Carson lawsuit against BLM pushed back
A federal judge deciding whether the Bureau of Land Management was legally justified in selling 144 acres of public land in northern Douglas County will allow Carson City to include evidence about the effects of the sale as part of the court case.
A request by the federal government to delay the schedule was also granted, pushing deadlines into the beginning of next year. A summary judgment by U.S. District Judge James Robertson was expected by the end of October, but representatives of the U.S. Department of the Interior asked for an extension.
Meanwhile, Carson City has paid $425,000 to cover legal costs, exceeding original estimates. The city hired legal counsel from Latham & Watkins in Washington, D.C., last year to handle the city’s case against the federal land sale.
Officials are now uncertain when the case will be decided and further delays may end up costing the city more.
“The heaviest bills, we feel, are in,” said City Manager Linda Ritter. “But it’s hard to say. It depends on what happens. Some responses we had to come up with weren’t expected with first estimates.”
The city initially expected to pay up to $300,000 in its lawsuit against the federal government.
Ironically, BLM and Douglas County officials were anxious for a decision in the lawsuit so the land sale could be finalized, but the legal team representing the government has not met its deadlines.
“They’ve extended the briefing schedule for various reasons, mainly because the federal government is tardy in getting its work done on this,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Forsberg. “They’ve asked and received some extra time.”
Court briefs are now due mid-January, Forsberg said.
Carson City’s legal team asked the court in July to issue a temporary order to stop the sale until a lawsuit filed by the city is resolved.
The city is suing the government for going forward with the sale, contending that proper economic and environmental studies were not completed as promised. City officials contend the sale would severely hurt Carson’s economy.
The land was auctioned in August and awarded to two Carson City auto dealers for $14.6 million. If Carson City’s lawsuit against the sale is decided in favor of the city, the sale would not be completed.
As part of its case, Carson’s Washington, D.C., legal team filed evidence in the case that explained issues related to water, storm water, sewer and several others city staff thinks will negatively affect the city and its residents, said Development Services Director Andrew Burnham.
Lawyers for the BLM and Douglas County filed motions asking the court to throw out the evidence, arguing it wasn’t available to government decision-makers before the sale.
Judge Robertson ruled the evidence can be included, but held back making a decision on how much weight the evidence would carry in the case.
“Whether and to what extent (the evidence) should be considered as extra-record materials remains for decision after the parties’ dispositive motions are fully briefed,” Robertson wrote.
“We kind of won a round,” Burnham said. “We felt it to be a hurdle we overcame.”
Evidence in the case will not include mentioning who purchased the land, Forsberg said.
All parties in the case agreed that including the fact that Carson auto dealers bought the land was not relevant to whether BLM did the necessary studies before deciding to sell it, Forsberg said.
Carson City officials said before the sale, their most serious concern was whether the land would be developed into an auto mall. An auto mall development has the potential to devastate the city’s economy if auto dealers leave to set up shop across the border.
Auto and gas sales now make up 35 percent of the city’s total sales tax revenue income.