363 U.S. 1 (1960), 10, United States v. Louisiana

Docket Nº:No. 10, Original
Citation:363 U.S. 1
Party Name:United States v. Louisiana
Case Date:May 31, 1960
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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363 U.S. 1 (1960)

United States

v.

Louisiana

No. 10, Original

United States Supreme Court

May 31, 1960

Argued October 12-15, 1959

ON MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

Syllabus

Invoking the original jurisdiction of this Court under Art. III, § 2 of the Constitution, the United States brought suit against the States of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, seeking a declaration that it is entitled to exclusive possession of, and full dominion and power over, the lands, minerals, and other natural resources underlying the waters of the Gulf of Mexico more than three geographical miles seaward from the coast of each State and extending to the edge of the Continental Shelf. It also asked that the States be enjoined from interfering with the rights of the United States in that area, and that they be required to account for all sums of money derived by them therefrom since June 5, 1950.

Held:

1. The Submerged Lands Act grants to each coastal State the ownership of submerged lands within three geographical miles from its coast, but no boundary in excess of three miles was fixed ipso facto for any State. Pp. 13, 20-25.

2. The Act preserved the right of each Gulf State to prove boundaries extending more than three geographical miles (but not more than three marine leagues) into the Gulf, but each State must establish the existence of such a boundary in judicial proceedings. Pp. 25-26.

3. To satisfy the requirements of the Act, a State's seaward boundary beyond three geographical miles from its coast must be one which, by virtue of congressional action, would have been

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legally effective to carry, as between the State and the Nation, submerged land rights under the doctrine of Pollard's Lessee v. Hagan, 3 How. 212, as Congress conceived that rule to have been prior to this Court's decision in United States v. California, 332 U.S. 19. The mere existence of such a boundary prior to the time the State was admitted to the Union is not alone sufficient. Pp. 24-36.

4. The fact that, in the field of foreign relations, the policy of the Executive Branch of the Government may have been to refuse to assert territorial jurisdiction more than three miles from shore would not impair the effectiveness of a State's seaward boundary fixed by Congress more than three miles from shore, so far as the purely domestic purposes of the Submerged Lands Act are concerned. Pp. 30-36.

5. Texas having claimed a maritime boundary at three marine leagues from her coast when she was an independent republic prior to admission to the Union, and this boundary having been confirmed pursuant to the Annexation Resolution of 1845, Texas is entitled, under the Submerged Lands Act, to a grant of three marine leagues from her coast for domestic purposes. Pp. 36-65.

6. Louisiana is entitled to submerged land rights to a distance no greater than three geographical miles from its coastlines, wherever those lines may ultimately be shown to be. Pp. 66-79.

7. Mississippi is not entitled to rights in submerged lands lying beyond three geographical miles from its coast. Pp. 79-82.

8. Alabama is not entitled to rights in submerged lands lying beyond three geographical miles from its coast. P. 82.

9. As to the States of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, a decree will be entered (1) declaring that the United States is entitled, as against these States, to all the lands, minerals and other natural resources underlying the Gulf of Mexico more than three geographical miles from the coast of each such State, that is, from the line of ordinary low-water mark and outer limit of inland waters, and extending seaward to the edge of the Continental Shelf; (2) declaring that none of these States is entitled to any interest in such lands, minerals and resources; (3) enjoining these States from interfering with the rights of the United States therein; (4) directing each such State appropriately to account to the United States for all sums of money derived therefrom subsequent to June 5, 1950; and (5) dismissing Alabama's cross-bill. P. 83.

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10. As to the State of Texas, a decree will be entered (1) declaring that the State is entitled, as against the United States, to the lands, minerals and other natural resources underlying the Gulf of Mexico to a distance of three marine leagues from Texas' coast, that is, from the line of ordinary low-water mark and outer limit of inland waters; (2) declaring that the United States is entitled, as against Texas, to no interest therein; (3) declaring that the United States is entitled, as against Texas, to all such lands, minerals and resources lying beyond that area and extending to the edge of the Continental Shelf; (4) enjoining the State from interfering with the rights of the United States therein; and (5) directing Texas appropriately to account to the United States for all sums of money derived since June 5, 1950, from the area to which the United States is declared to be entitled. P. 84.

11. Jurisdiction is retained for such further proceedings as may be necessary to effectuate the rights herein adjudicated. P. 84.

12. The motions of Louisiana and Mississippi to take depositions are denied, without prejudice to their renewal in such further proceedings as may be had in connection with matters left open by this opinion. Pp. 84-85.

13. The same disposition is made of the similar averment in Alabama's answer. P. 84, n. 142.

14. Texas' motion for similar relief and for a severance is rendered moot by the decision as to it. P. 84, n. 142.

15. The alternative motion of Louisiana, contained in its answer to the original complaint, to transfer the case as to it to the United States District Court in Louisiana is denied. P. 85, n. 143.

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HARLAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The United States, invoking our original jurisdiction under Art. III, § 2, of the Constitution, brought this suit against the States of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama,

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and Florida, seeking a declaration that it is entitled to exclusive possession of, and full dominion and power over, the lands, minerals, and other natural resources underlying the waters of the Gulf of Mexico more than three geographical miles seaward from the coast of each State and extending to the edge of the Continental Shelf.1 The complaint also asks that the States be enjoined from interfering with the rights of the United States in that area, and that they be required to account for all sums of money derived by them therefrom since June 5, 1950.2 The case is now before us on the motions of the United States for judgment on the pleadings and for dismissal of Alabama's cross-bill seeking to establish its rights to such submerged lands and resources within three marine leagues of its coast.

The controversy is another phase of the more than 20 years' dispute between the coastal States and the Federal Government over their respective rights to exploit the oil and other natural resources of offshore submerged lands. In 1947, this Court held that, as against California, the United States possessed paramount rights in such lands underlying the Pacific Ocean seaward of the low-water mark on the coast of California and outside of inland waters. United States v. California, 332 U.S. 19, 804. And, on June 5, 1950, the Court, following the principles announced in the California case, made like holdings with respect to submerged lands in the Gulf of Mexico similarly lying off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas, and directed both States to account to the United States for all sums derived from natural resources in those areas after that date. United States v. Louisiana, 339 U.S. 699; 340

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U.S. 899; United States v. Texas, 339 U.S. 707; 340 U.S. 900.3

On May 22, 1953, Congress, following earlier repeated unsuccessful attempts at legislation dealing with state and federal rights in submerged lands,4 passed the Submerged Lands Act, 67 Stat. 29, 43 U.S.C. §§ 1301-1315. By that Act, the United States relinquished to the coastal States all of its rights in such lands within certain geographical limits, and confirmed its own rights

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therein beyond those limits. The Act was sustained in Alabama v. Texas, 347 U.S. 272, as a constitutional exercise of Congress' power to dispose of federal property, Const.Art. IV, § 3, cl. 2. Since the Act concededly did not impair the validity of the California, Louisiana, and Texas cases, which are admittedly applicable to all coastal States, this case draws in question only the geographic extent to which the statute ceded to the States the federal rights established by those decisions.

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The purposes of the Submerged Lands Act are described in its title as follows:

To confirm and establish the titles of the States to lands beneath navigable waters within State boundaries and to the natural resources within such lands and waters, to provide for the use and control of said lands and resources, and to confirm the jurisdiction and control of the United States over the natural resources of the seabed of the Continental Shelf seaward of State boundaries.

To effectuate these purposes the Act, in pertinent part --

1. relinquishes to the States the entire interest of the United States in all lands beneath navigable waters within state boundaries (§ 3, 43 U.S.C. § 1311);5

2. defines that area in terms of state boundaries "as they existed at the time (a) State became a member of the

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Union, or as heretofore approved by the Congress," not extending, however, seaward from the coast of any State more than three marine leagues6 in the Gulf of Mexico or more than three geographical miles in the...

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