August 23, 2019

Tenth Circuit: United States’ Reservation of Canyonlands National Park Precludes State and County Public Use Claims

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in San Juan County, Utah v. United States on Friday, April 25, 2014.

The United States government reserved Canyonlands National Park in Utah in 1964. Salt Creek Road runs through Canyonlands. It is an unimproved 12.3 mile road that is the primary access route to several points of interest in Canyonlands, including Angel Arch. The United States asserted exclusive control over the road, which the State of Utah and San Juan County, Utah contested was a public right-of-way. The state and county brought suit under the Quiet Title Act, claiming that waiver of sovereign immunity for the United States was appropriate due to the public’s continuous use of the road for ten or more years prior to the federal government’s reservation.

The trial court and the Tenth Circuit noted that continuous use of the road by the public was not enough to establish that the road was a public thoroughfare. Under Utah law, the continuous public use standard has three components – (1) continuous use, (2) as a public thoroughfare, and (3) for ten years or more. Although the state and county established continuous use of the road for at least ten years prior to 1964, they did not provide historical evidence of the road as a public thoroughfare for the ten years preceding 1964. Because the state and county did not meet the time requirement for use of the road, the judgment of the district court rejecting the state and county claims was affirmed.

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