Augustin Plains Ranch, LLC v. D'Antonio

Decision Date11 August 2022
Docket NumberA-1-CA-38615
Citation521 P.3d 1226
Parties AUGUSTIN PLAINS RANCH, LLC, Applicant/Appellant-Appellant, v. John D'ANTONIO, P.E., New Mexico State Engineer, Appellee-Appellee, and Catron County Board of County Commissioners; Socorro County Commission; Kokopelli Ranch, LLC; John and Helen A. Hand; the Hand Living Trust; Last Chance Water Company ; Monticello Properties, LLC; Double Springs Ranch, LLC; Gila Mountain Ranches, LLC; John Hubert Richardson Revocable Trust; Richardson Family Farms, LLC; City of Truth or Consequences; Cuchillo Valley Community Ditch Association; Salomon Tafoya; Apache Ranch --- Kenneth R. Brumit; New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau; Catron County Farm & Livestock Bureau; New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands; Pueblo of Sandia; Pueblo of Santa Ana; Wildearth Guardian; Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District; Pueblo of Zuni; Pueblo of San Felipe ; University of New Mexico ; Navajo Nation ; Advocates for Community & Environment; New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission ; Pueblo of Isleta; Manuel and Gladys Baca; Robert and Mona Bassett; Patti Bearpaw; Sue Berry-Fox; (Babe) Ann Boulden; Donald and Joan Brooks; David and Terri Brown; Jack Bruton; Bruton Ranch, LLC; Lisa Burroughs and Thomas Betras, Jr.; Charles and Lucy Cloyes; Michael D. Codini, Jr.; Randy Coil; James and Janet Coleman; Terri Cook; Thomas A. Cook; Wildwood Highlands Landowners Association; Randy Cox; Nancy Crowley ; Tom Csurilla; Elk Ridge Pass Development Company, LLC; Top of the World Land Company, LLC ; Roger and Dolores Daigger; Michael and Ann Danielson; Bryan and Beverley Dees; John and Eileen Dodds; Louise and Leonard Donahe; Patricia Eberhardt ; Roy Farr; Paul and Rose Geasland; Gila Conservation Coalition; Center for Biological Diversity ; Gila Watershed Alliance; Mary Rakestraw Greiert; Michael Hasson; Don and Cheryl Hastings; Gary and Carol Hegg; Patricia Henry; Catherine Hill; Eric Hofstetter; Sandy How; M. Ian and Margaret Jenness; Amos Lafon; Marie Lee; Cleda Lenhardt; Rick and Patricia Lindsey; Victoria Linehan; Owen Lorentzen; Mike Loya; Sonia Macdonald; Robert and Susan Mackenzie; Douglas Marable; Thea Marshall; Sam and Kristin McCain; Jeff McGuire; Michael Mideke; Kenneth Mroczek and Janice Przylbyl Mroczek; Peter Naumnik; John Naumnik; Regina Naumnik; Robert Nelson; Veronika Nelson; Walter and Diane Olmstead; Dennis and Gertrude O'Toole; Karl Padgett; Max Padgett; Leo Padgett; Patricia Padgett; Wanda Parker; Ray and Carol Pittman; John Preston and Patricia Murray Preston; Daniel Rael; Stephanie Randolph ; Mary Katherine Ray; Kenneth Rowe; Kevin and Priscilla Ryan; Ray and Kathy Sansom; Christopher Scott Sansom; John and Betty Schaefer; Susan Schuhardt; Ann and Bill Schwebke; Janice Simmons ; Jim Sonnenberg; Anne Sullivan; Margaret and Roger Thompson; Gloria Weinrich; James Wetzig and Maureen M. Macart; Donald and Margaret Wiltshire; Kristin Eckvall; Rozalyn Murphy; Ronald Wilson; David P. Smith; Carmela L. Warner; Homestead Landowners Association; Joseph and Janet Siomiak; Patricia Germain ; Jonathan Benedict; Michael Murray ; John Pohl; Barbara Owens; Abbe Springs Homeowners Association; Raven Reitstetter; Chris and Helen Dossett; Kenneth and Diana Fry; Albert Goodman; William Gysin; Paul G. Kotula; Karl and Jane Mears; Thomas and Linda Pampinella; and Tom Betras, Protestants/Appellees-Appellees.
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico

Montgomery & Andrews, P.A., Jeffrey J. Wechsler, Kari E. Olson, Kaleb W. Brooks, Santa Fe, NM, Draper & Draper LLC, John B. Draper Santa Fe, NM, for Appellant

Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General, Gregory C. Ridgley, General Counsel, Nathaniel Chakeres, Deputy General Counsel, Maureen C. Dolan, Special Assistant Attorney General, Simi Jain, Special Assistant Attorney General, Santa Fe, NM, Attorney at Law LLC, L. Christopher Lindeen, Special Assistant Attorney General, Santa Fe, NM, Abramowitz and Franks, Martha C. Franks, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellee New Mexico State Engineer

Domenici Law Firm, PC, Pete Domenici, Lorraine Hollingsworth, Albuquerque, NM, for Appellee Catron County Board of County Commissioners

New Mexico Environmental Law Center, Gail Evans, Douglas Meiklejohn, Charles de Saillan, Eric D. Jantz, Maslyn Locke, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellees (not otherwise separately listed)

Davidson Law Firm, LLC, Tessa T. Davidson, Corrales, NM, for Appellees Helen A. Hand and Hand Living Trust

Coppler Law Firm, P.C., Frank R. Coppler, John L. Appel, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellee City of Truth or Consequences, NM

Navajo Nation Department of Justice, Daniel G. Moquin, Lisa Yellow Eagle, Window Rock, Navajo Nation, AZ, for Appellee Navajo Nation

Hennighausen Olsen & McCrea, L.L.P., A.J. Olsen, Gabriella T. Miller, Roswell, NM, for Appellee Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District

Steffani A. Cochran, General Counsel, Bernalillo, NM, for Appellee Pueblo of Sandia

Barnhouse Keegan Solimon & West LLP, Veronique Richardson, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, NM for Appellee Pueblo of Santa Ana

Advocates for Community and Environment, Simeon Herskovits, Iris Thornton, El Prado, NM, for Appellee San Augustin Water Coalition

Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, Daniel Timmons, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellee Wildearth Guardians

BOGARDUS, Judge.

{1} After reviewing the State Engineer's decision to deny Appellant Augustin Plains Ranch, LLC's (Applicant) application to appropriate groundwater, the district court dismissed with prejudice Applicant's 2014 Application to appropriate groundwater from the San Agustin Basin. We reverse and remand because we determine the district court erred in applying collateral estoppel.

BACKGROUND

{2} In 2007 Applicant filed an application for a permit to appropriate underground water from the San Agustin Basin with the State Engineer, which it amended in 2008 (2007 Application). After accepting the application, the State Engineer published notice of the application, and over 900 protests against the permit were filed. After the State Engineer's office held a hearing on motions for summary judgment regarding the permit, the hearing officer recommended that the application be denied, and entered a recommendation to deny the application but specifically recommended that denial should be "without prejudice to filing of subsequent applications." The State Engineer adopted the recommendation of the hearing officer and entered the order. Applicant then appealed the hearing officer's determination to the district court.

{3} The district court affirmed the State Engineer's order regarding the 2007 Application. In relevant part, it determined that the 2007 Application was facially inadequate because it failed "to specify the beneficial purpose and the place of use of water, contrary to NMSA 1978, [Section] 72-12-3(A)(2),[ ](6) [(2001, amended 2019)].1 " It also determined the 2007 Application "contradict[ed] beneficial use as the basis of a water right and the public ownership of water, as declared by the New Mexico Constitution." For these reasons, the district court concluded the 2007 Application "had to be denied by the State Engineer." The district court then affirmed the State Engineer's order denying the 2007 Application and noted, "The dismissal without prejudice allows Applicant to submit an application that meets the statutory requirement of specificity for beneficial use and place of use."

{4} In 2014 Applicant filed a corrected application for a permit to appropriate the same underground water from the Rio Grande Underground Water Basin with the State Engineer, which it amended twice (2014 Application). Again, a number of parties, including the County and Community Protestants, contested the permit, many of whom filed motions for summary judgment to deny the application. In response, Applicant argued it was entitled to an evidentiary hearing before the hearing officer made a decision on the merits of its application. After holding a hearing on the summary judgment motions, the State Engineer's hearing officer determined the hearing for the summary judgment motions met the water code's hearing requirement; the 2014 Application was facially adequate in that it met the minimum requirements of Section 72-12-3; and "[t]he [2014] Application [was] sufficiently different from the previous iteration so as not to be barred under the principle of res judicata." The hearing officer further determined that granting the 2014 Application would "deprive the public of its right to appropriate water for beneficial use" and recommended the 2014 Application be denied as a matter of law. The State Engineer adopted the hearing officer's report. Applicant filed a timely motion for a post-decision hearing, arguing it was entitled to an evidentiary hearing, which the State Engineer denied. Applicant then appealed to the district court.

{5} Multiple parties filed motions for summary judgment to the district court. Applicant, in its own summary judgment motion, again argued it was entitled to an evidentiary hearing and that it had demonstrated sufficient evidence of a specific plan to appropriate groundwater to survive summary judgment. Community Protestants and Catron County argued the 2014 Application should be denied on the basis of collateral estoppel, the facial inadequacy of the application, and because the application was speculative. The State Engineer's arguments focused on the speculative nature of the application.

{6} After a hearing on the motions, the district court, accepting the argument put forth by the Community Protestants, determined that the 2014 Application was barred by collateral estoppel, and denied the application with prejudice. The order granting the Community Protestants’ motion for summary judgment stated, "[Applicant]’s Application to appropriate ground[ ]water from the San Agustin Basin is dismissed with prejudice." The State Engineer filed a motion to reconsider the form of the order and requested the district court revise its...

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