Ickes v. Fox Same v. Parks Same v. Ottmuller 8212 268

Decision Date01 February 1937
Docket NumberNos. 266,s. 266
Citation81 L.Ed. 525,57 S.Ct. 412,300 U.S. 82
PartiesICKES, Secretary of the Interior, v. FOX et al. * SAME v. PARKS et al. SAME v. OTTMULLER. —268
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

As Amended on Denial of Rehearing March 1, 1937.

Messrs. Homer S. Cummings, Atty. Gen., and Harry W. Blair, Asst. Atty. Gen., for petitioner.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 83-85 intentionally omitted] Mr. Stephen E. Chaffee, of Sunnyside, Wash., for respondents.

[Argument of Counsel from Page 86 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

The sole question in each of these three cases is whether the United States is an indispensable party de- fendant. The suits were brought in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. That court, on motion of petitioner, deeming the presence of the United States to be indispensable, dismissed the bills as amended. Thereupon, by permission of the court, second-amended bills were filed. Petitioner renewed his motions to dismiss, which the court then denied. A special appeal was allowed by the court below, and resulted in an affirmance of the decree of the trial court. 66 App.D.C. 128, 85 F.(2d) 294. The allegations of the three second-amended bills of complaint differ in some particulars; but whether these differences will affect the extent or measure of the rights of the respective respondents or the final disposition of the suits so as to require unlike decrees, we do not determine. They are not such as to necessitate diverse rulings in respect of the question which now is presented for decision. In this view, we confine our statement, except as otherwise noted, to the allegations of the bill of complaint in the Fox Case, No. 266.

Petitioner, as Secretary of the Interior, has charge of the administration of the Reclamation Act of June 17, 1902 (32 Stat. 388), as amended. In 1906, the then Secretary of the Interior approved a reclamation project known as the 'Sunnyside Unit of the Yakima Project'; and purchased from the Washington Irrigation Company the Sunnyside Canal, together with the water appropriations and irrigation system connected therewith. At the time of the purchase, certain arid and unirrigated lands described in the bill, thereafter and now owned by respondents, were within the unit embraced by the project.

The then owners of the lands, predecessors of respondents in title, and other owners of similar lands, incorporated the Sunnyside Water Users Association under the lands within the reclamation project, and lands within the reclamation project, and agreed to take water from the project to irrigate such lands.

The association, on May 7, 1906, entered into a contract with the United States, the recitals of which in substance, so far as pertinent, are that these lands are desert and arid in character and will remain so unless the waters of the Yakima river and its tributaries be impounded and the flow regulated and controlled; that the Secretary contemplates the construction of irrigation works under the Reclamation Act for the irrigation and reclamation of these lands; that the incorporators and shareholders of the association are required to be owners and occupants of lands within the area to be irrigated, and already are in some cases appropriators of water for the irrigation thereof; that they are required to initiate rights to the use of water from the proposed irrigation works as soon as may be, and complete the acquisition thereof as prescribed by the Secretary, 'which rights shall be, and thereafter continue to be, forever appurtenant to designated lands owned by such shareholders.'

Following these recitals, it was agreed that only those who became members of the association should be accepted as applicants for rights to the use of water; that the aggregate amount of such rights should not exceed the number of acres of land capable of irrigation by the total quantity of water available—namely, the quantity now appropriated by shareholders of the association and the quantity to be delivered from all sources in excess of the water now appropriated; that the Secretary should determine the number of acres capable of such irrigation, 'to be based upon and measured and limited by the beneficial use of water'; that water rights should be paid for in ten annual installments; that the association guarantees payment for that part of the cost of the irrigation works apportioned to its shareholders—times and methods of payment being stipulated in detail; that rights to water where the same have vested were to be defined, determined, and enjoyed in accordance with the Reclamation Act and other acts of Congress on the subject of the acquisition and enjoyment of such rights, and by the laws of the state of Washington.

Some time after the execution of the foregoing contract, the predecessors in title of respondents, upon officially-approved forms, made applications for water rights for the irrigation of the lands here involved. By the terms of the applications, the measure of the water right for the land was stated to be that quantity which shall be beneficially used for the irrigation thereof, not exceeding the share proportionate to irrigable acreage of the water supply actually available, to be paid for (in ten annual installments) in an amount which was fixed in each application.1 The applicants agreed that the construction charge and the annual charges for operation and maintenance should be and were made a lien upon the lands and all water rights then or thereafter appurtenant or belonging thereto, together with all improvements thereon.

It further is alleged that a former Secretary of the Interior determined that the total cost of the water rights for all the lands in the unit would be $52 per acre, and that such sum would be sufficient to return to the reclamation fund the total cost of the project; that, pursuant to the terms of the Reclamation Act, he fixed the construction charge for the land here involved at that amount per acre, and issued public notice and order accordingly; that thereafter the successive Secretaries of the Interior uniformly construed the Reclamation Act and the contractual obligations, to the effect that the owners of the lands had purchased a sufficient quantity of water to beneficially and successfully irrigate their lands, to be determined by representatives of the Secretary having physical charge of the water distribution, from a factual investigation and personal examination of the lands and the crops growing thereon and the water requirements thereof.

Pursuant thereto, it was determined by representatives of the successive Secretaries that 4.84 acre feet of water per annum per acre was necessary to beneficially and successfully irrigate respondents' lands; that, thereupon, the Secretaries of the Interior, through their representatives, have, for a period of more than twenty years, delivered to such lands the necessary quantity of water; that after the construction of the irrigation system and reservoirs of sufficient capacity to beneficially and successfully irrigate all lands within the unit, an act of Congress was passed providing that no increase of construction charges could be made after they had been fixed by public notice and order, except by agreement between the secretary and a majority of the water-right applicants (Act Aug. 13, 1914, § 4, 43 U.S.C.A. § 469). On September 24, 1914, the then Secretary of the Interior issued a public notice and order, declaring that there would be no increase in the construction charges against the lands.

Respondents and their predecessors, it is alleged, have fully complied with the terms of the Reclamation Act and all obligations in connection with their water rights, and have paid to the government all sums due on account of construction charges, and all operation and maintenance charges, and have acquired vested water rights sufficient to beneficially and successfully irrigate their lands—namely, 4.84 acre feet of water per acre per annum; and that such water rights are appurtenant to their lands.

The bill further alleges that in 1930 the Commissioner of Reclamation desired to construct the Cle Elum Reservoir to store water for the irrigation of lands in the Kittitas Reclamation District and other lands, the canal and distributing system in that district being then in process of construction. But finding that the cost of the reservoir would exceed, by $1,000,000, the amount which would be returned to the reclamation fund, and without consulting respondents or other water users in the Sunnyside Unit of the Yakima Project, the Commissioner charged the sum of $1,000,000 to that unit and district, and informed the Secretary to that effect. Neither respondent nor any other water users in...

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