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Gwitchyaa Zhee Corp. v. Alexander

United States District Court, D. Alaska

July 3, 2018

GWITCHYAA ZHEE CORPORATION and GWICHYAA ZHEE GWICH'IN TRIBAL GOVERNMENT, Plaintiffs,
v.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER and DACHO ALEXANDER, Defendants.

          ORDER MOTION TO REMAND

          H. Russel Holland United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs move to remand this case to state court.[1] This motion is opposed.[2] Oral argument was not requested and is not deemed necessary.

         Background

         Plaintiffs are Gwitchyaa Zhee Corporation and Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich'in Tribal Government. Defendants are Clarence Alexander and Dacho Alexander.

         “Plaintiff GZ Corporation is an” Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) “village corporation for the area of Fort Yukon, Alaska.”[3] “Plaintiff Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich'in Tribal Government . . . is a federally recognized tribe. . . .”[4]

         Plaintiffs allege that “[p]ursuant to ANCSA, GZ Corporation received title to land formerly held by the federal government.”[5] Plaintiffs further allege that “[i]n 1994, Plaintiff GZ Corporation and Plaintiff Tribe executed a Land Transfer Agreement that purports to transfer GZ Corporation's title in the land at issue in the lawsuit to the Tribe. However, the Land Transfer Agreement exempts from that transfer any land GZ Corporation is required to transfer as a § 14(c)(1) Claim.”[6]

Pursuant to § 14(c)(1) of [ANCSA], village corporations that receive title to the surface estate of land formerly held by the federal government are required to convey title to property occupied by anyone that used the land as, among other things, a primary residence, a primary place of business, or as a subsistence campsite. . . .[7]

         Plaintiffs allege that in 2008, in order to comply with its obligations under § 14(c)(1) of ANCSA, “GZ Corporation submitted a ‘Map of Boundaries' to the federal Bureau of Land Management . . . that identified” 14(c)(1) claims in the Fort Yukon area.[8] Plaintiffs allege that “[t]he Fort Yukon Map of Boundaries created Tract 19 and 19A.”[9]

         The Fort Yukon Map of Boundaries states that

[t]his Map of Boundaries depicts all tracts of land to be conveyed under section 14(c) of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (85 stat 688) and represents the complete fulfillment of the Gwitchyaa Zhee Corporation obligations under section 14(c) of ANCSA, for the Village of Fort Yukon.[10]

         The President of GZ Corporation certified “that to the best of our knowledge, all conflicts concerning property lines shown on this Map of Boundaries have been resolved[.]”[11] The Deputy Mayor of Fort Yukon approved the boundaries shown on the map and the BLM accepted the Map for filing.[12] Plaintiffs allege that at the time the Map of Boundaries was submitted to the BLM, defendant Clarence Alexander was the Chairman of the Board of GZ Corporation.[13]

         Plaintiffs allege that Tract 19 consists of 5.77 acres and that Tract 19A consists of 2.83 acres.[14] Plaintiffs further allege that Tract 19A “has historically been a public easement used by community members to turn around, park and stage vehicles for using the Yukon River.”[15]

         Plaintiffs allege that “[i]n 2011, a surveyor was hired to conduct a precise survey of the § 14(c)(1) Claims identified in the Fort Yukon Map Boundaries.”[16] Plaintiffs allege that defendants “convinced the surveyor to include more acreage in their § 14(c)(1) Claim than identified on the Fort Yukon Map of Boundaries.”[17] Plaintiffs allege that “[a]s a result, the initial survey drawings incorrectly provided the Alexanders more acreage for what is now identified as Tract 19 than was originally allotted in the Fort Yukon Map of Boundaries[.]”[18]Plaintiffs allege that the survey drawings were corrected in 2014.[19]

         “In January 2016, Plaintiff GZ Corporation executed a quitclaim deed that recognized its transfer of any and all of its interest in Tract 19 to Defendant Clarence Alexander.”[20] This transfer was based on a § 14(c)(1) claim Clarence Anderson had made in 1984.[21] Plaintiffs allege however that they “have not executed a deed or other conveyance document transferring ownership of Tract 19A to anyone.”[22]

         Plaintiffs allege that defendants have “moved their belongings not only onto Tract 19, but also Tract 19A.”[23] Plaintiffs allege that “[o]n June 16, 2017, [they] wrote a letter to the Alexanders asking them to remove all personal equipment and debris from Tract 19A by June 30, 2017.”[24] Plaintiffs allege that in response rather than removing their equipment and debris from Tract 19A, defendants “posted no trespassing signs on the property.”[25] Plaintiffs allege that on September 28, 2017, they sent a letter to defendants demanding that they remove the signs and their other property and “exit the property by October 9, 2017.”[26]

         Defendants did not do so and on February 26, 2018, plaintiffs commenced this case in state court. In their complaint, plaintiffs assert an ejectment claim. In order to prove their ejectment claim, plaintiffs are “required to show that they ha[ve] a ‘legal estate' in the property and ‘a present right to possession of the property.'” Fink v. Municipality of Anchorage, 379 P.3d 183, 190 (Alaska 2016)

         On April 17, 2018, defendants removed the case to this court on the basis ...


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