299 F.3d 1077 (9th Cir. 2002), 01-35610, King County v. Rasmussen

Docket Nº:01-35610.
Citation:299 F.3d 1077
Party Name:KING COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Washington, Plaintiff-counter-defendant-Appellee, v. John RASMUSSEN; Nancy Rasmussen, husband and wife, and their marital community, Defendants-counter-claimants-Appellants.
Case Date:August 09, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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Page 1077

299 F.3d 1077 (9th Cir. 2002)

KING COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Washington, Plaintiff-counter-defendant-Appellee,

v.

John RASMUSSEN; Nancy Rasmussen, husband and wife, and their marital community, Defendants-counter-claimants-Appellants.

No. 01-35610.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

August 9, 2002

Argued and Submitted June 13, 2002.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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J. Jarrette Sandlin, Sandlin Law Firm, Zillah, WA, for the defendants-counter-plaintiffs-appellants.

Howard P. Schneiderman and Scott Johnson, King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Seattle, WA, for the plaintiff-counter-defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington; Barbara J. Rothstein, Chief District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-00-01637-BJR.

Before B. FLETCHER and GOULD, Circuit Judges, and MURGUIA, District Judge.1

OPINION

BETTY B. FLETCHER, Circuit Judge.

This case arises from a dispute over a 100-foot-wide strip of land running along a portion of the eastern shore of Lake Sammamish in King County, Washington,

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that was formerly used as part of a railway corridor. King County filed suit against the Rasmussens to quiet title over this strip of land, which bisects the Rasmussens' property, and to obtain a declaratory judgment that it is entitled to quiet enjoyment of the strip.

King County claims it owns a fee simple estate in the strip. The Rasmussens, in turn, claim that their predecessors in interest granted only an easement over the strip and that the rights in the easement have reverted to the Rasmussens so that they now have fee simple title to the strip. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of King County and dismissed the Rasmussens' counterclaims. Because we conclude that no genuine issues of material fact exist for trial and that King County holds the strip in fee simple, we affirm.

I.

Factual and Procedural Background

In 1876, homesteaders Bill Hilchkanum and Mary Hilchkanum claimed property along the eastern shore of Lake Sammamish in King County, Washington. They received their final ownership certificate in 1884 and their fee patent in 1888. On May 9, 1887, the Hilchkanums conveyed an interest in the strip to the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railway Company ("the Railway"). The text of the "Right of Way Deed" is as follows:

In consideration of the benefits and advantages to accrue to us from the location construction and operation of the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railway in the County of King in Washington Territory, we do hereby donate grant and convey unto said Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railway Company a right of way one hundred (100) feet in width through our lands in said County described as follows to wit

Lots one (1) two (2) and three (3) in section six (6) township 24 North of Range six (6) East.

Such right of way strip to be fifty (50) feet in width on each side of the center line of the railway track as located across our said lands by the Engineer of said railway company which location is described as follows to wit [legal description in metes and bounds].

And the said Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railway Company shall have the right to go upon the land adjacent to said line for a distance of two hundred (200) feet on each side thereof and cut down all trees dangerous to the operation of said road.

To have and to hold the said premises with the appurtenances unto the said party of the second part and to its successors and assigns forever.

The deed was handwritten by a notary public.

Mary Hilchkanum later conveyed lots 1 and 3 of the homestead property to her husband by quitclaim deed. The conveyance is "less (3) acres right of way of Rail Road." Bill Hilchkanum then conveyed lot 1 to Chris Nelson "less three (3) acres heretofore conveyed to the Seattle and International Railway for right of way purposes." The deed by which the Hilchkanums conveyed lot 2 of their homestead property did not contain an exception for the railroad right of way. The Rasmussens claim that the right of way bisects portions of lots 2, 3, and 5.2

The Railway, and its successor Burlington Northern, built a track on the strip of

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land and used the track regularly for rail service until approximately 1996. In 1997, Burlington Northern sold its railway corridor, including the Hilchkanum strip, to The Land Conservancy of Seattle and King County ("TLC").

On June 11, 1997, TLC petitioned the United States Surface Transportation Board ("STB") to abandon use of the corridor for rail service under the National Trail System Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1247(d) ("Rails to Trails Act"). The STB approved interim trail use of the corridor—called railbanking—by King County and issued a Notice of Interim Trail Use. The County then purchased the corridor from the TLC and obtained title to the right of way carved from the Hilchkanum property.3

The Rasmussens oppose King County's efforts to railbank the right of way and claim that King County has no right to use the right of way as a trail because the Railway and its successors held only an easement for railroad purposes. As a result, King County brought this action in state court to quiet title and to obtain a declaration of its rights in the strip. The Rasmussens removed the action to federal court and counterclaimed with allegations that King County violated their First, Second, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights and violated 16 U.S.C. § 1267(d), 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 28 U.S.C. § 1358, and Article 1, Section 16 of the Washington state constitution.

King County moved for summary judgment on its claim to the property and moved to dismiss the Rasmussens' counter-claims for failure to state a claim and for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In response to these motions, the Rasmussens filed two over-length briefs and a declaration from Mr. Rasmussen containing several additional pages of legal argument. King County filed its reply and moved to strike the over-length portions of the Rasmussens' briefs and the legal arguments in Mr. Rasmussen's declaration. They also moved to strike inadmissible evidence from the briefs and the declaration. The Rasmussens filed a brief in response to King County's motion to strike as well as a separate surrebuttal brief. King County moved to strike the surrebuttal brief.

In a published opinion, the district court struck the over-length portions of the Rasmussens' response brief as well as the legal arguments in Mr. Rasmussen's declaration. See King County v. Rasmussen, 143 F.Supp.2d 1225, 1227 (W.D.Wash. 2001). It also struck a paragraph in the response brief that indicated that Bill Hilchkanum was a Native American and was illiterate; the Rasmussens cited no evidence in support of this assertion in their brief to the district court. Id. at 1227-28. The district court also agreed to strike the surrebuttal brief. Id. at 1228. Finally, it granted King County's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the counterclaims. Id. at 1231. The Rasmussens appeal.

II.

Jurisdiction

The district court had jurisdiction over this removal action if King County

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could have brought the case in federal court in the first place. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). King County could have brought this action in federal court initially because the district court would have had federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. King County's complaint included an allegation that it had a legal right to the strip of land in question even if the original deed conveyed only an easement. King County relied on 16 U.S.C. § 1247(d) as the source of this right. Thus, there was a federal question on the face of the well-pleaded complaint. See Patenaude v. Equitable Life Assurance Soc'y of United States, 290 F.3d 1020, 1023 (9th Cir. 2002) ("The presence or absence of federal-question jurisdiction is governed by the well-pleaded complaint rule ___" (quoting Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 96 L.Ed.2d 318 (1987)) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

This court has appellate jurisdiction over the district court's summary judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

III.

Motions to Strike

The Rasmussens argue that we should consider materials struck by the court below. The district court struck the over-length portions of the Rasmussens' briefs in response to King County's motions for summary judgment and to dismiss the counterclaims. It also struck legal arguments contained in John Rasmussen's declaration as well as the Rasmussens' surrebuttal brief.

The district court struck these materials on the basis of Western District of Washington Local Civil Rule 7, which limits the length of summary judgment briefs to twenty-four pages, limits the length of briefs relating to other motions to eight pages, and makes no allowance for surrebuttal briefs. Parties may file over-length briefs if they obtain prior permission from the court. The Rasmussens violated this rule by filing two thirty-four-page briefs without obtaining prior permission.4 Mr. Rasmussen's declaration added further briefing well beyond the twenty-four-page limit. Declarations, which are supposed to "set forth facts as would be admissible in evidence," should not be used to make an end-run around the page limitations of Rule 7 by including legal arguments outside of the briefs. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). As for the surrebuttal brief, the Rasmussens claim that it merely contained a response to the motion to strike. This is not so. It contains legal arguments on the motion to dismiss the counterclaims. The Rasmussens filed a separate response to the County's motion to strike, which the district court considered. Thus, the district court acted properly in granting King County's motions to strike.

For the most part, however, the fact that this material has been struck will not affect our...

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