372 U.S. 609 (1963), 31, Dugan v. Rank

Docket Nº:No. 31
Citation:372 U.S. 609, 83 S.Ct. 999, 10 L.Ed.2d 15
Party Name:Dugan v. Rank
Case Date:April 15, 1963
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 609

372 U.S. 609 (1963)

83 S.Ct. 999, 10 L.Ed.2d 15




No. 31

United States Supreme Court

April 15, 1963

Argued January 7, 1963




Respondents, who are claimants to water rights along the San Joaquin River before the Friant Dam in California, brought suit against the United States, local officials of the United States Bureau of Reclamation, and a number of irrigation and utility districts to enjoin the storing and diversion of water at the dam, which is part of the Central Valley Reclamation Project, authorized by Congress and undertaken by the Bureau of Reclamation under the Act of August 26, 1937, 50 Stat. 844. The suit was brought originally in a State Court, and was removed to a Federal District Court.


1. The McCarran amendment, 66 Stat. 560, granting consent to join the United States as a defendant in any suit "for the adjudication of rights to the use of water of a river system or other source," is not applicable here, since all claimants to water rights along the river were not made parties, no relief was asked as between claimants, and priorities were not sought to be established as to the appropriative and prescriptive rights asserted. Therefore, the United States has not consented to be made a party defendant in this suit, and it must be dismissed from the suit for want of jurisdiction. Pp. 617-619.

The United States was empowered to acquire the water rights of respondents by physical seizure; the officials of the Bureau of Reclamation did not act beyond the scope of their authority; their alleged interference with the claimed rights of respondents would not be a trespass, but a partial taking for which the United States would be required to compensate respondents; the suit to enjoin these officials actually was a suit against the United States; and it must be dismissed as to these officials. Pp. 611, 619-623.

3. If respondents have valid water rights which have been interfered with or partially taken, their remedy is not the stoppage of this government reclamation project, but a suit against the United States under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346, for damages,

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measured by the difference in the market value of respondents' land before and after the interference or taking. Pp. 611, 623-626.

4. The irrigation and utility districts which have contracts with the United States for the use of the water from the lake created by this dam must likewise be dismissed from this suit. P. 626.

293 F.2d 340, 307 F.2d 96, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

CLARK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This injunction suit, filed in 1947 by water right claimants along the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam, California, and against local officials of the United States Bureau of Reclamation, a number of Irrigation and Utility Districts and, subsequently, against the United States as well, sought to prevent the storing and diverting of water at the dam, which is part of the Central Valley Reclamation Project. 50 Stat. 844, 850 (1937). See United States v. Gerlach Live Stock Co., 339 U.S. 725 (1950). The defense interposed was that the suit was against the United States and, therefore, beyond the jurisdiction of the courts, it not having consented to be sued. In 1956, the District Court ordered the injunction issued unless the Government constructed a "physical solution"1

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which would afford the landowners a supply of water simulating that of the past. Rank v. Krug, 142 F.Supp. 1. The Court of Appeals reversed as to the United States, finding that it had not consented to be sued. However, as to the officials, it affirmed on the ground that the United States had neither acquired nor [83 S.Ct. 1002] taken the claimed water rights, and that the officials were therefore acting beyond their statutory authority. California v. Rank, 293 F.2d 340 and 307 F.2d 96. No. 31 is the petition of the local Reclamation Bureau officials, and No. 115 is that of the Irrigation and Utility Districts. Both cases proceed from the same Court of Appeals opinion. The importance of the question to the operation of this vast federal reclamation project led us to grant certiorari. 369 U.S. 836 and 370 U.S. 936. We have concluded that the Court of Appeals was correct in dismissing the suit against the United States; that the suit against the petitioning local officials of the Reclamation Bureau is in fact against the United States, and they must be dismissed therefrom; that the United States either owned or has acquired or taken the water rights involved in the suit, and that any relief to which the respondents may be entitled by reason of such taking is by suit against the United States under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346. These conclusions lead to a reversal of the judgment insofar as suit was permitted against the United States through Bureau officials.



The Project was authorized by the Congress and undertaken by the Bureau of Reclamation of the Department of the Interior pursuant to the Act of August 26, 1937, 50 Stat. 844, 850. It is generally described in sufficient detail for our purposes in United States v. Gerlach Live Stock Co., supra, and Ivanhoe Irrigation District v. McCracken, 357 U.S. 275 (1958). See Graham, The Central

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Valley Project: Resource Development of a Natural Basin, 38 Cal.L.Rev. 588, 591 (1950), for a description and citation of federal authorizations.

The grand design of the Project was to conserve and put to maximum beneficial use the waters of the Central Valley of California,2 comprising a third of the State's territory, and the bowl of which starts in the northern part of the State and, averaging more than 100 miles in width, extends southward some 450 miles. The northern portion of the bowl is the Sacramento Valley, containing the Sacramento River, and the southern portion is the San Joaquin Valley, containing the San Joaquin River. The Sacramento River rises in the extreme north, runs southerly to the City of Sacramento and then on into San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The San Joaquin River rises in the Sierra Nevada northeast of Fresno, runs westerly to Mendota and then northwesterly to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where it joins the Sacramento River. The Sacramento River, because of heavier rainfall in its watershed, has surplus water, but its valley has little available tillable soil, while the San Joaquin is in the contrary situation. An imaginative engineering feat has transported some of the Sacramento surplus to the San Joaquin scarcity, and permitted the waters of the latter river to be diverted to new areas for irrigation and other needs. This transportation of Sacramento water is accomplished by pumping water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta into the Delta-Mendota Canal, a lift of some 200 feet. The water then flows by gravity through this canal along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley southerly to Mendota, some 117 miles, where it is discharged

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into the San Joaquin River. The waters of the San Joaquin River are impounded by a dam constructed at Friant, approximately 60 miles upstream from Mendota. [83 S.Ct. 1003] Friant Dam stores the water in Millerton Lake, from which it is diverted by the Madera Canal on the north to Madera County and the Friant-Kern Canal on the south to the vicinity of Bakersfield for use in those areas for irrigation and other public purposes.

The river bed at Friant is at a level approximately 240 Feet higher than at Mendota, 142 F.Supp. 173, which prevents the Sacramento water from being carried further upstream and replenishing the San Joaquin in the 60-mile area between Mendota and Friant Dam, thereby furnishing Sacramento River water for the entire length of the San Joaquin below Friant Dam. This 60-mile stretch of the San Joaquin -- and, more particularly, that between Friant Dam and Gravelly Ford, 37 miles downstream -- is the approximate area involved in this litigation. It has been the subject of cooperative studies by the state, local, and federal governments for many years. Indeed, the initial planning of the Project recognized, as indicated by the engineering studies included in the plan, that the water flow on the San Joaquin between Friant Dam and Mendota would be severely diminished. See 18 Op.Cal.Atty.Gen. 31, 33-34 (1951). All of the parties recognized the existence of water rights in the area and the necessity to accommodate or extinguish them. Report No. 3, Calif. Water Project Authority, Definition of Rights to the Waters of the San Joaquin River Proposed for Diversion to Upper San Joaquin Valley, 1-2 (1936). The principal alternative, as shown by the reports of the United States...

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