United States District Court, D. Arizona
HONORABLE JOHN J. TUCHI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
issue is Defendant United States' Motion to Dismiss (Doc.
198, MTD), to which Plaintiff Roosevelt Irrigation District
(“RID”) filed a Response (Doc. 232, Resp.) and
the United States filed a Reply (Doc. 243, Reply). In this
Order, the Court will also address Intervenor Defendants Salt
River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District
(“the District”) and Salt River Valley Water
Users' Association's (“the Association”)
(collectively “SRP”) Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. 196), to which Plaintiff Roosevelt Irrigation District
(“RID”) filed a Response (Doc. 234) and SRP filed
a Reply (Doc. 239). Finally, this Order will address
Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc.
211), to which SRP and the United States filed Responses
(Docs. 229, Doc. 231) and Plaintiff filed Replies (Docs. 241,
Court finds these matters appropriate for resolution without
oral argument. See LRCiv 7.2(f). For the reasons that follow,
the Court will grant the United States' Motion to Dismiss
RID's quiet title action.
Court has detailed the history of this dispute in several
prior Orders, including its September 30, 2017 Order (Doc.
293, Sept. 30, 2017 Order) in the parallel action where
Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment of its rights to the
disputed property. Roosevelt Irrigation Dist. v. United
States, 15-CV-00448-PHX-JJT. In the -448 matter, both
parties previously moved for summary judgment and the Court
granted in part and denied in part each Motion, leaving
several elements of the dispute to be determined upon
resolution of the instant -439 matter.
case, Plaintiff filed its Complaint on March 11, 2015, after
its related state court action was dismissed. (Doc. 1,
Compl.) The state court suggested a federal quiet title
action to determine the respective rights of Plaintiff and
the United States in 26 well sites, pumping equipment, and
pump laterals that are at the heart of each filing in this
multifaceted dispute. SRP intervened as a Defendant later in
2015 and has been party to every relevant step of this
litigation. (Doc. 29.)
core, Plaintiff's argument is that, pursuant to a 1921
contract with SRP, it has the right to continue using the 26
well sites to pump groundwater from lands owned by SRP and
used in conjunction with the United States as the Salt River
Project. Under the 1921 contract, RID's predecessors and
SRP agreed that RID would “operate said pumps, wells, .
. . and other works constructed and installed by it, for the
term of ninety-nine (99) years.” (Sept. 30, 2017 Order
at 7.) The contract and its subsequent amendment were
approved by the Secretary of the Interior, as required by
federal Reclamation law. (Id.) Now, at the urging of
the Superior Court and in response to the United States'
alleged interest, RID seeks quiet title to the pumping
plants. (Compl.) The United States moves to
dismiss based on the expiration of the statute of limitations
for a quiet title action against the federal government.
motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
under Rule 12(b)(1) may attack either the allegations of the
complaint as insufficient to confer upon the court subject
matter jurisdiction, or the existence of subject matter
jurisdiction in fact.” Renteria v. United
States, 452 F.Supp.2d 910, 919 (D. Ariz. 2006) (citing
Thornhill Publ'g Co. v. Gen. Tel. & Elecs.
Corp., 594 F.2d 730, 733 (9th Cir. 1979)). “Where the
jurisdictional issue is separable from the merits of the
case, the [court] may consider the evidence presented with
respect to the jurisdictional issue and rule on that issue,
resolving factual disputes if necessary.”
Thornhill, 594 F.2d at 733; see also Autery v.
United States, 424 F.3d 944, 956 (9th Cir. 2005)
(“With a 12(b)(1) motion, a court may weigh the
evidence to determine whether it has jurisdiction.”).
The burden of proof is on the party asserting jurisdiction to
show that the court has subject matter jurisdiction. See
Indus. Tectonics, Inc. v. Aero Alloy, 912 F.2d 1090,
1092 (9th Cir. 1990).
it involves a court's power to hear a case, ”
subject matter jurisdiction “can never be forfeited or
waived.” United States v. Cotton, 535 U.S.
625, 630 (2002). Courts “have an independent obligation
to determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even
in the absence of a challenge from any party.”
Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 513-14
Quiet Title Act (“the Act”) provides that
“[t]he United States may be named as a party defendant
in a civil action . . . to adjudicate a disputed title to
real property in which the United States claims an interest,
other than a security interest or water rights.” 28
U.S.C. § 2409a(a). Pursuant to the Act, “the
United States, subject to certain exceptions, has waived its
sovereign immunity and has permitted plaintiffs to name it as
a party defendant.” Block v. North Dakota, 461
U.S. 273, 275-76 (1983). Waivers of sovereign immunity are to
be construed narrowly. United States v. Nordic Village
Inc., 503 U.S. 30, 34 (1992) (noting that while the
Court has occasionally identified waivers to sovereign
immunity, those instances “do not, however, eradicate
the traditional principle that the Government's consent
to be sued must be construed strictly in favor of the
sovereign”) (internal citations omitted).
statute of limitations for a claim under the Act is twelve
years from accrual. 28 U.S.C. § 2409a(g). A claim
accrues “on the date the plaintiff or his predecessor
in interest knew or should have known of the claim of the
United States.” Id. The statute of limitations
is retroactive; that is, even if twelve years passed from the
accrual date before Congress passed the Act on
October 25, 1972, the action is time barred. Donnelly v.
United States, 850 F.2d 1313, 1318 (9th Cir. 1988).
Because it could potentially expand the United States'
limited waiver of sovereign immunity, courts strictly
construe the statute of limitations. See Block, 461
U.S. at 287 (“the limitations provision constitutes a
condition on the waiver of sovereign immunity . . . we must
be careful not to interpret it in a manner that would extend
the waiver beyond that which Congress intended”)
(internal citation omitted).
the statute of limitations creates a jurisdictional bar
because “[i]f the statute of limitations has run on a
waiver of sovereign immunity, federal courts lack
jurisdiction.” Skranak v. Castenada, 425 F.3d
1213, 1216 (9th Cir. 2005). Thus, “[a]lthough
ordinarily the defendant bears the burden of proving an
affirmative statute of limitations defense, here the statute
of limitations is jurisdictional, and [w]hen subject matter
jurisdiction is challenged under Federal Rule of Procedure
12(b)(1), the plaintiff has the burden of proving
jurisdiction in ...