420 U.S. 515 (1975), 35, United States v. Maine

Docket Nº:No. 35, Orig.
Citation:420 U.S. 515, 95 S.Ct. 1155, 43 L.Ed.2d 363
Party Name:United States v. Maine
Case Date:March 17, 1975
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 515

420 U.S. 515 (1975)

95 S.Ct. 1155, 43 L.Ed.2d 363

United States



No. 35, Orig.

United States Supreme Court

March 17, 1975

Argued February 24-25, 1975



The United States, to the exclusion of defendant Atlantic Coastal States, held to have sovereign rights over the seabed and subsoil underlying the Atlantic Ocean, lying more than three geographical miles seaward from the ordinary low-water mark and from the outer limits of inland coastal waters, extending seaward to the outer edge of the Continental Shelf, that area, like the seabed adjacent to the coastline, being in the domain of the Nation, rather than of the separate States. United States v. California, 332 U.S. 19; United States v. Louisiana, 339 U.S. 699; United States v. Texas, 339 U.S. 707. And this rule that the paramount rights to the offshore seabed inhere in the Federal Government as an incident of national sovereignty is confirmed by both the Submerged Lands Act of 1953 and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953. Pp. 519-528.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined except DOUGLAS, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Seeking to invoke the jurisdiction of this Court under Art. III, § 2, of the Constitution and 28 U.S.C. § 1251(b), the United States, in April, 1969, asked leave to file a complaint against the 13 States bordering on the Atlantic Ocean -- Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland,

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Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.1 We granted leave to file, 395 U.S. 955, on June 16, 1969. The complaint asserted a separate cause of action against each of the States which alleged that:

[T]he United States is now entitled, to the exclusion of the defendant State, to exercise sovereign rights over the seabed and subsoil underlying the Atlantic Ocean, lying more than three geographical miles seaward from the ordinary low-water mark and from the outer limit of inland waters on the coast, extending seaward to the outer edge of the continental shelf, for the purpose of exploring [95 S.Ct. 1157] the area and exploiting its natural resources.

It was further alleged that each of the States claimed some right or title to the relevant area and was interfering with the rights of the United States. It was therefore prayed that a decree be entered declaring the rights of the United States, and that such further relief be awarded as might prove proper.2

The defendants answered, each generally denying proprietary rights of the United States in the seabed in the area beyond the three-mile marginal sea. Each of them, except Florida,3 claimed for itself, as successor in title

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to certain grantees of the Crown of England (and, in the case of New York, to the Crown of Holland), the exclusive right of dominion and control over the seabed underlying the Atlantic Ocean seaward from its coastline to the limits of the jurisdiction of the United States, asserting as well that any attempt by the United States to interfere with these rights would, in itself, violate the Constitution of the United States.4

Without acting on the motion for judgment filed by the United States that asserted that there was no material issue of fact to be resolved, we entered an order appointing the Honorable Albert B. Maris as Special Master and referred the case to him with authority to request further pleadings, to summon witnesses, and to take such evidence and submit such reports as he might deem appropriate. 398 U.S. 947 (1970). Before the Special Master, the United States contended that based on United States v. California, 332 U.S. 19 (1947), United States v. Louisiana, 339 U.S. 699 (1950), and United States v. Texas, 339 U.S. 707 (1950), it was entitled to judgment in accordance with its motion. The defendant States asserted that their cases were distinguishable from the prior cases and that, in any event, California, Louisiana, and Texas were erroneously decided, and should be

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overruled. They offered, and the Special Master received, voluminous documentary evidence to support their claims that, contrary to the Court's prior decisions, they acquired dominion over the offshore seabed prior to the adoption of the Constitution and at no time relinquished it to the United States. At the conclusion of the proceeding before him, the Special Master submitted a Report (hereinafter Report) which the United States supports in all respects, but to which the States have submitted extensive and detailed exceptions. The controversy is now before us on the Report, the exceptions to it, and the briefs and oral arguments of the parties.

In his Report, the Special Master concluded that the California, Louisiana, and Texas cases, which he deemed binding on him, governed this case and required that judgment be entered for the United States. Assuming, however, that [95 S.Ct. 1158] those cases were open to reexamination, the Special Master went on independently to examine the legal and factual contentions of the States and concluded that they were without merit, and that the Court's prior cases should be reaffirmed.

We fully agree with the Special Master that California, Louisiana, and Texas rule the issues before us. We also decline to overrule those cases as the defendant States request us to do.

United States v. California, supra, involved an original action brought in this Court by the United States seeking a decree declaring its paramount rights, to the exclusion of California, to the seabed underlying the Pacific Ocean and extending three miles from the coastline and from the seaward limits of the State's inland waters. California answered, claiming ownership of the disputed seabed. The basis of its claim, as the Court described it, was that the three-mile belt lay within the historic boundaries of the State;

that the original thirteen states acquired from

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the Crown of England title to all lands within their boundaries under navigable waters, including a three-mile belt in adjacent seas; and that, since California was admitted as a state on an "equal footing" with the original states, California at that time became vested with title to all such lands.

332 U.S. at 23. The Court rejected California's claim. The original Colonies...

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