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Sawtooth Mountain Ranch LLC v. United States

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 13, 2020

SAWTOOTH MOUNTAIN RANCH LLC, LYNN ARNONE, DAVID BOREN, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE; SONNY PERDUE, Secretary of Agriculture; UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE; SAWTOOTH NATIONAL FOREST; JIM DEMAAGD, Forest Supervisor; SAWTOOTH NATIONAL RECREATION AREA; KIRK FLANNIGAN, Area Ranger; FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION; DEAN A UMATHUM, Contracting Officer, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          Honorable Candy W. Dale United States Magistrate Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiffs challenge the approval of, and any actions associated with, the proposed Stanley to Redfish Trail (“Stanley/Redfish Trail”), as described in the Decision Memo signed on June 6, 2017, by Kirk Flannigan, the Area Manager of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The proposed Stanley/Redfish Trail will include a segment of over one mile that crosses private property owned by Plaintiffs (the Property). The United States was granted the right to permit public use of a strip of land to be utilized as a trail, via the grant of an easement over the Property.

         Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint includes three claims brought under the Quiet Title Act (QTA) and asserted against the United States, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), and Dean A. Umathum. The first claim concerns the boundaries of the easement, while the other two quiet title act claims concern different aspects of the scope of the easement. At issue with Defendant's motion is Claim One, in which Plaintiffs assert they are “entitled to an order of this Court quieting title to their Property confirming that the Trail may not pass through areas of the Property that are outside of the Easement boundary.”

         Defendants seek dismissal of Claim One in Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and dismissal of the FHA and Dean Umathum, who are named as Defendants in claims one, two and three.[1] On December 19, 2019, the Court heard oral argument on the motion. After careful consideration of the parties' arguments and written memoranda, the record, and relevant authority, the Court will grant Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         FACTS

         Plaintiffs' Property is located in Custer County, Idaho, adjacent to the southern end of Stanley and westward of State Highway 75, in a contiguous parcel including all or part of Sections 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, and 17 of T.10 N., R. 13 E., Boise Meridian. The Property consists of approximately 1, 781.07 acres, all of which lies within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA). Plaintiffs Arnone and Boren acquired the Property in the fall of 2016. The historic and current use of the Property is cattle ranching. Currently, Plaintiffs conduct a livestock and ranching operation on the Property.

         A Conservation Easement Deed dated May 10, 2005, recorded as Instrument 231391 on May 20, 2005, in the real property records of the Custer County Recorder's Office, granted an easement in the Property to the United States. Among its various purposes, the Conservation Deed grants a public access easement (the Easement) across a portion of the Property. The Easement, defined in Part VI section K of the Conservation Deed, states:

Nothing herein contained shall be construed as affording the public access to any portion of the Property except that the United States is hereby granted the right to permit public use of the following:
(1) A strip of land to be utilized as a trail in that portion of the Easement area within Secs. 9, 15, and 16, as shown on Exhibit D, attached hereto and made a part hereof. The total right-of-way width of the trail easement shall be 30 feet. The following uses are allowed on the trail: snowmobile, snow grooming equipment, bicycle, horse, and foot travel. The Grantee may erect appropriate signs to delineate the public use areas where needed.
(2) A strip of land along Valley Creek, to be utilized for foot travel only, extending from the centerline of Valley Creek to point parallel and being 20 feet distant beyond each mean high water line of Valley Creek. The Grantee may erect appropriate signs to delineate the public use areas where needed.

         Second Decl. of Boren, Ex. A, Conservation Deed at 6. (Dkt. 34-1.) The last page of the Conservation Deed, Exhibit D, is a map depicting the Easement demarcated by a dark line identified in the Legend as the “Trail Easement, ” which would be the location of the Stanley/Redfish Trail traversing the Property.

         In early 2014, the United States Forest Service announced its intent to construct and designate a trail approximately 4.5 miles long connecting the town of Stanley to the Redfish Lake entry station. Roughly 1.5 miles of the proposed Stanley/Redfish Trail runs through the Property. The Stanley/Redfish Trail project was summarized and published in the Sawtooth National Forest's Schedule of Proposed Actions in January 2014 and was made available for public comment. In conjunction with the proposed action, the Forest Service released a map, which depicted the location of the proposed trail along its entire length, including the portion traversing the Property (the February 2014 Map). Mr. Flannigan, the SNRA Area Manager, signed a Decision Memo dated June 6, 2017, which approved construction of the trail as presented in the proposed action, and the Decision Memo included the February 2014 map to illustrate the route.

         There is no dispute that the February 2014 Map depicts the Stanley/Redfish Trail route crossing the Property outside the boundaries of the Easement. The 2017 Decision Memo states, however, that the 1.5 miles crossing private property will be constructed “on a Forest Service trail easement.” Later electronic communications in 2017 and 2018 between the SNRA and Plaintiffs included additional mapping, depicting the Stanley/Redfish Trail exiting the eastern boundary of the Property consistent with the illustration in Exhibit D to the Conservation Deed, and within the boundaries of the Easement.

         On April 9, 2019, Mr. Flannigan responded in writing to Plaintiffs' concerns regarding the boundaries of the proposed Stanley/Redfish Trail. Mr. Flannigan acknowledged that the trail alignment depicted in the February 2014 Map as reproduced in the 2017 Decision Memo did not exactly follow the boundaries of the Easement, and he expressed his apologies that any “general illustration” of the Stanley/Redfish Trail in the Decision Memo “has caused confusion.” Mr. Flannigan stated the trail “will be developed completely within the easement” across the Property, explaining that the map included within the Decision Memo was “not an engineering plan or survey plat.” Mr. Flannigan represented that trail construction drawings, which had been e-mailed to Plaintiff Boren on May 29, 2018, “should further assuage your concern as it assures that the trail will only be located within the easement that crosses the private parcel.” Boren 2d Decl. ¶ 22, Ex. K. (Dkt. 34-2.)

         The FHA is a federal agency within the United States Department of Transportation. As the agency responsible for helping state and local governments in the design, construction, and maintenance of the Nation's highway system and various federally owned lands, the FHA is in charge of the construction of the proposed Stanley/Redfish Trail. Defendant Dean Umathum is the FHA's Contracting Officer for the Trail.

         The construction contract awarded through the FHA contains maps depicting the location of the Stanley/Redfish Trail. The FHA's construction contract includes two depictions of the trail. The first graphic illustration is of the entire length of the Stanley/Redfish Trail as portrayed in the February 2014 Map and reproduced in the 2017 Decision Memo, which deviates from the easement boundaries. However, more detailed GPS maps contained within the construction drawings depict the trail staying within the boundaries of the Easement. Boren 2d Decl. ¶ 24, Ex. L. (Dkt. 34-2.) Despite the more detailed maps, Plaintiffs assert that the number of cattle gates depicted for “Section D” of the construction drawings and plans is two gates short of the six required if the Stanley/Redfish Trail follows the trajectory of the Easement. Id. ¶¶ 24, 25.

         The comparison below illustrates the route of the easement granted and portrayed in Exhibit D to the Conservation Easement Deed, and the illustration of the trail's route depicted by the February ...


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