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Nielson v. United States

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 22, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, a United States agency within the United States Department of the Interior, Defendant.


          Honorable Ronald E. Bush Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge

         Currently pending before the Court is Defendant United States of America's Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 5). Having carefully considered the record and otherwise being fully advised, the undersigned enters the following Memorandum Decision and Order.


         Prior to Idaho's statehood in 1890, the United States held the beds of navigable waters in trust and upon statehood, these lands passed to the State of Idaho.[1] States surveyors surveyed Idaho and all bodies of water running through Idaho, including the Snake River, in the late 19thcentury. The intention of the United States was to deed much of the platted land to private settlers by way of “patent deed.” Accordingly, real property owned by private individuals and entities can trace the chain of title to their real property to a United States patent deed.

         In 1893 and 1901, the United States issued patents to Plaintiff's predecessors-in-interest for the land adjacent to the Snake River that Plaintiff now owns. See Stenquist Aff., Ex. C; see also Pollard v. Hagan, 44 U.S. 212 (1845) (the United States did not own the beds of navigable waters, but merely held these lands in trust for the new states - ownership that immediately inured to the new states on the date of statehood); Utah Div. of State Lands v. United States, 482 U.S. 193, 195-198 (1987) (lands underlying navigable waters have historically been considered “sovereign lands” and state ownership of them has been considered an essential attribute of sovereignty); Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho, 521 U.S. 261, 283-84 (1997) (same).


         On May 26, 2016, Plaintiff Steve Nielson (“Plaintiff”) filed this complaint pursuant to the Quiet Title Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2049a, et seq., seeking to quiet title to 15.79 acres of land located south and east of the Snake River in Bingham County, Idaho. The land is located in the “Part of the Northeast 1/4 Section 36 Township 1 North Range 36 East, [Boise Meridian], also part of the Northwest 1/4 Section 31 Township 1 North Range 1 East [Boise Meridian] Bingham Count, Idaho” (hereinafter, “the Property”). Compl. (Dkt. 1) at p. 2 (containing full legal description).

         Plaintiff holds title to three parcels of land south of the Property at issue, in Bingham County. Id. at ¶ 9. In the nature of such things, as rivers ebb and flow and spring freshets remodel the course and channels of a waterway, the banks and beds of navigable streams change location and character. Such a process leads, in some instances, to “accretion, ” by which the size of the land adjacent to the waterway increases. “Accretion of land is of two kinds: by alluvion, i.e., by the washing up of sand or soil, so as to form firm ground; or by dereliction, such as when the sea shrinks below the usual water-mark.” Black's Law Dictionary, (6th ed. 1990).

         The Property consists of accreted land located along the banks of the Snake River that has formed by accretion from the Snake River over the past 100 years. Id. at ¶¶ 7- 8. Plaintiff holds title to the three parcels south of the Property. Id. at ¶ 9. Plaintiff and his predecessors-in-interest have occupied and cultivated the Property for over 20 years. Id. at ¶ 10. Included in the Property is land that has not passed to any party by way of real property deed, and all portions of the Property not specifically conveyed to Plaintiff has accreted from the Snake River to real property owned by Plaintiff and his predecessors-in-interest. Id. at ¶¶ 24-25.

         Plaintiff alleges that he has not discovered a patent deed in the chain of title to the Property. He is concerned that in the absence of such a patent deed, the United States may claim an ownership interest or seek an interest in the Property which is adverse to Plaintiff's interest and he therefore seeks an order from this Court quieting title to the accreted Property in his name. Id. ¶¶ 31-34.

         To set further context, Plaintiff alleges that the State of Idaho, through Governor Otter, has executed a disclaimer of interest disclaiming all interest in the Property. Id. ¶ 27. Similarly, the City of Shelley, City of Ammon, County of Bingham, and County of Bonneville, in their individual capacities and in their capacity as owners and managers of the Eastern Idaho Wastewater Authority (“EIRWWA”) and EIRWWA in its individual capacity, have also disclaimed any potential interest, excepting easements, in the Property. Id. at ¶ 28. Plaintiff also contends that his title to the Property is unmarketable because two title companies doing business in Bingham County, Idaho have each issued “Title Insurance Commitments” that state that the United States is the outright owner of the Property. See Stenquist Aff., Ex. B (Dkt.12).

         III. RULE 12(b)(1) LEGAL STANDARD

         This court is a court of limited jurisdiction. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), the United States claims the action must be dismissed based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In order to establish subject matter jurisdiction against the United States, there must be: (1) “statutory authority vesting a district court with subject matter jurisdiction”; and (2) “a waiver of sovereign immunity.” Alvardo v. Table Mountain Racheria, 509 F.3d 1008, 1016 (9th Cir. 2007). The burden is on the party bringing the action to establish both elements of subject matter jurisdiction against the United States. Dunn & Black P.S. v. United States, 492 F.3d 1084, 1087-88 (9th Cir. 2007); Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375 (1994).

         When considering a motion to dismiss based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the Court is not restricted to the face of the pleadings, but may review any evidence to resolve factual disputes concerning the existence of ...

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