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Scott Ranch, LLC

Supreme Court of Montana

September 19, 2017

SCOTT RANCH, LLC, a Montana Limited Liability Company, Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: August 2, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: Montana Water Court, Cause No. WC 2016-04 Honorable Russ McElyea, Presiding Judge

         For Appellant:

          Jordan W. Knudsen, Knudsen & Knudsen, PLLC, Hardin, Montana

         For Amicus Curiae:

          Nathan A. Espeland, Espeland Law Office, PLLC, Columbus, Montana (Attorney for the Apsaalooke (Crow) Tribe)

          John L. Smeltzer, United States Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division, Appellate Section, Washington, DC (Attorney for the United States of America)

          Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Jeremiah D. Weiner, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana (Attorney for the State of Montana)

          Beth Baker Justice

         ¶1 Scott Ranch, LLC, acquired Indian allotment lands in 2010 and in 2012 that were previously held in trust by the United States for the benefit of Thor Lande, a member of the Apsaalooke (Crow) Tribe. Lande died in 1997, and the lands were converted to fee status in 2006. Scott Ranch petitioned the Water Court in 2016 for adjudication of existing water rights appurtenant to the lands. The court denied Scott Ranch's petition. It held that the lands were part of the Tribal Water Right established by the Crow Water Rights Compact and did not require a separate adjudication. Scott Ranch appeals. We reverse.

         ¶2 We restate the dispositive issue as follows:

         Whether the Water Court had jurisdiction to adjudicate Scott Ranch's water rights claims.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 Scott Ranch is a Montana limited liability company owned by three non-Indian siblings. It owns allotment lands located in Big Horn County, within water basin 43P and within the boundaries of the Crow Indian Reservation. The lands formerly were held in trust by the United States for the benefit of Thor Lande, an allottee of the Crow Reservation's federally reserved water right and a member of the Crow Tribe. Lande died in 1997. The United States issued fee ...


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