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Mills v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

January 29, 2014

CAREY CLAYTON MILLS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; SALLY JEWELL, Secretary of the Department of the Interior; JULIA DOUGAN, Acting State Director, Alaska State Office; MARK FULLMER, Supervisor Land Transfer Specialist, Division of Land Alaska State Office; ROBERT W. SCHNEIDER, District Manager, Fairbanks District Office; LENORE HEPLER, Field Manager, Eastern Interior Field Office; SCOTT WOOD; DOYON LIMITED; HUNGWITCHIN CORPORATION, Defendants-Appellees

Argued and Submitted August 15, 2013, Anchorage, Alaska

Page 401

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Alaska. D.C. No. 4:10-cv-00033-RRB. Ralph R. Beistline, Chief District Judge, Presiding.

Carey Mills, San Antonio, Texas (argued), Pro se Plaintiff-Appellant.

Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General, Dean K. Dunsmore, Mark R. Haag, and Robert P. Stockman (argued), Attorneys, Environmental & Natural Resources Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington D.C., for Federal Defendants-Appellees.

James D. Linxwiler (argued) and Josh Van Gorkom, Guess & Rudd P.C, Anchorage, Alaska, for Defendant-Appellee Doyon, Limited.

Before: Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge, and Marsha S. Berzon and Sandra S. Ikuta, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 402

IKUTA, Circuit Judge.

This appeal raises the question whether an individual seeking access to his state mining claims over real property owned by the federal government and third parties can bring an action asserting a right-of-way over such real property. We conclude that Mills's claims against the federal government are barred by sovereign immunity, but that the district court erred in concluding that his claims against Doyon Limited and Hungwitchin Corporation were barred by principles of prudential standing. We therefore affirm in part and reverse in part the district court's dismissal of this action.

I

Carey Mills has an ownership interest in two state mining claims on state-owned land. According to Mills, " the only economically feasible and environmental[ly]

Page 403

friendly transportation route" to access these claims is over the Fortymile Station-Eagle Trail (the Fortymile Trail or the Trail), a trail that runs from a point approximately eight miles south of Eagle, Alaska (a city near the United States-Canada border in eastern Alaska), across various federal and nonfederal lands.

Alaska has enacted legislation asserting it has a right-of-way to the Fortymile Trail under a federal statute commonly referred to as R.S. 2477, which had been codified at 43 U.S.C. § 932 but was repealed in 1976. See 43 U.S.C. § 932 (repealed 1976). R.S. 2477 stated that " [t]he right of way for the construction of highways over public lands, not reserved for public uses, is granted." Id. R.S. 2477 has been construed as presenting a free right-of-way " 'which takes effect as soon as it is accepted by the State.'" Lyon v. Gila River Indian Cmty., 626 F.3d 1059, 1077 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Wilderness Soc'y v. Morton, 479 F.2d 842, 882, 156 U.S. App. D.C. 121 (D.C. Cir. 1973)).[1] The state statute provides that Alaska " claims, occupies, and possesses each right-of-way granted under" R.S. 2477, and lists the Fortymile Trail among the rights-of-way that " have been accepted by public users and have been identified to provide effective notice to the public of these rights-of-way." Alaska Stat. § 19.30.400(a), (c)--(d).

The defendants in this action have varying property interests in the land crossed by the Trail. First, the Trail crosses federal land that is subject to 15 unpatented federal mining claims owned by Scott Wood.[2] The United States and Wood have different property interests in these parcels: the United States owns the legal title to the land, Best v. Humboldt Placer Mining Co., 371 U.S. 334, 336, 83 S.Ct. 379, 9 L.Ed.2d 350 (1963), while Wood has exclusive possessory rights to use of the surface within the area of the claim. United States v. Locke, 471 U.S. 84, 86, 105 S.Ct. 1785, 85 L.Ed.2d 64 (1985). Second, the Trail crosses land that is subject to the interests of Doyon Limited and Hungwitchin Corporation, two Alaska Native Corporations that hold patents issued by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 2008.[3] For ...


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