24 P.3d 803 (N.M.App. 2001), 20,758, Forest Guardians v. Powell

Docket Nº:20,758.
Citation:24 P.3d 803, 130 N.M. 368, 2001 -NMCA- 28
Opinion Judge:[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pickard, Judge.
Party Name:FOREST GUARDIANS, a nonprofit corporation; Southwest Environmental Center, a nonprofit corporation; Western Gamebird Alliance, a nonprofit corporation; Bridget Jacober, for herself, and on behalf of her minor children; Rich Atkinson, for himself, and on behalf of his minor children; Mary Lou Jones, for herself, and on behalf of her minor children;
Attorney:Steven C. Sugarman, Santa Fe, NM, James J. Tutchton, Earthlaw, Denver, CO, for Appellants., Patricia A. Madrid, Attorney General, Katherine M. Moss, Ass't Attorney General, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellee State of New Mexico., Kelly Brooks, Stephen G. Hughes, Special Ass't Attorneys General, New Mexic...
Case Date:April 04, 2001
Court:Court of Appeals of New Mexico
 
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24 P.3d 803 (N.M.App. 2001)

130 N.M. 368, 2001 -NMCA- 28

FOREST GUARDIANS, a nonprofit corporation; Southwest Environmental Center, a nonprofit corporation; Western Gamebird Alliance, a nonprofit corporation; Bridget Jacober, for herself, and on behalf of her minor children; Rich Atkinson, for himself, and on behalf of his minor children; Mary Lou Jones, for herself, and on behalf of her minor children; and Jeffrey Scott, for himself, and on behalf of his minor children, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

Ray POWELL, in his official capacity as Commissioner of Public Lands; New Mexico State Land Office; and State of New Mexico, Defendants-Appellees,

and

New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, a nonprofit organization, on behalf of itself and its members; New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau, a nonprofit corporation, on behalf of itself and its members; and New Mexico Wool Growers, Inc., a nonprofit corporation, on behalf of itself and its members, Defendants/Intervenors-Appellees.

No. 20,758.

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

April 4, 2001.

Certiorari Denied, No. 26,915, May 22, 2001.

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[130 N.M. 371] Steven C. Sugarman, Santa Fe, NM, James J. Tutchton, Earthlaw, Denver, CO, for Appellants.

Patricia A. Madrid, Attorney General, Katherine M. Moss, Ass't Attorney General, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellee State of New Mexico.

Kelly Brooks, Stephen G. Hughes, Special Ass't Attorneys General, New Mexico State Land Office, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellees Ray Powell and New Mexico State Land Office.

Lee E. Peters, Hubert & Hernandez, P.A., Las Cruces, NM, for Intervenors-Appellees.

OPINION

PICKARD, Judge.

{1} This case presents us with an opportunity to revisit the issue of who, other than the state and federal attorneys general, has standing to sue to enforce the land trust provisions of the Enabling Act, an issue last addressed in Asplund v. Hannett, 31 N.M. 641, 249 P. 1074 (1926). Plaintiffs are a coalition of environmental conservation groups and parents of children attending New Mexico public schools. Plaintiffs filed a complaint against the Commissioner of Public Lands, the New Mexico State Land Office, and the State alleging that certain Land Office rules, regulations, and practices violate the Enabling Act, Article XIII of the New Mexico Constitution, and the Land Office's fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the school lands trust. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on several grounds, including lack of standing to sue. The district court granted Defendants' motion, and Plaintiffs appealed. We hold that (1) the Enabling Act trust is a charitable trust and Plaintiff schoolchildren do not have a special interest in the trust sufficient to confer standing, (2) for the purposes of standing, there is an insufficient causal relationship between the Land Office's actions and the harm alleged to be suffered by the children, (3) Plaintiff conservation groups are not within the zone of interests to be protected by the Enabling Act or related constitutional provisions, and (4) the issues presented by this case do not rise to level of great public importance such that we would be justified in dispensing with the traditional requirements of standing. We affirm.

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[130 N.M. 372] Background

{2} Plaintiffs Forest Guardians, Southwest Environmental Center, and Western Gamebird Alliance are environmental conservation groups whose primary interests are to restore and promote biological diversity on public lands. In addition, Forest Guardians and Southwest Environmental Center have bid on State school trust lands and have expressed an intention to continue bidding on lands that the groups consider ecologically significant. Plaintiffs Bridget Jacober, Rich Atkinson, Mary Lou Jones, and Jeffrey Scott are individual parents of New Mexico schoolchildren.

{3} Plaintiffs filed a complaint in which they sought (1) an injunction prohibiting the leasing of school trust lands without advertisement and public auction, (2) a declaration that "all State laws, rules, regulations and practices" relating to six leasing procedures are invalid under the New Mexico Enabling Act and Article XIII of the New Mexico Constitution, and (3) a declaration that the Land Office "has violated their trust obligation by failing to protect the corpus of the trust by allowing state trust lands to deteriorate." Defendants New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands and New Mexico State Land Office moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of standing, lack of jurisdiction, failure to state a claim, failure to exhaust mandatory administrative remedies, and res judicata. The Commissioner was joined, in a separate brief, by the New Mexico Attorney General. In addition, the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association (NMCGA) intervened over the objections of Plaintiffs and filed their answer to the complaint and their own motion to dismiss. The New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, the New Mexico Public Lands Council, and the New Mexico Wool Growers, Inc. later intervened without objection.

{4} In their response to Defendants' motions to dismiss, Plaintiffs raised the doctrine of "great public importance" as an alternative source of standing and requested that the district court accept the case as a writ of mandamus. Defendants' reply objected to Plaintiffs' request on the grounds that Plaintiffs had not followed the proper procedural rules for mandamus and argued that Plaintiffs' claims did not raise questions of "public juris" such that the doctrine should be applied. After hearing the parties' arguments, the district court ruled that Plaintiffs lacked standing to sue and granted Defendants' motions to dismiss. This appeal followed.

Discussion

Standard of Review

{5} The determination of whether a party has standing to sue is a question of law, which we review de novo. Douglas County v. Babbitt, 48 F.3d 1495, 1499 (9th Cir. 1995). In reviewing a motion to dismiss, we accept as true all material allegations of the complaint and construe the complaint in favor of the complaining party. See New Mexico Life Ins. Guar. Ass'n v. Quinn & Co., 111 N.M. 750, 753, 809 P.2d 1278, 1281 (1991).

The Enabling Act

{6} By the Act of June 20, 1910, 36 Stat. 557, ch. 310 (hereinafter the Enabling Act or the Act), Congress set forth the terms by which New Mexico would be admitted as a state. Under the Act, the federal government granted New Mexico certain lands within the State "for the support of common schools." Enabling Act § 6. By the terms of the grant, these lands were to be held by the State in trust. Id. § 10, ¶ 1. The Act set forth the conditions by which trust lands could be sold or leased and established limitations on the uses to which income derived from these lands could be put. The Act made it clear that actions taken in contravention of any provision of the Act would constitute a breach of the trust. Id. ¶ 2.

{7} In Asplund, 31 N.M. at 665-66, 249 P. at 1083, our Supreme Court held that neither the Enabling Act nor the Constitution gives a taxpayer or citizen standing to sue to enforce the trust provisions of the Act. Plaintiffs argue that Asplund is not controlling based on the status and harms peculiar to the two classes of plaintiffs here. First, Plaintiffs assert that the schoolchildren's status as the beneficiaries of the Enabling Act trust is sufficient to confer standing to sue for the

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[130 N.M. 373] Land Office's alleged breach of fiduciary duties. Second, recognizing that under trust law the conservation groups would lack standing, Plaintiffs remind us that the Enabling Act was incorporated into the New Mexico Constitution and assert standing based on the potential harm caused to them by the Land Office's ongoing rejection of the conservation groups' applications to lease trust lands. Third, Plaintiffs allege standing on behalf of the schoolchildren based on the allegations that the Land Office's practices result in less funding being available to the public schools, as well as the children's constitutional right to a free education. We will address each argument in turn.

Trust Law

{8} The Enabling Act, the New Mexico State Constitution, and case law make it clear that the lands granted under the Act as well as the profits to be derived from these lands are to be held in trust for the benefit of named institutions. See Enabling Act, § 10, ¶ 1; N.M. Const. art. XIII, § 1; N.M. Const. art. XXI, § 9; Asplund, 31 N.M. at 665-66, 249 P. at 1083. Although Plaintiffs and Defendants accept this basic proposition, the parties disagree about the nature of the trust and the concomitant issues of the identity of the beneficiaries and the standing of these alleged beneficiaries to enforce the trust. Plaintiffs argue that the law of private trusts controls our decision, and they advance New Mexico public schoolchildren as the true beneficiaries of the trust as opposed to the State itself or the "educational bureaucracy." The State Land Office, on the other hand, maintains that the Enabling Act trust is a charitable trust and that the beneficiaries are the citizens of the State. We agree with the Land Office.

{9} The primary differences between a charitable trust and other private trusts are that a charitable trust may be perpetual, the denominated recipients of the trust income may be indefinite, and the intended beneficiary is the community itself. See Restatement (Second) of Trusts § 364-65 (1959). The trusts created by the Enabling Act are perpetual. See NMSA 1978, § 19-1-17 (1917) (naming permanent and current funds financed by trust lands); State v. Llewellyn, 23 N.M. 43, 64, 167 P. 414, 420-21 (1917). In addition, the recipients of the trust...

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