Ute Indian Tribe Wins Again in 40-Year Land Dispute

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By Patrick Gregory

Aug. 9 — A 40-year tribal boundary dispute is nearing a conclusion after an Aug. 9 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ( Ute Indian Tribe of Uintah & Ouray Reservation v. Myton, 2016 BL 256576, 10th Cir., No. 15-4080, 8/9/16 ).

A district court “twice failed to enforce this court's mandate” concerning Ute Indian Tribe land “restored to tribal status in 1945,” the decision by Judge Neil M. Gorsuch held.

The district court's failure constituted “ ‘extreme circumstances' ” that necessitated reassigning the case to a different district judge on remand.

The tribe alleged that the town of Myton, Utah, impermissibly “sought to prosecute tribal members” on tribal land outside of the town's jurisdiction, as part of a “campaign to undermine” the Tenth Circuit's resolution of boundary questions in Ute Indian Tribe of Uintah & Ouray Reservation v. Utah, 114 F.3d 1513 (10th Cir. 1997).

But the district court ignored Ute's mandate and improperly dismissed the case.

Courts exist to allow both sides of a dispute “to move on with their lives,” but “here we are forty years in, issuing our seventh opinion in the Ute line and still addressing the same arguments we have addressed so many times before,” the court said.

The ruling reversed the district court's order granting the town's motion to dismiss.

Judges Gregory A. Phillips and Nancy L. Moritz joined the decision.

Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP argued for the tribe.

Smith Hartvigsen argued for Myton.

The Department of Justice argued for the federal government as amicus curiae supporting the tribe.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick L. Gregory in Washington at pgregory@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bna.com

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