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Town of Dutch John v. Daggett County

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

February 14, 2019

TOWN OF DUTCH JOHN, Plaintiff,
v.
DAGGETT COUNTY, a political subdivision; RANDY ASAY, JACK LYTLE, and CLYDE SLAUGH, in their official capacities as members of the DAGGETT COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS; and DAGGETT COUNTY REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          Dee Benson District Judge

         Before the court is a motion for partial judgment on the pleadings filed on August 13, 2018 by Defendants Daggett County, Randy Asay, Jack Lytle, and Clyde Slaugh (collectively “County Defendants”) under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). (Dkt. No. 29.) Plaintiff, the Town of Dutch John, filed its memorandum in opposition to County Defendants' motion on September 10, 2018. (Dkt. No. 32.) County Defendants filed a reply in response to Plaintiff's opposition on September 24, 2018. (Dkt. No. 35.) On January 10, 2019, the court heard oral argument on County Defendants' motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, as well as Defendant Daggett County Redevelopment Agency's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Dkt. Nos. 25, 29, and 42.) At the conclusion of the hearing, the court opted to take the matter under advisement with a written order to follow.

         The court now enters the following order granting Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, the Town of Dutch John (the “Town”), is located in Daggett County, Utah near Flaming Gorge Reservoir, and was incorporated as a town in 2015. (Dkt. No. 2 at 2.) Prior to its incorporation, it was referred to as the “Dutch John community, ” and was founded by the Secretary of the Interior in 1958 on Bureau of Reclamation land as authorized by the April 11, 1956 Colorado River Storage Project Act. (Id. at 4.) Dutch John's central statutory purpose was to “house personnel, administrative offices, and equipment for project construction and operation of the Flaming Gorge Dam and Reservoir.” (Dkt. No. 34-1 at 3.) Permanent structures like houses, administrative offices, equipment storage and maintenance buildings, and other public facilities were constructed, owned, and maintained by the Secretary of the Interior. (Id.)

         In 1968, Public Law 90-540 then “assigned responsibility for administration, protection, and development of the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area to the Secretary of Agriculture” while providing that Colorado River Storage Project lands and waters “would continue to be administered by the Secretary of Interior.” (Id.) The statute included Bureau of Reclamation land surrounding the Flaming Gorge Reservoir (including the Dutch John community) within its description of the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area boundaries. (Id.) Prior to 1998, most structures within the Dutch John community were administered by the Secretary of Agriculture, including the community's schools and public buildings. (Id.)

         The federal government thus owned and operated a large portion of Dutch John community lands until 1998, when Congress passed the Dutch John Federal Property Disposition and Assistance Act (“the Privatization Act”). (Dkt. No. 2 at 4.) This act privatized many of the community's lands, and was passed “[t]o dispose of certain Federal properties located in Dutch John, Utah, to assist the local government in the interim delivery of basic services to the Dutch John community, and for other purposes.” (Dkt. No. 34-1 at 3.) After the Act was enacted into law, the federal government began disposing of the property as the Act directed, including transferring certain properties to Daggett County (the “County”) without consideration and offering other properties for sale as designated by the Act. (Dkt. No. 24 at 13.)

         In enacting the Privatization Act, Congress found, inter alia, that:

• The Federal Government was unnecessarily burdened with the cost of operating the Dutch John community, including providing basic services and maintaining facilities;
• Daggett County was also “interested in reducing the financial burden the County experience[d] in providing local government support services to [the Dutch John] community that produce[d] little direct tax revenue because of Federal ownership”;
• Withdrawing the Federal Government's role in providing basic direct community services to Dutch John would require local government to provide the services at a substantial cost;
• Dutch John residents were interested in purchasing the homes they were renting from the Secretary of the Interior;
• Dutch John residents were interested in self-government;
• Available private lands were insufficient to meet Flaming Gorge area visitors' growing demands for commercial recreational services and private development; and
• Privatization and disposal of certain lands in Dutch John would be in the public interest.

See Pub. L. No. 105-326, §2(a), 112 Stat. 3040 (1998).

         The Privatization Act then lists its eight statutory purposes as follows:

(1) to privatize certain lands in and surrounding Dutch John Utah;
(2) transfer jurisdiction of certain Federal property between the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior;
(3) to improve the Flaming Gorge National Recreational Area;
(4) to dispose of certain residential units, public buildings, and facilities;
(5) to provide interim financial assistance to local government to defray the cost of providing basic governmental services;
(6) to achieve efficiencies in operation of the Flaming Gorge Dam and Reservoir and the Flaming Gorge ...

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