The opinion of the court was delivered by: Oliver W. Wanger United States District Judge
SCHEDULING CONFERENCE ORDER Opposition to Current Motion to Dismiss Due: 10/9/09 Reply to Current Motion to Dismiss Due: 10/21/09 Hearing on Current Motion 10/26/09) 10:00 Ctrm. 3 to Dismiss: 11/23/09 (was Discovery Cut-Off: 7/30/10 Non-Dispositive Motion Filing Deadline: 8/16/10 Dispositive Motion Filing Deadline: 9/15/10 Oppositions to Dispositive Motions Due: 10/15/10 Replies to Dispositive Motions Due: 11/8/10 Hearing Date for 11/29/10 10:00 Ctrm. 3 Dispositive Motions: Settlement Conference Date: 8/4/10 10:00 Ctrm. 7 Pre-Trial Conference Date: 1/3/11 11:00 Ctrm. 3 Trial Date: 1/15/11 9:00 Ctrm. 3 (CT-10 days)
Date of Scheduling Conference.
I. Summary of Pleadings. Plaintiffs' Position
1. HGR alleges its right of entry and easement rights in the Coulterville Road and Crane Flat Road (collectively, the "Roads") which traverse its property, Hazel Green. That property is located in Mariposa County on the western border of Yosemite National Park (the "Park"). The roads, which have been mechanically constructed, have existed and been used historically since the late 1800s to provide stage coach and motor vehicle access to the Yosemite Valley Floor and today intersect with the realigned Big Oak Flat Road (also known as Highway 120) in two places shortly after leaving Hazel Green. The realigned Big Oak Flat Road is today the primary northern and western access route into the Park. HGR's claims under the Quiet Title Act are state law claims for easement by necessity and easement by use.
2. Mariposa County alleges an ownership right, title, and interest in the roads based on the Quiet Title Act and R.S. 2477. (The Roads, and particularly the segments as they leave Hazel Green and intersect with the realigned Big Oak Flat Road, were constructed pursuant to the authority granted by Congress in R.S. 2477 and before its repeal. See 43 U.S.C. § 932.)
3. Defendants allege that Mariposa County's claims for rights-of-way under R.S. 2477 (Claims 1 and 2) fail to meet the Quiet Title Act's requirement that Plaintiff pled with particularity the interest claimed by the County and the circumstances under which the County alleges it acquired any such claimed interest, and fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Specifically, the County fails to: (1) allege which portions of the roads that the County claims to own and how it claims to have acquired rights-of-way for any such road segments; (2) identify the specific locations of the roads it alleges were constructed as highways pursuant to R.S. 2477 and how those roads were realigned over time as alleged in the complaint; and (3) allege that the lands over which the claimed roads were constructed constituted public lands, not reserved for public uses, as of the dates the roads were completed.
4. Defendants allege that HGR's claims for implied private easements of necessity under the 1888 Halstead patent (Claims 3 and 4) fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The patent does not contain language clearly and expressly granting the claimed easements. Nor does HGR allege that its predecessors lacked access to Hazel Green Ranch in 1888, or that HGR lacks access to the Ranch today, in the absence of the claimed private easements.
5. Defendants allege that HGR's claims for "implied easements by use" (Claims 5 and 6) fail to meet the requirement of the Quiet Title Act that a plaintiff plead with particularity the circumstances under which the claimed easements are alleged to have been acquired, and fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To the extent the claims are based on patent, the patent lacks the clear and explicit language necessary to convey the claimed easements. To the extent the claims are based on prescription, prescriptive rights cannot be obtained against the government. Even if prescription were a viable legal theory to assert against the government, the required element that the claimed use must have been "hostile" cannot be established as to these alleged public toll roads.
6. Defendants further allege that the two claimed roads have not been continuously used since the late 1800s. Defendants allege that the portion of the claimed Crane Flat Road from Hazel Green to the Big Oak Flat Road (aka Highway 120) has been closed to motorized vehicles for over 40 years. Defendants likewise allege that the portion of the claimed Coulterville Road from the point where it intersects with Moss Canyon Truck Route just east of Ned Gulch (see Ex. 22 to Third Amended Complaint), to the Park boundary at Twin Bridges (most of which is now part of the foot trail know as the Merced Grove Trail), has also been closed to motorized vehicles for over 50 years. Defendants allege that HGR has never had any right in the claimed roads. Defendants allege that any rights the County may have once had in the claimed roads has been abandoned, extinguished or otherwise lost, and the County does not have the right to re-establish the claimed roads for vehicle use. Defendants further allege that the portion of the claimed Coulterville Road from the point it intersects with Moss Canyon Truck Trail just east of Ned Gulch (see Ex. 22 to Third Amended Complaint), to the Big Oak Flat Road (aka Highway 120), was not constructed until the 1930s when the lands traversed by the road were in private ownership and that road segment therefore could not have been constructed as a highway pursuant to R.S. 2477.
II. Orders Re Amendments To Pleadings. Plaintiffs' Position
1. Plaintiffs do not anticipate amending its Complaint at this time. However, HGR notes that a paved, two-laned road from Highway 120 (constructed in modern times) towards the general direction of Hazel Green (which appears on contemporary maps of the area and which exists to the west of Hazel Green [see, e.g., Third Amended Complaint, Exhibit 16]) has recently been closed by Defendants. HGR reserves its right to amend the Third Amended Complaint to address this change in facts (which occurred after the filing of its Third Amended Complaint).
2. Defendants assert that HGR should be given no further opportunity to amend its complaint. HGR has amended its complaint three times previously. The last two amended complaints were filed after the Court dismissed all of HGR's claims. See Memorandum and Decision Re Granting Federal Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 80); Memorandum Decision Re: Federal Defendants' Motion to Strike and/or Dismiss the Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 97) ("Order Dismissing Second Amended Complaint"). In its Order Dismissing Second Amended Complaint, the Court observed that "HGR's equivocation regarding the nature and origin of any claimed property interest in the roads raises doubts whether, after two opportunities, Plaintiff can allege a federally enforceable real property interest in the two roads." Order Dismissing Second Amended Complaint at 27. The Court, nevertheless, concluded that HGR would be afforded "one final opportunity" to articulate a claim based on possession of a property interest cognizable under the Quiet Title Act. Id.
3. As discussed above, HGR's claims to implied easements by necessity fail to state a claim because HGR does not allege that Halstead lacked access to Hazel Green Ranch in 1888, or that HGR lacks access to the Ranch today, in the absence of the claimed private easements for routes directly into Yosemite National Park. HGR has again failed to allege the elements of claims cognizable under the Quiet Title Act and HGR should be given no further opportunity to amend its complaint.
4. Moreover, any further amendments to HGR's claims for easements by necessity will be futile. See Leadsinger, Inc. v. BMG Music Publishing, 512 F.3d 522, 532 (9th Cir. 2008). HGR's predecessors had, and HGR currently has, access to Hazel Green. HGR's allegation that a road traveling west from Highway 120 towards Hazel Green has recently been closed by Defendants is both misleading and irrelevant. HGR's allegation apparently concerns one of HGR's accesses to Hazel Green over a paved Forest Service road that may temporarily be closed due to a wash-out. The fact that HGR identifies that road as an excess route to Hazel Green highlights the fact that access is not dependent on the claimed private easements for routes to the east, directly into Yosemite National Park. HGR has access to Hazel Green, including over the Coulterville Road from the town of Coulterville, as well as over Forest Service roads from Highway 120. These routes remain open to the public other than as occasionally closed due to adverse weather or road conditions. Granting HGR leave to amend so that it can incorporate allegations concerning one of the access routes to Hazel Green from the west, that may be temporarily closed, would therefore be futile. HGR has not and cannot allege that it has no access to Hazel Green in the absence of its claimed easements by necessity for routes to the west, directly into Yosemite National Park.
5. In sum, Defendants urge the Court to stand by its order that HGR had "one last opportunity" to amend its complaint and to deny any motion for leave to amend that HGR may file in this action.
A. Admitted Facts Which Are Deemed Proven Without Further Proceedings
1. Plaintiffs submit that the historical facts concerning the Roads, including but not limited to their creation, existence, and use, are uncontested, and Plaintiffs anticipate that they and Defendants will ultimately be able to agree to all or a substantial portion of said facts. Facts which the Defendants apparently contest include the condition of the Hazel Green property, the content of certain discussions between HGR and government representatives, the exclusivity of certain historical rights in the Roads, and ownership of the Coulterville Road (which historically and today includes the Crane Flat segment).
2. While Defendants concur that the parties will likely be able to reach agreement on some of the relevant facts, there are a number of contested facts concerning the location, period of use, and existence of the claimed roads. Defendants allege that the Third Amended Complaint fails to identify the location of the original highways claimed to have been constructed by 1874 with the required specificity to meet the Quiet Title Act's particularity requirement. Defendants further assert that Plaintiffs have not identified the subsequent realignments of the original roads that Plaintiffs assert have occurred over time. Defendants allege that the portion of the claimed Crane Flat Road from Hazel Green to the Big Oak Flat Road (aka Highway 120) was never part of the Coulterville Road and was not constructed until the 1930s when the lands traversed by this road were privately-owned.
3. Defendants assert that, although issues concerning prior discussions between HGR and Defendants are irrelevant, there is disagreement concerning the nature of prior discussions between representatives of HGR and the Department of the Interior and National Park Service officials. Defendants assert that major portions of the claimed roads have been abandoned and closed for decades. Defendants allege that the portions of the roads open within Yosemite National Park are owned by the United States.
1. The remaining facts are contested.
1. Jurisdiction exists under 28 U.S.C. ...