United States v. California State Lands

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: 06-14-2012
  • Case #: 10-56568
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Gould for the Court; Circuit Judges Pregerson and Tallman
  • Full Text Opinion

So long as the federal government is within its constitutional right to take land, just compensation having been paid, “neither the equal-footing doctrine nor the public trust doctrine prevents the federal government from taking a [fee simple] interest in the land unencumbered;” be it from a person, or a state.

This appeal regards an eminent domain case between The California State Lands Commission (“Commission”) and the United States, “wherein the United States took a fee simple interest in about 32.42 acres of land” (“Property”) for the Navy. The United States condemned the property seeking to extinguish California’s public trust rights, which the Commission contends cannot be accomplished through eminent domain. Commission believes their trust rights become “quiescent” throughout the United States’ ownership, but will “re-emerge” if the United States were to transfer the Property to a private party. The district court held that condemnation extinguished California’s public trust on the parcel, and that the filled land “can be conveyed to a private party free of any trust”, and the remaining tidelands are “now subject to a federal public trust and may not be conveyed to a private party.” The Ninth Circuit noted, “The United States’ power of eminent domain is supreme when exercised within its constitutional powers,” and that “[t]he federal government does not need the consent of a state… to take its property for public use, so long as the federal government acts within its constitutional authority and pays just compensation.” The Court found the United States followed requisite procedure from the U.S.C. and was within its powers to “provide and maintain a Navy,” and “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing powers.” The Court rejected the Commission’s contention that the equal-footing doctrine required the United States to show “some compelling reason for granting away” submerged lands. The Court also rejected their assessment of the law of federal navigational servitude, finding no precedent or any good reason to limit the United States’ power of eminent domain. AFFIRMED.

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