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Tribe v. Anasazi Water Company LLC

United States District Court, D. Arizona

April 18, 2017

Havasupai Tribe, Plaintiff,
Anasazi Water Company LLC, et al., Defendants.


          Honorable G. Murray Snow United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court are Defendants Anasazi, Hydro-Resources, Inc., Halvorson-Siebald Inc., Squire Motor Inns, Inc., City of Williams, Energy Fuel Resources (USA), Inc., EFR Arizona Strip, LLC and Anasazi Water Company's (“Moving Defendants”) motions to dismiss, (Docs. 15, 18, 36, and 47).[1] For the following reasons, the Court grants the Moving Defendants' motions and dismisses the complaint with leave to amend within 90 days.


         The Havasupai Tribe (“Havasupai”) is a federally recognized Indian Tribe located along the banks of Havasu Creek, a tributary to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. (Doc. 1 at 2.) The Havasupai have lived in this location for “time immemorial, ” and Havasu Creek provides the water necessary for the Tribe's survival. (Doc. 1 at 2.) The Havasupai rely on Havasu Creek to provide their drinking water, irrigation for their crops, water for their livestock, and water for their many cultural and religious traditions. (Doc. 1 at 2.) Havasu Creek is primarily fed by the Redwall-Muav aquifer (“R-aquifer”). (Doc. 1 at 11.) The R-aquifer is a deep aquifer that runs throughout the Coconino Plateau. (Id.) It discharges 95.4% of its water in Havasu Canyon to form Havasu Creek. (Id.) The remainder of the R-aquifer goes on to feed springs within the Grand Canyon National Park. (Id.) In the last thirty years, the number of wells drilled into the R-aquifer to access its water has increased, allegedly impacting the Havasupai's rightful access to its water by lowering the amount of water that eventually flows into Havasu Creek. (Doc. 1 at 17.)

         The Defendants consist of individuals and corporations that draw from the R-aquifer. (Doc. 1 at 4-7.) The Havasupai allege that the Defendants' use constitutes unlawful interference with the Havasupai's rights to the water in Havasu Creek, and thus bring this action for trespass and declaratory relief. (Doc. 1 at 18.) The Havasupai also request injunctive relief “prohibiting any withdrawal of groundwater in order to prevent any reduction of the flow of the Havasupai Waters.” (Doc. 1 at 19.) In response, the Moving Defendants filed various motions to dismiss based on the absence of indispensable parties as well as the Havasupai's asserted failure to state a claim.[2] (Docs. 15, 18, 36, 47.) / / / / / /


         I. Legal Standard

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(7), a party may move to dismiss an action for failure to join a necessary and indispensable party under Rule 19. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(7). The application of Rule 19 can be separated into three steps: first, identify whether a party is required; second, identify whether the party can be joined in the action; and third, if the absent party cannot be joined, determine whether the action may proceed in its absence. See United States v. Bowen, 172 F.3d 682, 688 (9th Cir. 1999) (outlining the “three-step process for determining whether the court should dismiss an action for failure to join a purportedly indispensable party.”).

         II. Analysis

         A. The United States is a Required Party Pursuant to Rule 19(a).

         A party is required under Rule 19(a) if “the non-party has a ‘legally protected interest' in this action that would be ‘impaired or impeded' by adjudicating the case without it” or if the court cannot provide “complete relief to the parties present without joining the non-party.” Paiute-Shoshone Indians of Bishop Cmty. of Bishop Colony, Cal. v. City of Los Angeles, 637 F.3d 993, 997 (9th Cir. 2011) (internal citations omitted).

         Notably, any right of the United States to groundwater discharged in the Grand Canyon from the R-Aquifer, or any other federal use of the R-Aquifer outside of the Havasupai Reservation, is not threatened by this action. At oral argument, the Plaintiff conceded that this lawsuit was limited to determining the respective rights among the current defendants and the Havasupai to access the water in the R-aquifer. For this same reason, the Tribe contends, there is no need for the Havasupai to join every landowner to this suit that has the potential to draw water from the R-Aquifer. Therefore, the Tribe argues, because it has not named the United States as a party, this action does not implicate the rights of the United States beyond its obligations to the Havasupai Tribe as its trustee.

         Even so, the United States is a necessary party under Rule 19(a). The United States holds the Havasupai's reservation lands and the rights appurtenant thereto, in trust on behalf of the Tribe. Therefore it has a legal interest in this litigation based on its obligation as the legal owner of the rights asserted by the Tribe. See generally Puyallup Indian Tribe v. Port of Tacoma, 717 F.2d 1251, 1254 (9th Cir. 1983) (“The United States, as the trustee holding legal title to all real property owned by the Tribe, obviously has an interest in this litigation and it will not be bound by any decree ensuing from this litigation unless it is formally joined as a party.”); Carlson v. Tulalip Tribes of Washington, 510 F.2d 1337, 1339 (9th Cir. 1975) (“Further, the United States is a necessary party to any action in which the relief sought might interfere with its obligation to protect Indian lands against alienation.”). The Plaintiffs did not present, and the Court is unaware, of any precedent that indicates the United States is not a necessary party when a Native American tribe seeks to protect its interests that are appurtenant to the property that the United States holds in trust for the tribe. All acknowledge the use of the R-Aquifer is such a right.[3]

         Further, the absence of the United States as a party prevents the Court, as a practical matter, from being able to provide complete relief to the parties to this lawsuit. No party asserts that the United States as trustee would be bound by the outcome of this suit if it is not named as a party. Carlson, 510 F.2d at 1339. (holding that “[n]o decision made in an action in which the United States is not a party can bind the United States.”) Thus, in the absence of the United States as a party to this action, the Defendants could spend great money, time and effort, and resolve this lawsuit with the Havasupai only to face the same or a substantially similar lawsuit ...

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