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Lujan v. Del Medio

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

October 25, 2018

CORLINDA H. LUJAN, IDA M. LUJAN, and PABLO LUJAN, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
ACEQUIA MESA DEL MEDIO, A NEW MEXICO COMMUNITY DITCH ASSOCIATION, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COUR OF RIO ARRIBA COUNTY FRANCIS J. MATHEW, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Montgomery & Andrews, P.A. Randy S. Bartell Santa Fe, NM Ida M. Lujan Santa Fe, NM for Appellants

          Humphrey & Ode, P.C. Mary E. Humphrey El Prado, NM Peter B. Shoenfeld, P.A. Santa Fe, NM for Appellees

          OPINION

          STEPHEN G. FRENCH, JUDGE

         {¶ 1} Corlinda Lujan appeals from the dismissal of her second amended complaint (Complaint) in which she sought declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and monetary damages. Her Complaint alleges, among other things, that she is entitled to the use of water appurtenant to 42.2 acres of land from the Rio Puerco de Chama based upon a decree issued by the district court in Rio Arriba County in 1962 (the Chacon Decree), and that the Acequia Mesa Del Medio (the Acequia) has consistently refused to distribute water according to the terms of the Chacon Decree. The district court dismissed Lujan's Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that the federal district court adjudicating all water rights of the Rio Chama stream system (the adjudication court), which includes the Rio Puerco de Chama, has exclusive jurisdiction over Plaintiffs claims. See State ex rel. State Engineer v. Aragon, United States District Court Cause No. 69cvO794l BB (mem. op. and order) (D.N.M. Jan. 31, 2011). We reverse, concluding that the district court has jurisdiction over the subject matter of Lujan's Complaint.

BACKGROUND

         Procedural History Concerning the Chama General Stream System Adjudication

         {¶ 2} In 1948, the Acequia, two other acequias, and members of the acequias initiated a water rights adjudication for the Rio Puerco in the district court in Rio Arriba County, (hereinafter the Chacon lawsuit). Chacon v. Chacon, Rio Arriba County Cause No. 4922. By 1961, Lujan came to own a tract of land that is irrigated by the water diverted by the Acequia from the Rio Puerco. The Chacon court issued the Chacon Decree one year later, which "determine[d] the rights of the respective claimants to divert and beneficially use the waters of the Rio Puerco de Chama and its tributaries [.]" The Chacon Decree provides the names of the claimants entitled to the use of the water who are members of the Acequia, the legal description of the land they own, and the number of acres of land they own, and thereby fixes and determines the rights to the water that is appurtenant to the described land. It lists Lujan as owning 42.2 acres of land as mapped by the hydrographic survey prepared by the State Engineer during the first phase of the adjudication (Map 19).

         {¶ 3} Several years after the issuance of the Chacon Decree, the State Engineer moved to consolidate the ongoing Chacon lawsuit with another suit, State of New Mexico v. Ramon Aragon, Rio Arriba County Cause No. 8294, to determine the claims to all water rights of the Rio Chama stream system because the Rio Puerco is a tributary of the Rio Chama. Accordingly, Chacon was consolidated with Aragon and one year later, the Aragon court ordered that all of the preliminary, interlocutory, and final orders entered in Chacon be "confirmed and adopted as if originally entered herein[.]" The order specifically addresses the Chacon Decree, referring to it as "the Partial Final Decree in the Rio Puerco de Chama section[.]" The order states that the Chacon Decree is a final and appealable order that "defin[es] the rights of the [claimants] as against the State of New Mexico" and "as between and among all [claimants] inter se, in the various sub-files in this cause[.]" The Chacon Decree was renamed and entitled "Partial Final Judgment and Decree Relating to the Public Waters of the Rio Puerco de Chama." Aragon was then removed to federal court (adjudication court), where it continues as an active general stream system adjudication. See Aragon, United States District Court Cause No. 69cv7941 BB (mem. op. and order) (D.N.M. Jan. 31, 2011).

         Background Pertaining To This Appeal

         {¶4} In 2011 Lujan sued the Acequia, the mayordomo, and the officers and commissioners of the Acequia, alleging that they have not been distributing water for irrigation according to the terms of the Chacon Decree and that the method of distribution unfairly diminishes her right to water appurtenant to her 42.2 acres of land as described in the Chacon Decree. Lujan's original complaint sought: (1) a declaratory judgment recognizing her adjudicated water rights and requiring fair and equal water distribution to all Acequia members in accordance with the Chacon Decree; (2) declarations that the Acequia must comply with statutory provisions relating to acequias and ditches, NMSA 1978, Sections 73-2-1 to 73-2-68 (1851-52, as amended through 2006); and (3) an injunction preventing the Acequia and its officers and commissioners from otherwise harassing Lujan at Acequia meetings.

         {¶5} The Acequia and other named defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to join necessary parties, arguing that Lujan sought relief under the Declaratory Judgment Act, which requires that all persons "who have or claim any interest which would be affected by the declaration" shall be made parties. NMSA 1978, Section 44-6-12 (1975). They argued that the rights of a member to water diverted by the acequia are not proportional to the number of acres of land a member owns as listed in the Chacon Decree. They contended that Lujan asked the district court to enter a declaration that would change the rights of the acequia members to be proportional to the number of acres adjudicated to the tracts of land they own. According to the Acequia, the changes sought by Lujan would affect the rights of all members of the Acequia, and possibly adjacent acequias, as they have or may claim to have an interest that would be affected by such a declaration. The Acequia also argued that in order for Lujan to have water rights, she must be the owner of the land to which the water rights are appurtenant, and that other persons, namely Jose and Magdalena Martinez, now claim an interest in Lujan's original acreage.

         {¶ 6} The district court granted the Acequia's motion (the June 2012 order) despite Lujan's opposition to it based upon its finding that Lujan's original complaint sought several declarations pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act. The court found that all acequia members, the commissioners of two adjacent acequias, and the Martinez's "have or claim an interest that would be affected by the declarations" sought in her complaint, and she "shall have the opportunity to amend her complaint to join" them. The court allowed her ninety days to amend her complaint and serve the parties joined.

         {¶7} Lujan amended the original complaint to include the parties provided in the district court's order (first amended complaint). The first amended complaint also contained additional allegations. One of those allegations claimed that the Acequia held a special meeting to discuss the Acequia's response to the lawsuit, during which it modified its irrigation schedule "for the sole purpose of reducing [Lujan]'s historic irrigation time from ...


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