The opinion of the court was delivered by: Timothy Burgess United States District Judge
At Docket No. 15, Defendants Knikatnu, Inc. ("Knikatnu") and Tyonek Native Corporation ("Tyonek") moved for summary judgment against Plaintiffs Polly Creek Estate Trust, Karen L. Daugherty as Trustee of the Estate of Elaine Swiss, Tyler Swiss, Jack Swiss, and Karen Daugherty ("Plaintiffs"). Defendants request a ruling from this Court that they are not obligated under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act ("ANCSA") to transfer to the Polly Creek Estate Trust a fee interest in an airstrip located near Polly Creek, Alaska, on the west side of the Cook Inlet. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for decision. For the reasons outlined below, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED.
The Polly Creek Estate Trust ("the Trust") and the Estate of Elaine Swiss are the successors in interest to the assets of John Swiss, who passed away in 2007. The remaining Plaintiffs are the children of John and Elaine Swiss.
John Swiss first came to Polly Creek in 1949. He filed for a 3.4-acre federal homesite near the mouth of Polly Creek on the southwest shore of Cook Inlet, which was patented in 1960. He later inherited an adjacent 77.8-acre homestead from his brother Henry.
Not long after establishing his homestead in the area, Swiss cleared out a rudimentary airstrip on federal property near the homestead. On March 1, 1964, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Swiss entered into a 20-year public airport lease for 2.5 acres of land at the mouth of Polly Creek, which includes the airstrip. The lease was granted with the express purpose that Swiss would "establish a public airport" which would be "available for public use."*fn1 The lease expired in 1984, and at that point Swiss' interest in the leasehold terminated.
By 1986, the land on which the airstrip sits had been claimed from the federal government by the Cook Inlet Region, Inc. ("CIRI"), an Alaska Native corporation, pursuant to the provisions of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, 43 U.S.C.A. § 1613.*fn2 In 1987, CIRI transferred the land to Defendants Knikatnu, Inc. and Tyonek, Inc, in separate parcels, such that the Defendants together own the airstrip site.*fn3
Swiss filed successive applications with Defendants in 1988, 1990, and again in 2000 to have the airstrip land transferred to him under the provisions of 43 U.S.C. § 1613(c)(1).*fn4 In a letter dated December 19, 2000, counsel for Swiss described the land Swiss sought from Defendant Tyonek as a "portion of landing strip near homesite[,]" and listed Swiss' uses of the property as "guiding, air taxi, commercial and subsistence fishing."*fn5 All of Swiss' applications were rejected.
Swiss passed away in 2007. On March 13, 2008, Defendant Tyonek filed a proposed map of boundaries with the Bureau of Land Management and the BLM approved the map on March 17, 2009.*fn6 Plaintiffs filed this suit in Alaska Superior Court on March 12, 2009, within the statute of limitations for an action under § 1613(c)(1). Plaintiffs' Complaint asks this Court to enter an "injunction requiring [Defendants] to convey to the Trust title in fee to the Polly Creek airstrip, and a permanent easement as to applicable approach clear zones or safety zones for the airstrip[.]"*fn7
Summary judgment is appropriate if, when viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment in its favor as a matter of law.*fn8 The moving party bears the initial burden of proof as to each material fact upon which it has the burden of persuasion at trial.*fn9 This requires the moving party to establish, beyond controversy, every essential element of its claim or defense.*fn10 "When the party moving for summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial, it must come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed verdict if the same evidence were to be uncontroverted at trial. In such a case, the moving party has the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of fact on each issue material to its case."*fn11
Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party must demonstrate that a genuine issue of material fact exists by presenting evidence indicating that certain facts are so disputed that a fact-finder must resolve the dispute at trial.*fn12 The court must view this evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, must not assess its credibility, and must draw all justifiable inferences from it in favor of the nonmoving party.*fn13
Plaintiffs' counsel acknowledged at oral argument that there was no genuine issue of material fact. At this stage of the litigation, the Court need only determine whether Defendants are ...