Public Waters Case Before Utah Supreme Court Once Again
Happy New Year and what a productive start to this year it will be for the Utah Stream Access Coalition. This Monday, USAC will return to the Utah Supreme Court for the third time in six years in its quest to vindicate Utahns’ rights to recreate on public waters where they flow through private lands. This time, the Court will hear oral arguments on whether the Fourth District Court got it wrong when it summarily dismissed USAC v. VR Acquisitions, LLC (Victory Ranch) in response to pre-trial motions filed by Victory Ranch and the State of Utah.
The case was before the Fourth District Court on the question of whether the public had a right to use privately owned streambeds for recreational purposes when Utah adopted its Constitution in 1895. Earlier, the Supreme Court ruled that the existence of such a right at statehood is a prerequisite to the Coalition’s claims today. Fourth District Court Judge Derek Pullan concluded that while “[t]he Coalition has come forward with substantial evidence that in the last half of the 19th century, Utahns widely and freely touched and used both public and private beds of Utah’s lakes, rivers and streams for a variety of purposes, including recreation …. the Coalition has failed to prove that this historical use gave rise to a public easement dictated by our law in the late 19th Century.”
The Coalition disagrees with this assessment and is asking the Utah Supreme Court to reverse Judge Pullan’s ruling and to send the matter back to the Fourth District Court so that a trial can be held to fully consider the Coalition’s “substantial evidence” of the existence of public easement rights at statehood. Oral arguments have been set for Monday, January 9, 2023 at 9:00 AM sharp at the Matheson Courthouse in SLC.
We have had an outstanding turnout from USAC members and supporters in the past and we invite you to join us one last time before the High Court. If you plan on attending, please dress appropriately and adhere to proper courtroom decorum: a crowd is best seen but not heard. This is not a rally, it is not the time for banners or signs, but for bodies en masse silently supporting stream access. The court convenes at 9:00 AM sharp. Please plan to be seated at least 15 minutes before.
We very much hope to see you there, to show appreciation for our outstanding pro bono counsel and the tremendous amount of work they’ve done for all of us, and to witness Utah history being made.