United States on Behalf of the Zuni Tribe of New Mexico v. Platt

730 F. Supp. 318 (1990)

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United States on Behalf of the Zuni Tribe of New Mexico v. Platt

United States District Court for the District of Arizona
730 F. Supp. 318 (1990)

LJ

Facts

Earl Platt and the estate of Buena Platt (collectively, the Platts) (defendants) owned and leased certain land from the United States and the state of Arizona. The Platts’ land was located in Apache County, Arizona. The Zuni Tribe of New Mexico (the Zuni Tribe) (plaintiff) used portions of the Platts’ land for its quadrennial religious pilgrimage. Historical records demonstrated that the Zuni Tribe’s pilgrimage had been taking place since approximately 1540. The land used for the Zuni Tribe’s pilgrimage previously belonged to the Zuni Tribe until 1877, when the tribe was divested of the land pursuant to an executive order. In 1984 legislation was passed allowing the Zuni Tribe to acquire land for religious purposes. However, in 1985 the Platts indicated that they would prevent the Zuni Tribe from crossing their land during the tribe’s pilgrimage. The pilgrimage was estimated to utilize 18–20 miles of land belonging to the Platts. On June 12, 1985, the United States, on behalf of the Zuni Tribe, filed an action claiming a prescriptive easement by adverse possession over portions of the Platts’ land. At trial, testimony established that approximately 40–60 Zuni Tribe members and 20–40 horses participated in the Zuni Tribe’s pilgrimage and that the route had been generally unchanged. It was further established that the route was openly visible and generally known to the community. The Zuni Tribe further testified that it believed it had the right to cross the land and it had not sought permission or authority from any entity or person to do so during any of its pilgrimages. The Zuni Tribe was granted temporary restraining orders to prevent the Platts from interfering with the tribe’s use of the Platts’ land during the pilgrimage.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Carroll, J.)

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