State ex rel. Martinez v. City of Las Vegas, 22,283.

Docket NºNo. 22,283.
Citation2004 NMSC 9, 89 P.3d 47, 135 N.M. 375
Case DateApril 07, 2004
CourtSupreme Court of New Mexico

89 P.3d 47
135 N.M. 375
2004 NMSC 9

STATE of New Mexico, ex rel. Eluid L. MARTINEZ, State Engineer, Plaintiff-Respondent,
CITY OF LAS VEGAS, Defendant-Petitioner

No. 22,283.

Supreme Court of New Mexico.

April 7, 2004.

89 P.3d 48
White, Koch, Kelly & McCarthy, P.A., Paul L. Bloom, Benjamin Phillips, Santa Fe, NM, for Petitioner

Office of the State Engineer, D.L. Sanders, General Counsel, Christopher Bulman, Special Assistant Attorney General, Santa Fe, NM, for Respondent.

Community & Indian Legal Services, Inc., David Benavides, Margret Carde, Santa Fe, NM, for Amicus Curiae Acequias.

Kastler Law Offices, Ltd., Paul A. Kastler, Raton, NM, Law & Resource Planning Associates, P.C., Charles T. DuMars, David Seeley, Albuquerque, NM, Amicus Curiae Storrie Project Water Users Association.


SERNA, Justice.

{1} In Cartwright v. Public Service Co. of New Mexico, 66 N.M. 64, 79-85, 343 P.2d 654, 664-69 (1958), this Court adopted the pueblo rights doctrine. Under this doctrine, municipalities that are the successors-in-interest to colonization pueblos established by antecedent sovereigns possess a pueblo water right. This water right entitles a municipality to take as much water from an adjacent water course as necessary for municipal purposes and permits expansion of the right to accommodate increased municipal needs due to population increases. Upon reexamination, we conclude that the pueblo rights doctrine is inconsistent with New Mexico's system of prior appropriation. As a result, we overrule Cartwright. We conclude that municipal water rights must be determined by prior appropriation based on beneficial use regardless of a colonization grant from preceding sovereigns.

{2} The present case arose as a subfile proceeding in the course of a general adjudication of water rights in the Pecos River system. The State Engineer sought a declaration of the water rights of the City of Las Vegas on the Gallinas River. Specifically, the State Engineer challenged the existence

89 P.3d 49
of pueblo water rights in New Mexico. In the alternative to arguing that New Mexico should no longer recognize pueblo water rights in general, the State Engineer challenged the City's specific entitlement to a pueblo water right and disputed the application of the City's pueblo water right to groundwater, reservoirs, industrial uses, and water distribution outside the city limits. On the basis of stare decisis, the district court declined to rule on the State Engineer's general challenge to the pueblo water rights doctrine, as well as the City's entitlement to a pueblo water right. However, the court found in favor of the State Engineer on the parameters of the City's pueblo right. On appeal, the Court of Appeals determined that this Court, if presented with the opportunity, would overrule our prior cases establishing the pueblo water rights doctrine, and the Court therefore declined to follow this established precedent. State ex rel. Martinez v. City of Las Vegas, 118 N.M. 257, 265, 880 P.2d 868, 876 (Ct.App.1994). The Court of Appeals concluded that the City had no pueblo water right. Id. We granted the City's petition for writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals. Although we conclude that stare decisis requires the Court of Appeals to follow this Court's cases, we independently determine that the pueblo rights doctrine is flawed and that the cases recognizing this doctrine must be overruled. However, we also conclude that reliance interests and concerns for the proper administration of justice require a limited prospective application of our overruling of prior case law to the City

I. Facts and Procedural Background

A. Early Developments

{3} The pueblo of Nuestra Senora de Las Dolores de Las Vegas was established on the Gallinas River by a colonization grant from the Republic of Mexico on March 23, 1835. See Maese v. Herman, 183 U.S. 572, 573-76, 22 S.Ct. 91, 46 L.Ed. 335 (1902). After settlement, the Town of Las Vegas became a part of the United States with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. See Treaty of Peace Between the United States and Mexico, Feb. 2, 1848, U.S.-Mex., 9 Stat. 922. Congress confirmed the grant to the Town in 1860, and the Town received a patent from the United States government in 1903. In addition, the Legislature established a board of trustees that would have the power of "control and management of the tract of land known as the Las Vegas land grant." NMSA 1978, § 49-6-2 (1909). The Legislature established the board as a separate legal entity from the Town of Las Vegas, see City of Las Vegas v. Oman, 110 N.M. 425, 428, 796 P.2d 1121, 1124 (Ct.App.1990), which had only the authority specifically delegated by statute. Among other things, the Legislature authorized the board "to lease, sell or mortgage any part or parts of said tract of land," without prejudice to any vested rights to land within the grant. NMSA 1978, §§ 49-6-9 (1903), -10 (1909).

{4} Separately from the settlement under the 1835 colonization grant, a settlement on the east side of the Gallinas was established in 1841. This settlement, known as the City of Las Vegas, expanded dramatically after the arrival of the railroad in 1879. In 1880, San Miguel County issued a fifty-year franchise to Agua Pura Co. to provide municipal water to the inhabitants of the two settlements. See Cartwright v. Pub. Serv. Co. of N.M., 66 N.M. 64, 72, 343 P.2d 654, 659-60 (1958). In 1970, a consolidation of the two separate settlements, the Town of Las Vegas and the City of Las Vegas, formed the current City of Las Vegas.

{5} Water rights on the Gallinas have been the subject of a number of judicial and administrative proceedings. While these proceedings are described in greater detail in Oman, 110 N.M. at 428-29, 796 P.2d at 1124-25, we will review some of the more important developments. In 1921, the district court of San Miguel County entered a decree, known as the Gallinas Decree, in a consolidated suit brought by various water users. The decree adjudicated a water right to the land grant board based on a permit issued by the State Engineer with a priority date of 1909. Agua Pura Co. was not a party to the Gallinas Decree. In 1933, in an attempt to adjudicate all surface water rights on the Gallinas, the federal district court entered a decree which is known as the Hope

89 P.3d 50
Decree. Among other water rights, the Hope Decree adjudicated the right of New Mexico Power Co., the successor of Agua Pura Co., to 2600 acre feet per year with an 1881 priority

B. The Cartwright Litigation

{6} In 1955, a number of water users on the Gallinas filed an action in district court against Public Service Co. of New Mexico (PNM), the successor to New Mexico Power Co., claiming that PNM had trespassed on their senior water rights as adjudicated in the Hope Decree. Cartwright, 66 N.M. at 66, 343 P.2d at 655. The water users sought an injunction and damages. Id. The Town intervened in the action and claimed as an affirmative defense that PNM lawfully appropriated water under a pueblo water right belonging to the Town by virtue of the 1835 colonization grant. Id. at 67, 343 P.2d at 656. The district court found in favor of the Town and PNM on the basis of this affirmative defense. Id. at 68, 343 P.2d at 657. The court recognized the existence of the pueblo rights doctrine in New Mexico. Id. The court further found that the Town of Las Vegas and City of Las Vegas were the successors to the Mexican colonization grant. Id. at 67-68, 343 P.2d at 656. The court concluded that the Town possessed a pueblo water right with a priority date of 1835 and that PNM's right to divert water pursuant to the Town's pueblo water right was prior and paramount to the rights of the water users who had initiated the claim. Id. at 70-71, 343 P.2d at 658-59.

{7} On appeal, this Court addressed three issues: (1) whether the Hope Decree was res judicata as to PNM and the Town for purposes of precluding their reliance on the pueblo rights doctrine; (2) whether the trial court correctly found that the Town possessed a valid and superior claim to the colonization grant; and (3) whether the pueblo rights doctrine, as recognized by the courts of California, applies in New Mexico. Id. at 71-72, 343 P.2d at 659. We determined that the Hope Decree was not res judicata with respect to the Town or the City of Las Vegas because neither had been a party to the federal action. Id. at 76, 343 P.2d at 662. We also determined that there was substantial evidence in the record to support the district court's determination of the validity of the 1835 community colonization grant by the government of Mexico, as well as the court's recognition of the Town's superior claim to the grant, consistent with the opinion of the United States Supreme Court in Maese, 183 U.S. at 580-81, 22 S.Ct. 91. Cartwright, 66 N.M. at 78-79, 343 P.2d at 664. The remainder of our opinion in Cartwright focused on the controversial question of whether New Mexico should recognize the pueblo rights doctrine. Id. at 79-85, 343 P.2d at 664-69.

{8} As reviewed by this Court in Cartwright, the pueblo rights doctrine recognizes the right of the inhabitants of Mexican or Spanish colonization pueblos to use as much of an adjoining river or stream as is necessary for municipal purposes. Id. at 82, 343 P.2d at 666-67. The doctrine contemplates the expansion of the pueblo's right to use water in response to increases in size and population, and if necessary, the right can encompass the entire flow of the adjoining water course. Id. We noted in Cartwright that the doctrine had been recognized by the Supreme Court of California in a series of cases dating from 1860. Id. at 84, 343 P.2d at 667-68; see Hart v. Burnett, 15 Cal. 530 (1860) (discussing pueblo rights in relation to land); see also Lux v. Haggin, 69 Cal. 255, 10 P. 674, 714-15 (1886) (analogizing the principles from Hart to water rights).

{9} We attributed the...

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