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Spoolstra v. United States

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

June 7, 2013

ALBERN L. SPOOLSTRA, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

ORDER

B. LYNN WINMILL, Chief District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

In 2001, plaintiff Albern Spoolstra brought suit against the United States under the Quiet Title Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2409a, to define the scope of two easements the government acquired on his property pursuant to deeds executed by his predecessor in interest in 1950 and 1957. That suit ended when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that his suit was barred because Spoolstra did not file his complaint within the Quiet Title Act's twelve-year limitations period, which is a jurisdictional defect.

In 2012, Spoolstra filed the instant action under the Act in an attempt to define the scope of the same two easements. The government moved to dismiss this case under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Having considered the parties' briefs, the Court concludes that the government's motion is suitable for resolution without a hearing. Local R. Civ. P. 7.1(d)(1)(B). Because Spoolstra has not identified any material change since his last suit, the Court concludes that it still lacks subject matter jurisdiction and will dismiss this suit with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

Spoolstra owns property along the east bank of the Clearwater River near Grangeville, Idaho. In 1950 and 1957, Spoolstra's predecessors in interest, the Dufurs, granted to the United States two easements across Spoolstra's property. See Spoolstra v. United States (" Spoolstra III " ), Case No. 3:12-cv-00340-BLW, Compl. Dkt. 1, Attach. A-C. It is undisputed that the 1950 easement covers U.S. Forest Service Road 475 from the site of the old Cox Sawmill and running east across Spoolstra's property. Id. The central issue of the parties' dispute, in this suit and the previous suit, is whether the 1950 easement extends from the Cox Sawmill in a southerly direction along a switchback to the east bank of the Clearwater River ("the disputed area"), thereby giving the public access to the Nez Perce National Forest beyond. Compare Spoolstra v. United States (" Spoolstra I "), Case No. 3:01-cv-00619 (D. Idaho 2001), Dkt. 82 at 4-5, with Spoolstra III, Compl. Dkt. 1 at 3-4.

1. 2001 Litigation

In this Court, Spoolstra's first suit ended following a two-day bench trial presided over by Circuit Judge Thomas G. Nelson, sitting by designation. Spoolstra I, Dkt. 82 at 2, 20. Judge Nelson found that the origin of the 1950 easement was the east bank of the Clearwater River, and not the Cox Sawmill site as Spoolstra contended. Id. at 7. Judge Nelson based his finding on (1) the fact that the Forest Service and Dufurs intended the easement to serve as a "connecting link" between Road 475 and the 1957 easement and (2) and the testimony of Ms. Cox, of the Cox Sawmill, who stated that when the Forest Service questioned whether they had an easement extending to the river's bank, "they came down to straighten that out." Id. at 7-8.

Evidence was also introduced in the course of the trial of the government's use of the disputed area. For example, the Forest Service used the switchback "as part of its routine maintenance of the Nez Perce National Forest lands" for more than 40 years. Id. at 6.

Based on his finding and the evidence regarding the government's use, Judge Nelson held that the United States obtained an easement over the disputed area either by the terms of the 1950 assignment or by prescription. Id. at 12-13. Judge Nelson ordered the government to file with the court a proposed judgment reflecting his holding along with an exhibit showing the location of the government's easements. Id. at 20. The government complied by filing a map prepared by Anthony Bachman, a certified U.S. Forest Service land surveyor. Spoolstra III, Dkt. 11-2 at 2, 5. Spooltra appealed the adverse judgment to the Ninth Circuit. Spoolstra v. United States (" Spoolstra II "), 298 F.Appx. 577 (9th Cir. 2008).

However, the circuit court never reached the merits of the case. Instead, the court raised the issue of subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte. Id., Dkt. 28. Following briefing from the parties, the court vacated the judgment in Spoolstra I and dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Id. at 578. The court reasoned that, because "[b]oth easements were recorded, and the government's use was open, notorious and adverse after 1950 and before 1989" - more than twelve years before Spoolstra filed his complaint - the action was barred by the Quiet Title Act's twelve-year limitations provision. Id. at 578-79. That fact deprived the court of jurisdiction to hear Spoolstra's suit. Id. at 579.

2. Spoolstra's Current Suit

Although Bachman is a licensed surveyor, he is not licensed in Idaho. As a result, the survey he conducted at Judge Nelson's behest could not be recorded in Idaho's land records. At some point in 2006, the government commissioned a second survey that could be recorded.

To that end, Bachman and James Man, a professional land surveyor who is licensed in Idaho, resurveyed the government's easements over Spoolstra's property. Spoolstra III, Dkt. 11-2 ¶5. The result of their efforts was the "Right-of-Way Plat, Downey Creek Road No. 475." Id., Dkt. 1 at 15. This second survey, consistent with Bachman's first survey, shows the government's easement over the disputed area between ...


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