Abdo v. Reyes: A Challenge to Tooele County’s R.S. 2477 Lawsuit

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Background

Revised Statute 2477 (“R.S. 2477”) is a federal law authorizing construction of roads across federal public lands. Its intent was to help settle the West. In 1976, Congress repealed R.S. 2477 but preserved all existing rights-of-ways across federal lands. The State of Utah and its counties brought suits in federal court seeking to establish title to thousands of roads—roads used for farming, ranching, hunting, recreating, mining, and connecting communities.  On July 29, 2014, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (“SUWA”) filed Abdo v. Reyes in state court challenging Tooele County’s R.S. 2477  lawsuit involving almost 700 roads.

The Challenge

SUWA’s complaint asks the state court to declare that the Utah Attorney General did not have authority to bring a federal Tooele County R.S. 2477 suit because it is barred by the state’s seven-year statute of limitations (Utah Code 78B-2-201). Tooele County R.S. 2477 is filed under the federal Quiet Title Act (as an action quieting title to the property in which the United States claims an interest). The State and Tooele County argue that it is the Quiet Title Act’s twelve-year statute of limitations that controls the case. Therefore, they immediately transferred the case to the federal court. SUWA is opposing the transfer asking the federal court to remand the case back to state court.

Moving Forward

The federal district court is requesting that the Utah Supreme Court certify a state law question before moving forward on any of the county roads cases.

Authorization to answer questions of law. The Utah Supreme Court may answer a question of Utah law certified to it by a court of the United States when requested to do so by such certifying court acting in accordance with the provisions of this rule if the state of the law of Utah applicable to a proceeding before the certifying court is uncertain. Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure, Rule 41.

In this case it is the question of whether Utah’s quiet title statute is a statute of limitations or a statute of repose. The Utah Supreme Court’s answer to that question will impact the nature of the litigation moving forward. This page will be updated as this case progresses.

Litigation Timeline

July 2014 SUWA files complaint in the state court in the Third District Court (Tooele County)
August 2014 The State and Tooele County remove the case to federal district court because it involves federal question
September 2014 SUWA files motion to remand the case to the state court
October 2014 The State and Tooele County oppose remand because this case is within jurisdiction of the federal courts as it involves the resolution of a federal question
February 10, 2015 Judge Clark Waddoups remanded case to state court and then issued a temporary restraining order under exception to the Anti-Injunction Act. An appeal is pending before the 10th Circuit.

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