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U.S. Supreme Court

Borax Consolidated, Ltd. v. Los Angeles, 296 U.S. 10 (1935)

Borax Consolidated, Ltd. v. Los Angeles

No. 34

Argued October 23, 1935

Decided November 11, 1935

296 U.S. 10


1. Tidelands in California, which had not been granted by Mexico or subjected to trusts requiring a different disposition, passed to the State upon her admission to the Union. P. 296 U. S. 15.

Page 296 U. S. 11

2. The Federal Government had no right to convey tideland which had vested in the State by virtue of her admission. P. 296 U. S. 16.

3. The words "public lands" are habitually used in our legislation to describe such as are subject to sale or other disposal under general laws. The term does not include tidelands. P. 296 U. S. 17.

4. The authority given the Land Department over surveys of "public lands" of the United States, and its authority under the preemption law to patent lands "belonging to the United States," did not empower it to make a survey defining the boundary between an upland lot belonging to the United States, and tideland belonging to a State, which would be conclusive against the State or her grantee in a subsequent suit against one claiming the lot under a preemption patent. Knight v. United States Land Assn., 142 U. S. 160, distinguished. P. 296 U. S. 16.

5. The question of the jurisdiction of the Land Department to act upon the subject matter -- a patent of lands -- is always open for judicial determination. P. 296 U. S. 17.

6. Where the District Court, due to the error of deeming a United States survey and patent conclusive, failed to determine the boundary between tideland granted by a State and upland patented by the United States, in a suit to quiet title involving that question and others, the cause was properly remanded for a new trial. P. 296 U. S. 21.

7. In a suit to quiet title brought by a party claiming tideland under grant from a State against a party claiming under a patent from the United States which purports to convey, according to a plat of survey, land bordering on the ocean, the question whether a part of the tideland is erroneously included by the survey and patent is necessarily a federal question, since it concerns the validity and effect of an act done by the United States and, involves the ascertainment of the essential basis of a right asserted under federal law. P. 296 U. S. 22.

8. Rights and interests in the tideland, which is subject to the sovereignty of the State, are matters of local law. P. 296 U. S. 22.

9. The tideland extends to the high water mark, which means, not a physical mark made upon the ground by the water, but the line of high water as determined by the course of the tides. P. 296 U. S. 22.

10. At common law, ordinary high water mark is the boundary of tideland. P. 296 U. S. 22.

11. The boundary is the mean high tide line, which is neither the spring tide nor the neap tide, but the mean of all the high tides. Pp. 296 U. S. 22, 296 U. S. 26.

Page 296 U. S. 12

12. Inasmuch as the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey defines mean high water at any place as the average height of all the high waters at that place over a considerable period of time, and finds that, from theoretical considerations of an astronomical character, there should be a periodic variation in the rise of water above sea level having a period of 18.6 years, the Court approves a ruling that, in order to ascertain mean high tide line with requisite certainty in fixing the boundary of valuable tidelands, an average of 18.6 years should be determined as nearly as possible. P. 296 U. S. 26.

74 F.2d 901 affirmed.

Certiorari, 295 U.S. 729, to review the reversal of a decree of the District Court, which dismissed upon the merits a bill by the City to quiet title to land claimed to be tideland.

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