LACANO INVESTMENTS, LLC, NOWELL AVENUE DEVELOPMENT, and AVA L. EADS, on behalf of themselves and the class they seek to represent, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
JOE BALASH, Commissioner, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, in his official capacity, BRENT GOODRUM, Director, Division of Minding Land & Water, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Defendants-Appellees
Argued and Submitted, Anchorage, Alaska June 3, 2014.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Alaska. D.C. No. 1:12-CV-00014-TMB. Timothy M. Burgess, District Judge, Presiding.
The panel affirmed the dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction of an action against Alaska officials who determined that under the Submerged Lands Act of 1953, streambeds claimed by the plaintiffs were owned by the State of Alaska.
The panel held the plaintiffs could not avoid a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) merely because they asserted in their complaint that Alaska did not own the streambeds.
The panel held that state sovereign immunity barred the action because the Ex parte Young doctrine, providing that the Eleventh Amendment does not bar actions when individual citizens seek only injunctive or prospective relief against state officials who would have to implement a state law that is allegedly inconsistent with federal law, did not apply. The panel concluded that under the exception to Ex parte Young set forth in Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho, 521 U.S. 261, 117 S.Ct. 2028, 138 L.Ed.2d 438 (1997), the relief the plaintiffs sought was close to the functional equivalent of quiet title.
Gina Marie Cannan (argued), Steven J. Lechner, Mountain States Legal Foundation, Lakewood, Colorado; Eric Twelker, Juneau, Alaska, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.
Jessica Moats Alloway (argued), Assistant Attorney General, State of Alaska Department of Law, Anchorage, Alaska; Vanessa Maria Lamantia, Assistant Attorney General, State of Alaska Department of Law, Juneau, Alaska, for Defendants-Appellees.
Before: J. Clifford Wallace, Kim McLane Wardlaw,
and Morgan Christen, Circuit Judges.
WALLACE, Circuit Judge:
Plaintiffs-Appellants Lacano Investments, LLC, Nowell Avenue Development, and Ava L. Eads, allege that they hold land patents that were issued by the federal government many years before Alaska entered the Union. The patents give title to certain streambeds in Alaska. In 2010 and 2011, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources determined that the waterways above these streambeds were navigable in 1959, the year Alaska was admitted to the Union, and remain navigable. Under the Submerged Lands Act of 1953, all land beneath such waterways belongs to the State of Alaska. See 43 U.S.C. § 1311(a) (" [i]t is determined and declared to be in the public interest that (1) title to and ownership of the lands beneath navigable waters within the boundaries of the respective States . . . are, subject to the provisions hereof, recognized, confirmed, established, and vested in and assigned to the respective States" ); Act to Provide for the Admission of the State of Alaska into the Union, Pub. L. No. 85-508, 72 Stat. 339, 343 § 6(m) (1958) (" [t]he Submerged Lands Act of 1953 shall be applicable to the State of Alaska and the said State shall have the same rights as do existing States thereunder" ). The Department sent letters to Plaintiffs with the navigability determinations and its conclusion that the streambeds are " state-owned."
According to Plaintiffs, Alaska's determination that the waterways have been navigable since 1959 does not disturb the title to the land that was granted to them by the federal patents. Plaintiffs sued the Alaska officials who made the navigability determinations in federal court. Plaintiffs allege that they retain title to the disputed lands because, under the Submerged Lands Act, streambeds that had already been patented by the federal government were not granted to Alaska upon its statehood. See 43 U.S.C. § 1301(f) ( " [t]he term 'lands beneath navigable waters' [that belongs
to the states] does not include the beds of streams in lands . . . if such streams were not meandered in connection with the public survey of such lands under the laws of the United States and if the title to the beds of such streams was lawfully patented or conveyed by the United States" ). Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the navigability determinations, and thus the conclusions that the streambeds were state-owned, violated 43 U.S.C. § 1301(f), as well as an injunction prohibiting Defendants from claiming title to the lands beneath the waterways.
The state officials moved to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The district court agreed, and dismissed the action with prejudice.
Plaintiffs filed a timely notice of appeal. We review a district court's decision to grant a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction de novo. Colony Cove Props., LLC v. City of Carson, 640 F.3d 948, 955 (9th Cir. 2011). We review the district court's denial of leave to amend for abuse of discretion. Airs Aromatics, LLC v. Opinion Victoria's Secret Stores Brand Mgmt., ...