Wednesday, October 14, 2015

SCOTUS declines to hear Utah’s appeal over who owns rural roads

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear Utah's appeal on a test case over rights-of-way across public land, letting stand a lower court ruling that could undermine counties' legal claims to many of these disputed routes. The underlying case involved just a handful of roads in Kane County, but the ruling the state appealed affects its fight to gain title to many roads using the frontier-era law known as RS 2477. Last year, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals explored the question whether "the United States either explicitly or implicitly disputed the [state's] title" to the roads. In its ruling released last December, a three-judge panel concluded that it had not. Routes deemed open in the Bureau of Land Management's travel management plans lack sufficient controversy for the courts to determine who owns them under the federal Quiet Title Act. This reasoning was affirmed Tuesday when the high court rejected the state's and Kane County's petitions to review the lower court's decision. "The majority of the state's 12,000 claims would fall into this box of no disputed title. If the route is open, why is there this fight?" said Steve Bloch, legal director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "It's important that the federal government should regulate these roads. It comes down to who's going to manage the public estate. The feds take a longer and broader view than the parochial view of the counties." But lawyers for the state and the county argued the 10th Circuit's "constricted and unprecedented" interpretation undermines the goal of the old road statute, which was to encourage development of remote Western lands by ensuring local jurisdictions held rights to routes pioneers carved across the public domain. States today can prevail on RS 2477 claims if they can a demonstrate 10 years of continuous public use on a particular road prior to the law's repeal in 1976. The routes at stake in the appeal are not particularly controversial because they are improved roads that do not enter wilderness quality lands and see regular vehicular traffic...more

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