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Mills v. Wood

United States District Court, District of Alaska

May 6, 2015

CAREY MILLS, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT WOOD; DOYON LIMITED; and HUNGWITCHIN CORPORATION, Defendants, and KURT KANAM, Defendant-in-Intervention.

ORDER REGARDING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AT DOCKET 300

RALPH R. BEISTLINE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

I. PENDING MOTION

At Docket 300 Defendant Hungwitchin Corporation has moved for summary judgment. Plaintiff Carey Mills has opposed the motion[1] and Hungwitchin has replied.[2] The Court has determined that oral argument would not materially assist in resolving the issues presented; accordingly, the matter is submitted for decision on the moving and opposing papers without oral argument.[3]

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

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.[4] Support and opposition to a motion for summary judgment is made by affidavit made on personal knowledge of the affiant, depositions, answers to interrogatories, setting forth such facts as may be admissible in evidence.[5] In response to a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the opposing party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial.[6] The issue of material fact required to be present to entitle a party to proceed to trial is not required to be resolved conclusively in favor of the party asserting its existence; all that is required is that sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial. In order to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists a nonmoving plaintiff must introduce probative evidence that establishes the elements of the complaint.[7] Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case.[8] A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party.[9] "Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge, [when] he is ruling on a motion for summary judgment."[10] The evidence of the non-moving party is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are drawn in his favor.[11] The moving party has the burden of showing there is no genuine issue of material fact; therefore, the moving party bears the burden of both production and persuasion.[12] The moving party, however, has no burden to negate or disprove matters on which the non-moving party will have the burden of proof at trial. The moving party need only point out to the Court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case.[13] There is no genuine issue of fact if, on the record taken as a whole, a rational trier of fact could not find in favor of the party opposing the motion.[14]

In general, in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court may not weigh the evidence or judge the credibility of witnesses.[15] Instead, it generally accepts as true statements made under oath.[16] However, this rule does not apply to conclusory statements unsupported by underlying facts, [17] nor may the court draw unreasonable inferences from the evidence.[18] “To survive summary judgment, a plaintiff must set forth non-speculative facts, not sweeping conclusory statements.”[19]

III. BACKGROUND/ISSUES PRESENTED

The background and history of this case is well known to the parties and is repeated herein only to the extent necessary to an understanding of this decision. This lawsuit concerns certain mining claims issued by the State of Alaska, ADL 611494–96 and ADL 611578–81, that directly abut and are adjacent to the Fortymile Station–Eagle Trail. Hungwitchin Corp., an Alaska Native Corporation, holds the surface estate of property under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act [Public Law 92-103] (“ANCSA”) over which it is alleged that the Fortymile Trail traverses. Mills, the holder of unpatented federal mining claims, brought this action under R.S. 2477[20] to establish his rights with respect to the Fortymile Trail to the extent it crosses Hungwitchin property. Mills contends that the Fortymile Trail constitutes a right-of-way for public use over which he has the right of ingress and egress.

This Court has made clear that Mills may assert in this lawsuit only those rights to the use of the Fortymile Trail that he has as a private party. Thus, Mills has the burden of establishing two elements: (1) the existence and location of the Fortymile Trail; and (2) the extent of his rights as a member of the general public to use that trail.[21]

In its motion Hungwitchin contends that at no time has it denied Mills access to his mining claim. In support of that contention, Hungwitchin submitted three affidavits setting forth the facts.

4. I am very familiar with the old cabin on the west side of the Taylor about ten miles south of Eagle. This is where the cut off the Taylor Highway down to Teddy's Fork, Discovery Fork and American Creek is located. After the cut-off this trail goes along Teddy's Fork following the creek in a southerly and westerly direction.
5. Hungwitchin Corporation has not attempted to block access to the trail described in Paragraph 3-4 above. Hungwitchin has not authorized any of its members or representatives to block access.
6. The corporation has not built a fence, gate, or berm which would restrict or block access to the trail described above; the corporation has not posted any notices which would limit or block access to the path alongside Teddy's Fork ...

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