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United States v. Fallbrook Public Utility District

United States District Court, S.D. California

April 6, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
FALLBROOK PUBLIC UTILITY DISTRICT, et al., Defendants. RAMONA BAND OF CAHUILLA; CAHUILLA BAND OF INDIANS, Plaintiff-Intervenors,

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT GREGORY BURNETT'S MOTION FOR RELIEF FROM STAY [DKT. NO. 5568.]

          HON. GONZALO P. CURIEL United States District Judge

         On January 31, 2017, Defendant Gregory Burnett (“Burnett”) filed a motion for relief from stay for the limited purpose of allowing him to file a motion to dismiss the Ramona Band of Cahuilla Indians and Cahuilla Band of Indians' second amended complaints in intervention. (Dkt. No. 5568.) Plaintiffs-Intervenors Cahuilla Band of Indians (“Cahuilla Band”) and Ramona Band of Cahuilla (“Ramona Band”) (collectively “Tribes”) filed oppositions. (Dkt. Nos. 5575, 5576.) Burnett filed a reply. (Dkt. No. 5577.) The motions are submitted on the papers without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1(d)(1). Based on the reasoning below, the Court DENIES Defendant's motion for relief from stay.

         Factual Background

         On January 25, 1951, the United States of America filed a complaint to “to quiet title to its rights to the use of waters of the Santa Margarita River systems in San Diego and Riverside counties, California.” United States v. Fallbrook Pub. Util. Dist., 347 F.2d 48, 51 (9th Cir. 1965). The Court entered a series of forty-four Interlocutory Judgments. Id. at 61. Each interlocutory judgment made findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding the hydrology and water rights associated with particular sub-areas within the adjudication. The Court issued a Final Judgment and Decree on May 8, 1963. (Dkt. No. 4489.) On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded with instructions. Fallbrook Pub. Util. Dist., 347 F.2d at 61.

         On November 8, 1962, the Court entered Interlocutory Judgment No. 41 which addressed the water rights as to the Tribes' reservations within the Santa Margarita River Watershed. (Dkt. No. 4430.) At the time, the Court did not quantify the Tribes' water rights, but reserved jurisdiction “to make such findings of fact, conclusions of law and judgment provisions in the future should the need occur.” (Id. at 24.)

         On October 6, 2006, the Cahuilla Band of Indians filed a motion to intervene as Plaintiffs which was granted on January 22, 2007. (Dkt. Nos. 4904, 4919.) On October 18, 2006, the Ramona Band of Cahuilla Indians filed a motion to intervene as Plaintiffs which was also granted on January 22, 2007. (Dkt. No. 4907, 4919.) The Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians (“Pechanga Band”) has been a plaintiff-intervenor and a party to this proceeding on its own behalf since 1975. (Dkt. No. 4790.) Pechanga has not sought to quantify its water rights but filed a compliant to protect its water rights. (Dkt. No. 4792.)

         On January 23, 2007, Cahuilla Band and Ramona Band filed their complaints in intervention seeking to quantify the Tribes' water rights. (Dkt. Nos. 4920 at 5; 4921 at 1.) The Tribes filed first amended complaints in intervention in July 2007. (Dkt. Nos. 4936, 4937.) Then, the Tribes were granted leave to file a second amended complaints in interventions which were filed on September 18, 2009. (Dkt. Nos. 5181, 5182.)

         Ramona Band's second amended complaint in intervention seeks, inter alia, to quantify its “right to groundwater underlying the Ramona reservation in an amount sufficient to meet the present and future needs of the Ramona Band of Cahuilla on the Ramona Reservation.” (Dkt. No. 5181, SAC in Intervention at 5.) It also seeks to enjoin Defendants from “withdrawing surface and groundwater in the Anza-Cahuilla Sub-Basin underlying the Ramona Reservation that are in conflict with the senior federal reserved water rights of the Ramona Band of Cahuilla and its members as, declared and decreed by this Court in Interlocutory Judgment No. 41.” (Id.) Cahuilla Band also seeks to quantify the “federal reserved rights to the surface waters and groundwater underlying the Cahuilla Reservation within the Sub-Basin in an amount sufficient to meet the present and future needs of the Cahuilla Tribe on the Cahuilla Reservation, as declared and decreed by this Court in Interlocutory Judgment 41.” (Dkt. No. 5182 at 9.) It similarly seeks to enjoin Defendants “from withdrawing surface waters and groundwater in the Sub-Basin underlying the Cahuilla Reservation that is in conflict with the senior, federal reserved water rights of the Cahuilla Tribe and its members, as declared and decreed by this Court in Interlocutory Judgment 41.” (Id.)

         Prior to the filing of the second amended complaints in intervention, on June 6, 2008, Plaintiff United States, Plaintiff-Intervenor Ramona Band, Plaintiff-Intervenor Cahuilla Band, Plaintiff-Intervenor/Defendant Pechanga Band, and Defendant Rancho California Water District filed a joint motion for a temporary stay of the proceedings in order to negotiate and engage in settlement discussion concerning each of the Tribes' unquantified water rights without the “need and cost of protracted litigation.” (Dkt. No. 5007 at 2-3.) On June 13, 2008, Burnett, specially appearing since he had not yet been served with the complaints in intervention, filed an opposition to the stay. (Dkt. No. 5018.) Part of his argument was that he and thousands of landowners would be severely prejudiced by the continued clouding of their land titles due to the litigation. (Id. at 4.) The moving parties filed a reply on June 23, 2008 contending that they have demonstrated sufficient hardship to justify a stay. (Dkt. No. 5036.) A hearing was held on June 30, 2008 (Dkt. No. 5047), and the Court granted the joint motion for a temporary stay of proceedings pending settlement negotiations and in ninety days, the moving parties were directed to appear before the Court and provide a status update on the settlement negotiations including the need for additional time. (Dkt. No. 5046.) The parties, including Burnett, submitted status reports, (Dkt. Nos. 5058, 5080, 5245), and at the hearing on September 29, 2008, the Court granted a further 180 day stay. (Dtk. No. 5062.) Since that time, the parties continued to submit status reports, including Burnett, and the Court held subsequent hearings on the status of the settlement negotiations. (See e.g., Dkt. No. 5062, 5075, 5095.)

         Magistrate Judge Ruben B. Brooks started holding settlement conferences beginning in March 2009. (Dkt. No. 5096.) On May 18, 2010, at the request of Burnett and with the Tribes' support, Magistrate Judge Brooks was directed to oversee the settlement process. (Dkt. No. 5250.) The Court granted subsequent joint motions to stay until the most recent one filed on January 17, 2017, that expires on July 17, 2017. (Dkt. Nos. 5562, 5564.)

         In his motion, Burnett asserts he owns over “500 acres of real property located in the Anza Valley and overlying the Anza Ground Water Basin.” (Dkt. No. 5568-2, Burnett Decl. ¶ 1.) He is the owner and founder of a residential development known as Thomas Mountain Ranch overlying the Anza Ground Water Basin. (Id. ¶ 5 .) H e w a s named as a defendant in the complaints in intervention filed by the Ramona Band and the Cahuilla Band. (Id. ¶ 1.) He states that he has participated in and monitored the actions in this case since around 2007. (Id. ¶ 2.) He personally attended courts hearing, settlement conferences and filed documents with the Court. (Id.) Due to being named a defendant in this case, and the length of time it has been pending and the uncertainty that has arisen because of the Tribes' claims to superior water rights, he has been unable to implement a small water system to support his development and he has been impeded in his ability to obtain financing to support the development. (Id. ¶ 5.) He also has spent countless hours trying to have his voice heard and ensure that his water rights are preserved which has resulted in loss of income, emotional distress and loss of goodwill to Thomas Mountain Ranch due to lack of developmental progress. (Id.)

         He seeks a temporary lifting of the stay in order to allow him to file a motion to dismiss because he claims he has superior water rights to those of the Tribes that originate “ via the July 27, 1866 Railroad and Telegraph Line Lands Act”, and therefore he is not a proper party to the case.

         Discussion

         “The District Court has broad discretion to stay proceedings as an incident to its power to control its own docket.” Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 706 (1997) (citing Landis v. N. Am.Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936)). In determining whether to grant a motion to stay, “the competing interests which will be affected by the granting or refusal to grant a stay must be weighed.” Lockyer v. Mirant Corp., 398 F.3d 1098, 1110 (9th Cir. 2005). These interests include: (1) the possible damage which may result from the granting of a stay, (2) the hardship or inequity which a party may suffer in being required to go forward, and (3) the orderly course of justice measured in ...


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