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UNITED STATES v. MISSION ROCK COMPANY.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: April 13, 1903.

UNITED STATES
v.
MISSION ROCK COMPANY.

ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

Author: Mckenna

[ 189 U.S. Page 403]

 MR. JUSTICE McKENNA, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

"It will be observed," as was said by the Circuit Court of Appeals, "that the judgment of the Circuit Court was not limited to the two rocks or islands embraced in the executive order of January 13, 1899, the one covering fourteen one hundredths and the other one one hundredth of an acre, but a warded the government the entire tract of fourteen and sixty-nine one hundredths acres, including the warehouses and other improvements constructed by the defendant and its predecessors in interest." The Circuit Court of Appeals confined the recovery of the plaintiff to the rocks proper and awarded the submerged lands to the defendant. The controversy then is, which party has the title to the latter. The defendant in error is the successor of the rights and title of the California Dry Dock Company, that company being grantee of Henry B. Tichenor, who received the patent for the lands on the 11th of July, 1872, from the State of California, in pursuance of and in conformity with an act of the legislature of the State, entitled "An act

[ 189 U.S. Page 404]

     to provide for the sale and conveyance of certain submerged lands in the city and county of San Francisco to Henry B. Tichenor." Stat. California, 1869-70, p. 801.

Had the State the title to convey? The plaintiff in error, in effect, contests this, and asserts besides a right to the submerged land as an easement appurtenant to the islands.

The title and dominion which a State acquires to lands under tidewaters by virtue of her sovereignty received elaborate consideration, exposition and illustration in the case of Shively v. Bowlby, 152 U.S. 1-58. Prior cases are there collected and quoted, among others, Weber v. Commissioners, 18 Wall. 57, 65. From the latter as follows (and the case concerned tide lands in California): "Although the title to the soil under the tidewaters of the bay was acquired by the United States by cession from Mexico, equally with the title to the upland, they held it only in trust for the future State. Upon the admission of California into the Union upon equal footing with the original States, absolute property in, and dominion and sovereignty over, all soils under the tidewaters within her limits passed to the State, with the consequent right to dispose of the title to any part of said soils in such manner as she might deem proper, subject only to the paramount right of navigation over the waters, so far as such navigation might be required by the necessities of commerce with foreign nations or among the several States, the regulation of which was vested in the general government." And Mr. Justice Gray said, delivering the opinion of the court in Shively v. Bowlby: "Each State has dealt with the lands under the tidewaters within its borders according to its own views of justice and policy, reserving its own control over such lands, or granting rights therein to individuals or corporations, whether owners of the adjoining upland or not, as it considered for the best interests of the public."

This right is an attribute of the sovereignty of the State, and it follows that in the exercise of the right, as said by Mr. Justice Gray, the State may "dispose of its tide lands free from any easement of the upland proprietor." The facts of the case emphasized its doctrine. Shively was the owner of

[ 189 U.S. Page 405]

     the upland. Bowlby was the grantee of the State of Oregon of the tide lands in front of Shively's property. The grant was sustained. The sovereignty of California and the rights and powers dependent upon it are as complete as those of other States. How has California chosen to exercise them? In other words, what is the law of California as to the title and rights of riparian or littoral proprietors in the soil below high water mark? Upon the answer to these question the present litigation must be determined. The title papers of the defendant contain an act of the legislature of the State conveying the lands in controversy in private ownership, and the history of the State shows that the act was in accordance with the policy and practice of the State.

The legislature, commencing at the first session after the admission of the State into the Union, made grants of the tide lands to municipalities under conditions which contemplated their being conveyed to and held in private ownership. Among these was the act of March 26, 1851, known as the "Beach and Water Lot Act." It was entitled "An act to provide for the disposition of certain property of the State of California." Section 1 provided that "all the lots of land situated within the following boundaries according to the survey of the city of San Francisco, and the map or plat of the same now on record in the office of the recorder of the county of San Francisco, are known and designated in this act as the San Francisco Beach and Water Lots; that is to say, beginning at the point," etc. Then follows a description by streets, which includes a portion of the bay. Section 2 grants the use and occupation of the land for ninety-nine years and confirms grants of lands sold by authority of the ayuntamiento, or town or city council, or by any alcalde of said town or city; and section 4 makes the boundary line described in the first section a permanent water front of the city. These acts came up for consideration, and the character of the title conveyed was defined in Smith v. Morse, 2 California, 524; Eldridge v. Cowell, 4 California, 80, 87; Chapin v. Bourne, 8 California, 294; Hyman v. Read, 13 California, 445; Holladay v. Frisbie, 15 California, 630, 635;

[ 189 U.S. Page 406]

     Wheeler v. Miller, 16 California, 125; City and County of San Francisco v. Straut, 84 California, 124.

These cases all expressed under varying facts the validity of the title conveyed by the acts of the legislature. They are reviewed in Pacific Gas Imp. Co. v. Ellert, 64 Fed. Rep. 421.

In Taylor v. Underhill, 40 California, 473, Mr. Justice Temple said, speaking of lands below high water mark: "The State can probably sell the land and authorize the purchaser to extend the water front so as to enable him to build upon this land. . . ."

The decisions cover a period of many years and have become a rule of property and the foundation of many titles. As said by Circuit Judge Ross, delivering the opinion of the Circuit Court of Appeals: "A large and valuable part of the city of San Francisco, extending from the present water front to, in some places, Montgomery street, was at the time of and subsequent to the admission of California into the Union a part of the submerged lands of the bay, but has since been filled in by many hundred grantors under the city and State, who have erected buildings and improvements thereon at costs running into many millions of dollars. All of this was done in aid of commerce, in the upbuilding of a great city upon the bay, and with the encouragement and consent of the general government."

There is nothing inconsistent with these views in Shirley v. Bishop, 67 California, 545; People v. Gold Run Ditch and Mining Co., 66 California, 138, 151; or in Heckman v. Swett, 99 California, 303. In Shirley v. Bishop there was no question of riparian rights. The defendants attempted, under a franchise from the city of Benicia, to erect a wharf within three feet of the plaintiff's wharf, and parallel to it for sixty feet in the navigable waters of the straits of Carquinez, and beyond the water front, established by an act of the legislature of the State. The building of the wharf was restrained. The other two cases expressed the general doctrine that the title of the State to the lands covered by navigable waters is held in trust for the public. That doctrine is declared in all of the cases. It has a conspicuous illustration in the Lake Front Case, (Illinois Central Railroad v. Illinois,) 146 U.S. 387, 463. The doctrine and its limitations

[ 189 U.S. Page 407]

     are expressed in Heckman v. Swett, 99 California, 309, and in Shively v. Bowlby. The court said in Heckman v. Swett: "Navigable streams and the shores to ordinary high water mark are held by the State in trust for the public; but qualified rights therein may be granted, so far as they are not inconsistent with, or are in aid of the principal use, viz., for the purposes of navigation." In other words, the rights granted must be in aid of commerce; and it is recognized, as we have seen, in judicial decisions and established by practical examples that the conveyance by the State of its title to tide lands to be held in private ownership free from any easement of the upland proprietor, is in aid of commerce, and therefore in strict performance of the State's trust.See, in addition to the other cases, Oakland v. Oakland Water Front Co., 118 California, 160.

2. A claim was made in the Circuit Court of Appeals by the plaintiff in error under section 5 of the act of Congress of July 1, 1864, entitled "An act to expedite the settlement of titles to lands in the State of California." 13 Stat. 333. By that section the title of the United States to the lands within the corporate limits of the city of San Francisco was relinquished and granted to the city "for the uses and purposes" specified in a certain ordinance of the city called the Van Ness ordinance, which ordinance had been ratified by the Legislature of the State. Answering and disposing of the contention of the plaintiff in error, the Circuit Court of Appeals said: "Those uses and purposes . . . had no relation whatever to the rocks or islands here in controversy, which were and are far outside of the pueblo grant of lands claimed by and confirmed to the city." This is not contested here, but it is urged that "the order of President McKinley may be read, not as a reservation under that act, but as an appropriation of Mission Island and the small island southeast thereof, with the shores, contiguous submerged land, and navigable water appurtenant thereto, permanently for naval purposes." There are two answers to the contention. The order of the President explicitly designates the islands proper, and besides limits the areas appropriated to "fourteen one hundredths of an acre and one one hundredth of an acre respectively." At the time the order

[ 189 U.S. Page 408]

     was made the land in controversy had been reclaimed by the California Dry Dock Company, and upon it were "extensive warehouses," which had been built by that company, "and wharves erected for the accommodation of shipping." The property was so valuable that the plaintiff in error regarded itself damaged by its withholding in the sum of $250,000, and the rental thereof was alleged to be $5000 per annum. It is not conceivable that the President, by his order, intended to appropriate so valuable a property without explicit declaration, or to leave the appropriation to result as "appurtenant" to the rocks.

Judgment affirmed.

19030413

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