Rayne v. Coulbourne

Decision Date04 December 1985
PartiesDale Randolph RAYNE, et ux. v. Franklin P. COULBOURNE, et ux. 2 Sept. Term 1985.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Ronald G. Rayne (Perdue, Rayne & Davis, P.A., on brief), Salisbury, for appellants.

John E. Jacob, Jr., Salisbury, for appellees.

Argued before GILBERT, C.J., and WILNER and ALPERT, JJ.

ALPERT, Judge.

It has been said that "time and tide wait for no man." In this "riparian rights" case, man has awaited the effect of the tide, i.e., man has waited sixteen years for a decision as to the legal effect that tide has on the boundaries of his real property. In October, 1969, Dale and Hilda Rayne, appellants, filed suit in the Circuit Court for Wicomico County against Franklin and Frances Coulbourne, Caroline Blades, H. Gray and Shirley Reeves, Larmar Corporation, John and Althea Willin, and the State of Maryland, seeking an equitable share of an artificially created peninsula that basically cut off their former frontage on the Wicomico River. The matter was eventually heard by Judge Richard M. Pollitt on a Stipulation of Facts which in relevant part stated:

Dale Randolph Rayne and Hilda Taylor Rayne, his wife ("Rayne") and Franklin P. Coulbourne and Frances Anne Coulbourne, his wife ("Coulbourne") are the owners of adjoining tracts of land on the northerly side of Riverside Drive in Camden Election District of Wicomico County, Maryland....

In the fall of 1951 the Army Corps of Engineers let a contract and did in fact dredge the Wicomico River and by the deposit of spoils from the dredging created a peninsula approximately eight (8) acres in size located between the original fastland ("fastland") of Coulbourne, Rayne, Caroline Blades and the State of Maryland and the main body of the Wicomico River, separated from the fastland by tidal flats and marsh in which area the tide did then and does now ebb and flow. The land was created by the erection of a dike (berm) which was attached at one end of the northeasterly portion of the Coulbourne fastland, extending therefrom southwesterly to the rear of the fastland owned by Rayne, Blades and the State of Maryland, then circling and reversing itself and attaching at the other end to land to the east of the Coulbourne fastland then belonging to Dr. John Willin.

The following diagram, which was annexed as an exhibit to the Stipulation, better illustrates the location of the properties in question.

NOTE: OPINION CONTAINS TABLE OR OTHER DATA THAT IS NOT VIEWABLE

The land formed by accretion is shown as parcel One (p. 1). The fastland of Coulbourne, Rayne, Caroline Blades and the State of Maryland is shown as parcels Two (p. 2), Three (p. 3), Four (p. 4) and Five (p. 5), respectively.

In the Stipulation and at trial, appellants claimed "... that as a riparian owner [they] are entitled to a portion of the land created by dredging ..." and also "the portion should be determined by a court of equity based on the doctrine of equitable apportion...." The trial judge framed the issue as:

"whether plaintiffs are entitled to a portion of land created by dredging operations conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers where the land is separated from plaintiffs' original lot by an area in which the tide ebbs and flows."

He answered "in the negative," holding on August 27, 1982, "... on the limited facts set forth in the Stipulation that the Raynes have not been deprived of any riparian rights which they previously enjoyed." In this 1 appeal appellants contend that:

I. As riparian owners, the Raynes were entitled to a portion of land created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by depositing spoils between their land and the main body of the Wicomico River.

II. The attachment of the land created by depositing of spoils to Coulbournes' riparian property and the separation of the land in dispute from Raynes' riparian property by tidal flats and marsh in which the tide ebbs and flows are immaterial.

III. The Raynes' claim should not be denied on "equitable principles."

We believe that issues I and II, as framed by appellants, are really nothing more than a bifurcated version of the issue framed by the trial court, i.e., "whether plaintiffs are entitled to a portion of land created by dredging operations conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers when the land is separated from plaintiffs' original lot by an area in which the tide ebbs and flows." Our review of the trial court's opinion indicates that its holding "in the negative" was based on two legal conclusions which were determinative of the outcome of the litigation. They were:

(1) The general rule, that a riparian owner is entitled to all natural accretions to his land, does not apply in this case where the peninsula was formed by artificial accretion; and

(2) The Raynes' riparian right of access to water was unaffected by the Coulbournes' claim of title to the peninsula, because the evidence does not show the Raynes' ability to reach the Wicomico River was diminished by the Coulbournes' possession of the peninsula.

It is our opinion that both of these conclusions of law were erroneous and materially affected the outcome of the suit. Therefore, we shall reverse and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings.

The rights of a riparian owner have long been established in the common law of this State. 2 As early as 1829, the Court of Appeals held

that where a tract of land lies adjacent or contiguous to a navigable river or water, any increase of soil formed by the waters gradually or imperceptibly receding, or any gain by alluvion in the same manner, shall, as a compensation for what it may lose in other respects, belong to the proprietor of the adjacent or contiguous land.

Giraud v. Hughes, 1 G & J 249, 264 (1829). As aptly delineated by the Supreme Court, there are a number of reasons supporting the doctrine of accretion.

First, where lands are bounded by water, it may well be regarded as the expectancy of the riparian owners that they should continue to be so bounded. Second, the quality of being riparian, especially to navigable water, may be the land's 'most valuable feature' and is part and parcel of the ownership of the land itself.... Riparianness also encompasses the vested right to future alluvion, which is an 'essential attribute of the original property.' County of St. Clair v. Lovingston, 23 Wall. 46, 68 (1874). By requiring that the upland owner suffer the burden of erosion and by giving him the benefit of accretions, riparianness is maintained. Finally, there is a compensation theory at work. Riparian land is at the mercy of the wanderings of the river. Since a riparian owner is subject to losing land by erosion beyond his control, he should benefit from any addition to his lands by the accretions thereto which are equally beyond his control.

Bonelli Cattle Co. v. Arizona, 414 U.S. 313, 326, 94 S.Ct. 517, 526, 38 L.Ed.2d 526 (1973) (overruled on other grounds in Oregon v. Corvali Sand & Gravel Co., 429 U.S. 363, 97 S.Ct. 582, 50 L.Ed.2d 550 (1977)) (citations and footnote omitted). Hence, the owner of fast land has a common law right to any accretion adjacent thereto and the right of access to the navigable water bounding his fast land. Causey v. Gray, 250 Md. 380, 387, 243 A.2d 575 (1968). The owner also enjoys "the right to make a landing, wharf or pier in front of his fast land, 3 subject, however, to general rules and regulations imposed by the public authorities necessary to protect the rights of the public." Id. See also Baltimore & Ohio Railroad v. Chase, 43 Md. 23, 35 (1875).

While the riparian owner was entitled to accretions to his property, see Linthicum v. Coan, 64 Md. 439, 2 A. 693 (1886), the State was and is deemed the owner of lands located under navigable waters. Board of Public Works v. Larmar Corp., 262 Md. 24, 35, 277 A.2d 427 (1971). Indeed, the State could grant a patent to submerged land to a person other than the riparian owner and, in all practicality, destroy the riparian nature of the property. Linthicum v. Coan, 64 Md. at 453, 2 A. 693. The Acts of 1862 4 ended this practice by prohibiting "the granting of patents that will impair or affect such rights of the riparian owners; and whether those rights have been impaired or affected by the issuance of a patent is largely to be determined upon the facts and circumstances of each case." Melvin v. Schlessinger, 138 Md. at 343-44, 113 A. 875. Hence, the trial court noted that the Act of 1862

materially enlarged the rights 5 of proprietors of land bounding on navigable waters. Goodsell v. Lawson, 42 Md. 348 [, 371] (1875); Bowie v. Western Maryland Railway Terminal Company, 133 Md. 1 [, 10, 104 A. 461] (1918); Melvin v. Schlessinger, 138 Md. 337 [, 340, 113 A. 875] (1921); Causey v. Gray, 250 Md. 380 [, 388, 243 A.2d 575] (1968). The riparian owner's rights were secured by that statute to an extent beyond what the common law allowed, even according to the largest definition of those rights under the law. Garitee v. Baltimore, 53 Md. 422 [, 432] (1880).

Part of the Act of 1862 was codified as Md.Code Ann. Art. 54 § 45 (1957, 1968 Repl.Vol.), which provided:

The proprietor of land bounding on any of the navigable waters of this State shall be entitled to all accretions to said land by the recession of said water, whether heretofore or hereafter formed or made by natural causes or otherwise, in like manner and to like extent as such right may or can be claimed by the proprietor of land bounding on water not navigable.

(Emphasis added). In addition, Section 46 provided:

The proprietor of land bounding on any of the navigable waters of this State shall be entitled to the exclusive right of making improvements into the waters in front of his said land; such improvements and other accretions as above provided for shall pass to the successive owners of the land to which they are attached, as incident to their respective estates. But no such...

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