LEO SHEEP CO. V. UNITED STATES, 440 U. S. 668 (1979)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Leo Sheep Co. v. United States, 440 U.S. 668 (1979)

Leo Sheep Co. v. United States

No. 77-1686

Argued January 15, 16, 1979

Decided March 27, 1979

440 U.S. 668


The Union Pacific Act of 1862 granted public land to the Union Pacific Railroad for each mile of track that it laid, and this was done under a system whereby land surrounding the railroad right-of-way was divided into "checkerboard" blocks, with odd-numbered lots being granted to the railroad and even-numbered lots being reserved for the Government. Petitioners, the railroad's successors in fee to certain odd-numbered lots in Wyoming lying in the vicinity of a reservoir area used by the public for fishing and hunting, brought an action to quiet title against the United States after the Govrnment had cleared a road across the Leo Sheep Co.'s land to afford the public access to the reservoir area. The District Court granted petitioners' motion for summary judgment, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, when Congress granted land to the Union Pacific Railroad, it implicitly reserved an easement to pass over the odd-numbered sections in order to reach the even-numbered sections held by the Government.

Held: The Government does not have an implied easement to build a road across petitioners' land. Pp. 440 U. S. 678-688.

(a) The tenuous relevance of the common law doctrine of easement by necessity to the Government's asserted reserved right here is insufficient to overcome the inference prompted by the omission of any reference in the 1862 Act to such a right. Pp. 440 U. S. 679-682.

(b) Nor does the canon of construction that, when grants to federal lands are at issue, any doubts "are resolved for the Government, not against it," Andrus v. Charlestone Stone Products Co., 436 U. S. 604, 436 U. S. 617, support the Government's position, since such grants "are not to be so construed as to defeat the intent of the legislature," United States v. Denver & Rio Grande R. Co., 150 U. S. 1, 150 U. S. 14. Pp 440 U. S. 682-683.

(c) Nor is the Unlawful Inclosures of Public Lands Act of 1885 of any significance in this case, since petitioners' unwillingness to entertain a public road without compensation cannot be considered a violation of that Act, it having been recognized in Camfield v. United States, 167 U. S. 518, that obstruction of access to even-numbered lots by individually fenced odd-numbered lots was not a violation of the Act. Pp. 440 U. S. 683-687.

570 F.2d 881, reversed.

Page 440 U. S. 669

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