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Judge dismisses part of tribe's lawsuit staking claim to nearly 2 million acres of eastern Utah

Posted at 3:52 PM, Dec 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-16 18:15:47-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has dismissed most of a high-stakes lawsuit filed by the Ute Tribe staking claim to nearly two million acres of land in eastern Utah, and seeking as much as a billion dollars in reparations.

The lawsuit against the federal government was watched on Utah's Capitol Hill because of the political impact it could have, with some lawmakers worried about the impact it would have on tribal relations. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes called it "a case of epic proportions that kind of slid under the radar" (FOX 13 first reported on it in 2018).

The lawsuit stems from what the tribe says are broken promises and agreements dating back to the 1800s. The Ute Tribe has alleged the Uncompahgre band of the Utes were ousted from their lands in eastern Utah and portions of Colorado. However, they were never compensated for the land as promised in mineral, water and grazing rights and the Bureau of Land Management continues to lease the land.

The tribe warned the state to stay out of the lawsuit, but Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes intervened to protect what he said were state interests.

In a ruling handed down Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols rejected most of the claims made by the tribe, declaring that some of the statutes of limitations had passed. But the judge preserved a claim the tribe made on "trespass," which alleges the federal government has continued to use the lands for activities not on behalf of the tribe.

"A number of the Federal Defendants’ arguments as to why Count V must be dismissed are close calls, but at this stage in the proceedings, the Court will decline to grant the motion to dismiss on that count," Judge Nichols wrote.

Attorneys for the Ute Tribe did not immediately respond to requests for comment from FOX 13. The U.S. Department of Interior said it had no comment on the ruling.

A spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's Office said they are reviewing the ruling and would continue to remain involved and pursue the remainder of the case.

Read the judge's ruling here: