United States District Court, D. Nevada
C. JONES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
action arises out of a dispute over whether the United States
reserved title to a segment of road or only an easement for
its use when it deeded certain land to Plaintiff's
predecessor-in-interest. Pending before the Court is a motion
to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Saving America's Mustangs (“SAM”) owns and
operates a wild horse sanctuary near Elko, Nevada. (Compl.
¶ 2, ECF No. 1). On or about June 2, 1967, the United
States had issued a land patent (“the Patent”) to
Plaintiff's predecessors-in-interest. (Id.
¶ 4). The Patent included a reservation (“the
Reservation”) for use and maintenance of a five-mile
road (“the Road”) that traverses Plaintiff's
property in a north-south direction. (See Id.
¶¶ 4-5). The Reservation was for use by the United
States and its agents and employees, not for use by the
public. (Id. ¶¶ 7-10). Members of the
public have since 2013 been using roads on SAM's property
and otherwise trespassing. (Id. ¶ 12). SAM
therefore installed access gates on the Road and gave the
Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) keys to the
gates. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14). BLM, however, has
asserted that the public has the right to use the Road and
that SAM's installation of gates on the Road violates the
Reservation. (Id. ¶ 14).
sued BLM in this Court under the Declaratory Judgment Act and
to quiet title to the Road. BLM has moved to dismiss for lack
of subject matter jurisdiction.
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, possessing only
those powers granted by the Constitution and statute. See
United States v. Marks, 530 F.3d 799, 810 (9th Cir.
2008) (citing Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of
Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). The party asserting
federal jurisdiction bears the burden of overcoming the
presumption against it. Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 377. A
party may move to dismiss for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction under the federal rules. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1).
Additionally, a court may raise the question of subject
matter jurisdiction sua sponte at any time during an action.
United States v. Moreno- Morillo, 334 F.3d 819, 830
(9th Cir. 2003). Regardless of who raises the issue,
“when a federal court concludes that it lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the
complaint in its entirety.” Arbaugh v. Y & H
Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006) (citing 16 J. Moore et
al., Moore's Federal Practice § 106.66, pp.
106-88 to 106-89 (3d ed. 2005)).
a waiver, sovereign immunity shields the Federal Government
and its agencies from suit.” FDIC v. Meyer,
510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994). “Sovereign immunity is
jurisdictional in nature.” Id. Waivers of
sovereign immunity are construed narrowly. See Lane v.
Pena, 518 U.S. 187, 192 (1996); Lehman v.
Nakshian, 453 U.S. 156, 160-61 (1981).
case turns upon whether the United States excepted the Road
from the grant of fee simple title altogether or only
reserved an easement limited to its own use (and not for use
by the general public). The Patent conveys certain land,
“EXCEPTING AND RESERVING TO THE UNITED STATES”
three rights. (See Patent 1-2, ECF No. 1-1). That
language indicates that the rights listed thereafter are
variously “except[ions]” to the conveyance itself
or “reserv[ations]” of rights in the land
conveyed. The first right listed is “[a] right-of-way
thereon for ditches and canals . . . .” (Id.
1). The second right listed is “[a]ll the mineral
deposits in the lands . . . .” (Id. 2). The
third right listed is “[t]hat road and all
appurtenances thereto . . . and the right of the United
States, its agents or employees, to maintain, operate,
repair, or improve the same so long as needed or used for or
by the United States.” (Id.). That might be
read as an exception to the conveyance as to the Road itself
or as reservation of an easement over the Road. At least one
other court has approved the Interior Board of Land
Appeals' construction of a patent that used the same
“excepting and reserving” language where a listed
right was, as here, not qualified with “subject
to” or similar language typical to reservations of
easements. See Bolack Minerals Co. v. Norton, 370
F.Supp.2d 161, 174-75 (D.D.C. 2005) (citing 43 U.S.C. §
1768; 43 C.F.R. § 2803.5(b)). The Court is not currently
tasked with interpreting the Patent but with determining the
Court's jurisdiction in light of the United States'
limited waiver of sovereign immunity under the Quiet Title
United States has waived its sovereign immunity as to quiet
title-type actions. See 28 U.S.C. § 2409a(a)
(“The United States may be named as a party defendant
in a civil action under this section to adjudicate a disputed
title to real property in which the United States claims an
interest, other than a security interest or water
BLM argues that because SAM seeks only to limit the scope of
a purported easement as opposed to declaring a disputed
title, the action is not contemplated under § 2409a(a).
But there is in fact a dispute over title to the Road. SAM
alleges that the Patent reserved for the United States only a
“road easement, ” not title to the Road (Compl.
¶ 4). Elsewhere in its own motion, BLM not only
acknowledges but emphasizes that the core of the present
dispute is over title to the Road:
SAM characterizes the “Reservation” as having
“created a road easement for the benefit of the United
States”-however, that characterization is belied by the
plain terms of the reservation language in the 1967 patent. .
. . Rather, the 1967 patent conveyed title to the larger
property described in the patent and then reserved from that
title conveyance the roadway described in the reservation.
Quite plainly, the United States did not reserve an
easement (or right-of-way) for use of the
described roadway but rather reserved title to the
described roadway (and, according to the patent language,
“all appurtenances thereto”) when it issued the
1967 patent . . . .
(Mot. Dismiss 3:8-20, ECF No. 5 (citation omitted)). Because
there is a dispute over title between SAM and BLM, there is
jurisdiction under § 2409a(a). See Leisnoi, Inc. v.