SUMMA CORP. V. CAL. STATE LANDS COMM'N, 466 U. S. 198 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Summa Corp. v. Cal. State Lands Comm'n, 466 U.S. 198 (1984)

Summa Corp. v. California ex rel. State Lands Commission

No. 82-708

Argued February 29,1984

Decided April 17,1984

466 U.S. 198


Petitioner owns the fee title to the Ballona Lagoon, a narrow body of water connected to a man-made harbor located in the city of Los Angeles on the Pacific Ocean. The lagoon became part of the United States following the war with Mexico, which was formally ended by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Petitioner s predecessors-in-interest had their interest in the lagoon confirmed in federal patent proceedings pursuant to an 1851 Act that had been enacted to implement the treaty, and that provided that the validity of claims to California lands would be decided according to Mexican law. California made no claim to any interest in the lagoon at the time of the patent proceedings, and no mention was made of any such interest in the patent that was issued. Los Angeles brought suit against petitioner in a California state court, alleging that the city held an easement in the Ballona Lagoon for commerce, navigation, fishing, passage of fresh water to canals, and water recreation, such an easement having been acquired at the time California became a State. California was joined as a defendant as required by state law and filed a cross-complaint alleging that it had acquired such an easement upon its admission to the Union and had granted this interest to the city. The trial court ruled in favor of the city and State, finding that the lagoon was subject to the claimed public trust easement. The California Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting petitioner's arguments that the lagoon had never been tideland, that even if it had been, Mexican law imposed no servitude on the fee interest by reason of that fact, and that, even if it were tideland and subject to servitude under Mexican law, such a servitude was forfeited by the State's failure to assert it in the federal patent proceedings.

Held: California cannot at this late date assert its public trust easement over petitioner's property, when petitioner's predecessors-in-interest had their interest confirmed without any mention of such an easement in the federal patent proceedings. The interest claimed by California is one of such substantial magnitude that, regardless of the fact that the claim is asserted by the State in its sovereign capacity, this interest must have been presented in the patent proceedings or be barred. Cf. Barker v. Harvey, 181 U. S. 481; @ 265 U. S. 205-209.

31 Cal.3d 288, 644 P.2d 792, reversed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined except MARSHALL, J., who took no part in the decision of the case.

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