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SUMMA CORP. v. CALIFORNIA EX REL. STATE LANDS COMMISSION ET AL.

decided: April 17, 1984.

SUMMA CORP
v.
CALIFORNIA EX REL. STATE LANDS COMMISSION ET AL.



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA.

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.

Author: Rehnquist

[ 466 U.S. Page 199]

 JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner owns the fee title to property known as the Ballona Lagoon, a narrow body of water connected to Marina del Rey, a manmade harbor located in a part of the city of

[ 466 U.S. Page 200]

     Los Angeles called Venice. Venice is located on the Pacific Ocean between the Los Angeles International Airport and the city of Santa Monica. The present case arises from a lawsuit brought by respondent city of Los Angeles against petitioner Summa Corp. in state court, in which the city alleged that it held an easement in the Ballona Lagoon for commerce, navigation, and fishing, for the passage of fresh waters to the Venice Canals, and for water recreation. The State of California, joined as a defendant as required by state law, filed a cross-complaint alleging that it had acquired an interest in the lagoon for commerce, navigation, and fishing upon its admission to the Union, that it held this interest in trust for the public, and that it had granted this interest to the city of Los Angeles. The city's complaint indicated that it wanted to dredge the lagoon and make other improvements without having to exercise its power of eminent domain over petitioner's property. The trial court ruled in favor of respondents, finding that the lagoon was subject to the public trust easement claimed by the city and the State, who had the right to construct improvements in the lagoon without exercising the power of eminent domain or compensating the landowners. The Supreme Court of California affirmed the ruling of the trial court. City of Los Angeles v. Venice Peninsula Properties, 31 Cal. 3d 288, 644 P. 2d 792 (1982).

In the Supreme Court of California, petitioner asserted that the Ballona Lagoon had never been tideland, that even if it had been tideland, Mexican law imposed no servitude on the fee interest by reason of that fact, and that even if it were tideland and subject to a servitude under Mexican law, such a servitude was forfeited by the failure of the State to assert it in the federal patent proceedings. The Supreme Court of California ruled against petitioner on all three of these grounds. We granted certiorari, 460 U.S. 1036 (1983), and now reverse that judgment, holding that even if it is assumed that the Ballona Lagoon was part of tidelands subject by Mexican law to the servitude described by the Supreme

[ 466 U.S. Page 201]

     Court of California, the State's claim to such a servitude must have been presented in the federal patent proceeding in order to survive the issue of a fee patent.*fn1

[ 466 U.S. Page 202]

     Petitioner's title to the lagoon, like all the land in Marina del Rey, dates back to 1839, when the Mexican Governor of California granted to Augustin and Ignacio Machado and Felipe and Tomas Talamantes a property known as the Rancho Ballona.*fn2 The land comprising the Rancho Ballona became part of the United States following the war between the United States and Mexico, which was formally ended by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. 9 Stat. 922. Under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo the United States undertook to protect the property rights of Mexican landowners, Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Art. VIII, 9 Stat. 929, at the same time settlers were moving into California in large numbers to exploit the mineral wealth and other resources of the new territory. Mexican grants encompassed well over 10 million acres in California and included some of the best land suitable for development. H. R. Rep. No. 1, 33d Cong., 2d Sess., 4-5 (1854). As we wrote long ago:

[ 466 U.S. Page 203]

     "The country was new, and rich in mineral wealth, and attracted settlers, whose industry and enterprise produced an unparalleled state of prosperity. The enhanced value given to the whole surface of the country by the discovery of gold, made it necessary to ascertain and settle all private land claims, so that the real estate belonging to ...


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