Press Release: Federal Appeals Court Clears Path for State Court to Hear Taxpayer Lawsuit that Could Derail Utah RS 2477 Litigation

For Immediate Release

Contact:  Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance: 801.428.3981

(May 3, 2016) Salt Lake City, UT:  Today, a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order that clears the path for Tooele County resident Michael Abdo and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance to move forward with a state court lawsuit that could derail the State of Utah’s RS 2477 litigation in Tooele County and beyond.

“The State of Utah’s unprecedented and sweeping RS 2477 litigation is part of its ongoing campaign to wrest federal public lands away from Americans.  This has nothing to do with maintaining access to rural communities or getting children to school and has everything to do with who controls Utah’s red rock wilderness and public lands.   We are pleased that the Tenth Circuit has cleared the path for our state court lawsuit to proceed,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

“This has got to stop.  The State is wasting taxpayer dollars to push so-called ‘highways’ into wild places,” said Michael Abdo.  Mr. Abdo is Boy Scout troop leader and commercial pilot.

The Tenth Circuit concluded that United States District Judge Clark Waddoups erred when he blocked a state taxpayer lawsuit, in state court, from proceeding by relying on a narrow and seldom used provision of federal law known as the “Anti-Injunction Act.”  Judge Waddoups wrongly held that the state taxpayer lawsuit could not proceed while the State’s RS 2477 cases proceeded in federal court.  The Tenth Circuit reversed Judge Waddoups’ decision and remanded the matter to him for further proceedings consistent with the Order.

The state court lawsuit, which alleges only state law claims, contends that the Utah Attorney General and the Tooele County Commissioners acted illegally when they brought a federal lawsuit claiming more than 2,400 miles of alleged RS 2477 “roads” in Tooele County.  The state court lawsuit asks state court Judge Robert Adkins to declare that the Attorney General and the Commissioners acted in violation of Utah law when they brought the case in the first place.

“It is a hallmark of our dual system of state and federal courts that cases can proceed on parallel tracks. The Tenth Circuit’s ruling confirms that this is so.  We look forward to proving in the state taxpayer lawsuit that the Attorney General’s pursuit of the Tooele County RS 2477 case and his use of taxpayer funds to do so is illegal and beyond his authority,” said Jess Krannich, a partner with the Salt Lake City law firm of Manning Curtis Bradshaw & Bednar PLLC.  Mr. Krannich argued the matter on behalf of Mr. Abdo and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance before the Tenth Circuit.

Background

In the past decade the State legislature has spent millions of taxpayer dollars in an ill-advised effort to claim that alleged “roads,” including faded two-tracks and stream bottoms, are actually State highways that can be improved and paved to a minimum width of 66 feet.  Some are virtually impossible to locate.  Often the routes lead to no landmark or destination, and are not part of any reasonably described transportation network.   The legislature funds its RS 2477 litigation campaign from millions allocated to the Public Lands Policy Coordination Office, the Constitutional Defense Council, and the Attorney General’s Office.

The State’s RS 2477 lawsuit in Tooele County is one of more than twenty-five (25) lawsuits filed by the State of Utah and its counties claiming more than 14,000 rights of way totaling nearly 35,000 miles of dirt trails and routes on public lands.  Taken together, this massive litigation threatens several national parks and monuments as well as beloved Utah wilderness landscapes.

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CedarMtns_RayBloxham

The Cedar Mountains Wilderness in Tooele County. The State of Utah and Tooele County claim several RS 2477 “highways” in this remote wilderness area. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

 

Cedar Mountain Wilderness RS 2477 Claim (Ray Bloxham)

A claimed RS 2477 ‘highway’ in the Cedar Mountains Wilderness. The State insists that unused and nearly invisible routes like this one are essential for taking kids to school and trips to the grocery store. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA