Wednesday, June 20, 2012

U.S. v. California State Lands Commission

Jun 14: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 10-56568. Appealed from the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. The California State Lands Commission (the Lands Commission) appeals the district court's final judgment in this eminent domain case, wherein the United States took a fee simple interest in about 32.42 acres of land (the Property) on behalf of the Navy, which has continuously leased this parcel since 1949. In condemning the Property, the United States sought to extinguish California's public trust rights. The Lands Commission contends that California's public trust rights cannot be extinguished by the United States' power of eminent domain.
    The Appeals Court notes that the Lands Commission does not dispute the United States' power to take and use the land without trust restrictions. Instead, it asks the Appeals Court to hold that California's public trust rights become "quiescent" while the United States owns the land but will "re-emerge" if the United States seeks to transfer the Property to a private party.
    The district court held that the United States' condemnation extinguished California's public trust on the entire parcel, and that the 27.54 acres which are filled can be conveyed to a private party free of any trust, but that the 4.88 acres that remained tidelands at the time of the taking are now subject to a Federal public trust and may not be conveyed to a private party.
    The Appeals Court said, "The issue before us is whether the United States can extinguish California's public trust rights when exercising its federal power of eminent domain. We hold that it can, and affirm the judgment of the district court." The Appeals Court explains further, "Having paid just compensation, the United States is entitled to the interest it sought in its complaint in condemnation: full fee simple, free of California's public trust. We have concluded that neither the equal-footing doctrine nor the public trust doctrine prevents the federal government from taking that interest in the land unencumbered."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Land, #CA9]
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