless of what the law states, so the county sued. This ruling affirms that of the 12 roads mentioned in the lawsuit brought against the federal government, all 12 are in fact county roads, and the feds should in fact obey the law and stop screwing with them. This doesn’t require the county to turn them into highways and provide snow removal, etc, it just says the roads belong to the county and the feds have to respect that. Basically it keeps things the way they were (and should be) before the feds tried sticking their noses into it. Let me know if you want me to share how I really feel… :}

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