End of the Road for the State’s RS 2477 Litigation?

The end could be near!

That is, for the State of Utah’s 20+ RS 2477 lawsuits that claim rights to 14,000 so-called “roads” covering 35,000 miles statewide. But don’t just take our word for it, that’s what three federal district court judges told the Utah Supreme Court in a nine page order.

Earlier this month, these judges asked the Utah Supreme Court to decide a question of law being pressed by SUWA in the state’s RS 2477 cases (and in a separate state court case brought by SUWA and one of our members).  According to the three judges, “[i]f SUWA’s assertion is correct, then the R.S. 2477 Road Cases pending before this court would be barred.”

Barred. Done. Stick a fork in it.

The particular question at issue revolves around whether, under state law, the state and its counties are prohibited from bringing the RS 2477 cases more than 30 years after their claim to title in these routes accrued. Here, the latest the state could have brought suit was October 1983, seven years after passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). That was the federal law which repealed RS 2477 and started the clock ticking for the state to file its RS 2477 cases. (For those of you who geek on out on arcane law, the precise question is whether this state law is a statute of repose or a statute of limitations.)

Dirty Devil RS 2477 Claim

An actual state “road” claim in the Dirty Devil proposed wilderness. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

This will be a marathon, not a sprint. The Utah Supreme Court first has to decide whether it will consider the matter at all. If the justices agree to take the case, they will set a schedule for briefing and later oral argument. A written decision would follow.

In the meantime, the state will continue to spend millions of taxpayer dollars each year taking the depositions of old and infirm witnesses who claim to have driven various RS 2477 routes 40-70 years ago. And attorneys representing SUWA will be there every step of the way to work alongside federal attorneys and defend the United States’ ownership of these claimed routes (many of which amount to little more than faded tracks wandering into the Utah desert).

We’re hopeful that when the Supreme Court rules it’ll be the end of the road for the state’s RS 2477 claims. Stay tuned.