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Schrock v. State

United States District Court, D. Oregon

December 12, 2018

DUANE MICHAEL SCHROCK, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE OF OREGON, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Michael H. Simon, District Judge.

         This case arises from a dispute over the right to use irrigation water from a well on land in Harney County, Oregon. The land (hereinafter “the Property)” is part of Harney County Tax Lot 1500, specifically the Northwest quarter of Section 30 of Township 23 South and Range 34 East, Willamette Meridian. Plaintiffs claim a right to irrigate the Northwest quarter of Section 30 from a well and pivot located there. ECF 1. Plaintiffs argue that this right is derived from their private purchase of the land parcel - the complaint alleges that plaintiffs are “Assigns, bona fide purchasers” of the Property and “patent holders” of the “Miller Patent.”

         Defendants Harney County Tax and Assessment Department and Ted Tiller (“Harney County Defendants”) move the Court for an order dismissing the case for lack of jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. ECF 16. The remaining defendants (“State Defendants”) also move to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. ECF 30. Plaintiffs have cross-filed a motion for summary judgment. ECF 42. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the motions to dismiss of Harney County and State Defendants.

         BACKGROUND

         A. Ownership of the Northwest Quarter of Section 30

         The Property was originally conveyed, or patented, to Ada L. Miller in 1907 by the United States under the Desert Lands Act of 1877, in certificate No. 299 (“Miller Patent”). ECF 1. Ex. A (Miller Patent) and 19 Stat. 377 (Desert Lands Act). At the time of the Miller Patent, Section 30 was divided into the East half and the West Half. The Miller Patent conveyed the West half comprising a total of 315.24 acres. The East half was conveyed to Charles Miller. ECF 14. Ex. 105. Ownership of Section 30 has changed since 1907 and the ownership has been reconfigured such that Section 30 is now divided into the North half and the South half. ECF 32. Harney County has designated the North half (which includes the Northwest quarter) as Tax Lot 1500 and the South half as Tax Lot 1600. Plaintiffs claim to be in possession of the Miller Patent. ECF 1.

         The Property at issue in this case is the North half of the West half or the “Northwest quarter” of Section 30. Until recently, the subject Property has been held in fee title by Edward Chotard. ECF 14 Ex. 102 (Bargain and Sale Deed to Chotard); ECF 31. After this lawsuit was filed, Chotard conveyed Tax Lot 1500 to Duane W. Cummins and Anne M. Cummins by Warranty Deed. The deed to Chotard and the deed from Chotard to the Cummins's were recorded in the Harney County property records on September 18, 2018.

         Also recorded on September 18, 2018 was a document referencing a June 2, 2018 purchase and sale agreement entered into by Chotard, plaintiff Schrock and the Cummins's involving the following described property:

Lots 1 and 2; East half of the Northeast quarter; Northeast quarter of Section 30, Township 23 South, Range 34 East of the Willamette Meridian, Harney County, Oregon.

ECF 32. This purchase and sale agreement apparently predates the warranty deed that conveyed the Property (the Northwest quarter) to the Cummins's. ECF 32. The June 2, 2018 purchase and sale agreement itself was not recorded.

         The complaint alleges that plaintiffs are “assigns, bona fide purchasers” of land and “land patent holders, ” apparently referring to the Property and the Miller Patent. ECF 1. The complaint contains no allegations of fact showing how either plaintiff came to have an interest in the Property or why their interest is not reflected in county land records. Plaintiffs have attached several documents to their response to defendants' motions to dismiss, including two unrecorded purchase and sale agreements, one of which is appears to be a draft. ECF 42 Ex. 1. The first exhibit is entitled “Sale and Purchase Agreement” entered into by Chotard and plaintiff Schrock, selling Schrock the following described property:

Lots 1 and 2, East half of the Northwest quarter, Northeast quarter, Section 30, Township 23 South, Range 34 East of the Willamette Meridian, Harney County, Oregon.

         The agreement is signed by both Chotard and Schrock and is dated November 18, 2014. ECF 42. This Sale and Purchase Agreement was not recorded with the County. It is within this context that Schrock claims a right to irrigate “the Northwest quarter of Section 30, ” from a well and pivot located there. ECF 1.

         B. ...


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