Utah Supreme Court
August 1, 2017
2017 UT 42 (Click for text of opinion)
The Utah Supreme Court upheld the district court’s rulings concluding that Stichting Mayflower Mountain Fonds and Stichting Mayflower Recreation Fonds (collectively, “Stichting”) did not have the right to use a mining road on Flagstaff Mountain near Park City.
Stichting holds title to mining claims dating back to 1871 on Flagstaff Mountain. It claims the right to use a road historically used to access the mines (1) as a public highway under the Mining Act of 1866 (commonly known as R.S. 2477) and the Utah Highway Act of 1880, (2) based on a prescriptive easement right, and (3) under a claim of an appurtenant easement. The district court ultimately dismissed both the public highway and prescriptive easement claims on summary judgment. The district court also denied Stichting’s motion to file an amended complaint to assert the appurtenant easement claim. The Utah Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s rulings.
Under RS 2477, state law dictates the time period of public use required for a road to become a public highway as a matter of federal law. The Utah Supreme Court found that prior to 1880, when Utah passed the 1880 Highway Act allowing for a public road to arise after five years of public use, the only way for Stichting to establish a public right to a road was to meet the common law standards of a prescriptive easement. This required 20 years of public use. The parties in this case agreed that some of the land crossed by the road in question became private in 1881. The Supreme Court concluded that Stichting could not establish a road under R.S. 2477 because it could not show that either the 20 year common law time or the five year statutory time for public use had run by then.
The Supreme Court also declined to disturb the district court’s dismissal of the prescriptive easement claim because Stichting failed to present the authority and evidence it advanced on appeal to the district court and therefore did not preserve it for appeal. Finally, the Utah Supreme Court indicated it would not disturb the district court’s decision to deny Stichting from amending its complaint to claim it had an appurtenant easement right over the road because of the broad discretion Utah law gives trial courts in deciding whether to allow such an amendment.