DENVER (CN) – The 10th Circuit held that the state of Utah rightfully owns the title to the lakebed of Utah Lake, rejecting the ownership claims of a family whose land never touched the lake.
The Clinger Family Partnership owns 63 acres on the east side of the 150-square-mile lake in the Powell Slough, tracing back to an 1881 patent. An 1856 survey yielded a meander line, or high-water elevation, producing the two Clinger lots. Before that purchase, an 1874 survey drew a lower line, creating three lots, which the federal government put up for sale in 1875, blocking the Clingers’ lake frontage.
Utah appealed a 2002 district court decision allowing the Clingers to claim land reaching down to 4,481 feet in elevation, stating that land officials had never approved the stipulation.
Judge Henry clarified that the action was not intended to include the Powell Slough and concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in vacating the “sweeping” judgment that quieted title to the Clingers. The appellate court determined that the 4,481 stipulation was misread, as it failed to consider unpatented federal lands isolating the Clingers’ parcels from the lake that were eligible in Utah’s sovereign lakebed claim.
By asserting federal ownership of the lands, Utah did not abandon interest in the Clingers’ claims to the same lands, Henry ruled, so the district court did not err in ruling against the Clingers’ lack of title.
The 10th Circuit also declared that the district court did not err in interpreting the Color of Title Act, as the Clingers complained that they could not obtain a patent to lakebed lands while litigation was pending, because the case did not concern boundary disputes between the Clingers and the federal government.
The three-judge panel dismissed the Clingers’ claims with prejudice, affirming judgment that the United States owned the lakefront strip when the Clingers obtained a patent for the upland lots in 1881.