National Parks and Conservation Ass'n v. Board of State Lands

Decision Date24 June 1993
Docket NumberNo. 880022,880022
Citation869 P.2d 909
PartiesNATIONAL PARKS AND CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION, Petitioner, v. BOARD OF STATE LANDS and Patrick D. Spurgin as Director, Division of State Lands and Forestry, State of Utah, Respondents. Garfield County, a political subdivision of the State of Utah, Intervenor.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

Wayne G. Petty, Chris Wangsgard, William J. Lockhart, Salt Lake City, for petitioner, National Parks and Conservation Ass'n.

R. Paul Van Dam, Atty. Gen., Fred G. Nelson, David S. Christensen, Asst. Attys. Gen., Salt Lake City, for respondents.

Michael D. Hughes, Ronald W. Thompson, Barbara G. Hjelle, Wallace A. Lee, St. George, and Patrick B. Nolan, Logan, for intervenor, Garfield County.

R. Paul Van Dam, Atty. Gen., Linda Luinstra-Baldwin, John S. McAllister, William T. Evans, Asst. Attys. Gen., Salt Lake City, and Robert D. Barclay, Logan, for amici Dept. of Social Services, State Bd. of Educ., University of Utah, Utah State University.

STEWART, Justice:

National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA) appeals from an order denying its petition for intervention and from nine administrative declaratory rulings issued by the Division of State Lands and Forestry (Division) in connection with the Division's decision to exchange a section of state school trust land for lands owned by Garfield County. NPCA contends that the Division's declaratory rulings and the order denying intervention were erroneous and that the patent conveying the school land section to the County should be rescinded.

The school trust land at issue is section 16, T34S, R8E, SLB & M, which lies within the boundaries of Capitol Reef National Park. The State of Utah acquired section 16 from the federal government pursuant to the Utah Enabling Act, which provided that the state was to receive at statehood four sections in every township "for the support of common schools." Act of July 16, 1894, ch. 138, 28 Stat. 107, § 6, reprinted in 1A Utah Code Annotated. The Utah Constitution provides that lands conveyed to the state pursuant to the Enabling Act "shall be held in trust for the people ... for the respective purposes for which they have been or may be granted." Utah Const. art. XX, § 1.

Garfield County applied to the Division to exchange county land for section 16 pursuant to Utah Code Ann. § 65-1-70 (1986) (currently codified at Utah Code Ann. § 65A-7-7 (Supp.1992)). The County wanted to acquire section 16 so that it could pave part of a dirt road known as the Burr Trail to improve public access to the resplendent scenery of the area. In support of its application, the County submitted appraisals of section 16 and the County lands offered in exchange. The Division relied on those appraisals in deciding to make the exchange.

The proposed exchange was processed through the State Planning Coordinator and the Areawide Clearinghouse pursuant to a notice of state action dated July 8, 1987, with comments due August 17, 1987. The proposed exchange was also submitted to the Resource Development and Coordinating Committee, which receives comments from state agencies and the public on state actions affecting the state's environmental and physical resources. See Utah Code Ann. §§ 63-28a-1 to -7 (1989). NPCA and others submitted comments on the proposed land exchange.

On September 4, 1987, the Board of State Lands (Board) disseminated to the media and those on a standing mailing list an agenda for the September 11 meeting in which the proposed land exchange was to be discussed. See Utah Code Ann. § 52-4-6(3) (1992). At the meeting, the Division presented a detailed study of the proposed exchange that analyzed the land appraisals, the economic potential of the lands, the state's trust duties in exchanging school trust land, and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Governor Bangerter and Secretary of the Interior Hodel regarding the exchange of federal land for state school land sections located within national parks. The Division presented five options to the Board with respect to the land exchange. Following the Division's presentation, representatives of the National Park Service and the Wilderness Society spoke in opposition to the exchange; a representative of NPCA spoke and submitted a letter to the Board setting forth procedural and substantive objections to the exchange; and a member of the Garfield County Commission urged the Board to approve the exchange. After considering the comments, the Board voted unanimously to approve the exchange "as to concept," subject to the County's offering land of greater value.

Pursuant to a Board directive, the Division reviewed the appraisals of the land offered by the County and concluded that the value of that land was insufficient. The County then offered additional land located in the Richfield City Industrial Park. Together, the appraised value of the lands offered by Garfield County exceeded 150% of the appraised value of section 16.

On October 14, 1987, NPCA filed a petition to intervene in the land exchange proceedings and requested that the Division render declaratory rulings on nine legal issues concerning the exchange. On November 16, 1987, the Division's Director denied NPCA's petition to intervene. On December 21, 1987, the Director responded to NPCA's request for declaratory rulings by answering three of the requests and refusing to respond to the other six. He also formally approved specific terms for the land exchange. On December 24, 1987, the governor executed a patent conveying section 16 to Garfield County. NPCA filed a writ of review with this Court, challenging the Director's rulings.

This case presents five issues: (1) Does this Court have jurisdiction to review the denial of the petition to intervene and the declaratory rulings? (2) Does NPCA have standing to pursue this writ of review? (3) Did the Board and the Division, in approving the land exchange, comply with the fiduciary duties imposed by the school land trust? (4) Should the Board and Division have given priority to scenic, aesthetic, or recreational values over monetary values in approving the exchange? (5) Did the Division breach its fiduciary duties in relying solely on land appraisals submitted by the County in determining the value of the lands exchanged?


The Division contends that this Court lacks jurisdiction to conduct this review. To support its contention, the Division relies on Utah Code Ann. § 78-2-2(3)(e)(iii), which provides that the Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction over "final orders and decrees in formal adjudicative proceedings originating with ... the Board of State Lands." See also 1988 Utah Laws ch. 248, § 5. The Division argues that its approval of the land exchange was not a "formal adjudicative proceeding" and that the conveyance of section 16 to Garfield County does not constitute a final order or decree within the meaning of § 78-2-2(3)(e)(iii). If that statutory provision governed this case, the Division would be correct and this Court would not have jurisdiction. That section, however, does not govern here because it was not in effect when NPCA filed this writ of review. By its terms, § 78-2-2(3)(e)(iii) did not take effect until April 25, 1988, after the petition for review was filed.

As a general rule, amendments to statutes are not retroactive. Utah Code Ann. § 68-3-3. Amendments to procedural statutes may apply to pending cases, however, if the amendments merely regulate the procedures for presenting and resolving a case and do not adversely affect vested rights. Department of Social Servs. v. Higgs, 656 P.2d 998, 1000-01 (Utah 1982). Once a court has acquired jurisdiction of a case, jurisdiction is not extinguished by subsequent legislative action. See Industrial Comm'n v. Agee, 56 Utah 63, 189 P. 414 (1920). It follows that § 78-2-2(3)(e)(iii) did not divest this Court of jurisdiction over this case because jurisdiction attached under the statute in effect when the petition for review was filed.

Under the statute in effect, this Court's jurisdiction was not limited to orders issued in formal adjudicative proceedings, but extended to all final orders and decrees issued by the Board of State Lands. Utah Code Ann. § 78-2-2 (1987). Although § 78-2-2 referred only to the Board of State Lands and not to the Division, cases arising from an order of the Division were also reviewable by this Court. Adkins v. Division of State Lands, 719 P.2d 524, 527 (Utah 1986).

The Division's declaratory rulings were final orders under § 78-2-2. By statutory directive, declaratory rulings were reviewable by this Court because they "have the same status as agency decisions in cases disposed of by the agency after hearing." § 63-46a-15 (1987); see also City of Des Moines v. Public Employment Relations Bd., 275 N.W.2d 753, 758 (Iowa 1979).

The Director's order denying NPCA's petition to intervene was also a final order. See Millard County v. State Tax Comm'n, 823 P.2d 459 (Utah 1991). NPCA filed its petition to intervene in the land exchange proceeding because it believed that its interests would be adversely affected by Division action approving the exchange application. The Director's ruling that there was no legal basis for NPCA's petition to intervene was a final, dispositive ruling on NPCA's claimed right.


Standing is a flexible legal concept designed to preserve the integrity of judicial adjudication by requiring that legal issues be adequately defined and crystallized so that judicial procedures focus on specific, well-defined legal and factual issues. To that end, the parties must have both a sufficient interest in the subject matter of the dispute and a sufficient adverseness so that the issues can be properly explored. See Terracor v. Utah Bd. of State Lands, 716 P.2d 796, 798 (Utah 1986); see also Society of Professional Journalists v. Bullock, 743 P.2d 1166, 1170 (Utah 1987); ...

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