Utah Power Light Company v. United States No 202 United States v. Utah Power Light Company No 203 Beaver River Power Company v. United States No 204 United States v. Beaver River Power Company No 205 Lucien Nunn v. United States No 206 United States v. Lucien Nunn No 207

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation61 L.Ed. 791,37 S.Ct. 387,243 U.S. 389
Docket NumberNos. 202-207,s. 202-207
Decision Date19 March 1917

[Syllabus from pages 389-391 intentionally omitted] Messrs. Graham Sumner and William V. Hodges for the Utah Power & Light Company.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 391-396 intentionally omitted] Messrs. Clyde C. Dawson, Frank H. Short, H. R. Waldo, Frank J. Gustin, Charles A. Gillette, and Dean F. Brayton for the Beaver River Power Company.

Mr. Albert R. Barnes, Attorney General of Utah, Mr. Fred Farrar, Attorney General of Colorado, Mr. J. H. Peterson, Attorney General of Idaho, Mr. George B. Thacher, Attorney General of Nevada, Mr. Willis E. Reed. Attorney General of Nebraska, and Messrs. Frank H. Short, Clyde C. Dawson and S. A. Bailey heard on behalf of the state of Utah and other states.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 396-398 intentionally omitted] Assistant Attorney General Knaebel for the United States.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 399-401 intentionally omitted] Messrs. John R. Dixon and William B. Bosley as amici curiae

Mr. Justice Van Devanter delivered the opinion of the court:

We are concerned here with three suits by the United States to enjoin the continued occupancy and use, without its permission, of certain of its lands in forest reservations in Utah as sites for works employed in generating and distributing electric power, and to secure compensation for such occupancy and use in the past. The reservations were created by executive orders and proclamations with the express sanction of Congress. Almost all the lands therein belong to the United States, and before the reservations were created were public lands subject to disposal and acquisition under the general land laws. The works in question consist of diversion dams, reservoirs, pipe lines, power houses, transmission lines, and some subsidiary structures. In the aggregate these are used in collecting water from mountain streams, in conducting it for considerable distances to power house where the force arising from its descent through the pipe lines is transmuted into electric energy, and in transmitting that energy to places beyond the reservations, where it is sold to whoever has occasion to use it for power, lighting, or heating. In each case some part of the works is on private lands, but much the greater part is on lands of the United States. Part was constructed before and part after the reservation was created, but all after 1896 and nearly all after 1901. The entire works are conducted in each instance as a commercial enterprise, and not as an incident to or in aid of any other business in which the defendant is engaged.

In occupying and using the government lands as sites for these works the defendants have proceeded upon the assumption that they were entitled so to do without seeking or securing any grant or license from the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture under the legislation of Congress, and, in truth, they have neither applied for nor received such a grant of license from either. But, notwithstanding this, they assert that they have acquired and are invested with rights to occupy and use permanently, for the purposes indicated, the government lands upon which the works are located.

The principal object of the suits, as is said in one of the briefs, is to test the validity of these asserted rights, and, if they be found invalid, to require the defendants to conform to the legislation of Congress, or, at their option, to remove from the government lands. The district court ruled against the defendants upon the main question, following a decision of the circuit court of appeals in another case (126 C. C. A. 376, 209 Fed. 554), but refused the government's prayer for pecuniary relief. Cross appeals were then taken directly to this court.

The first position taken by the defendants is that their claims must be tested by the laws of the state in which the lands are situate rather than by the legislation of Congress, and in support of this position they say that lands of the United States within a state, when not used or needed for a fort or other governmental purpose of the United States, are subject to the jurisdiction, powers, and laws of the state in the same way and to the same extent as are similar lands of others. To this we cannot assent. Not only does the Constitution (art. 4, § 3, cl. 2) commit to Congress the power 'to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting' the lands of the United States, but the settled course of legislation, congressional and state, and repeated decisions of this court, have gone upon the theory that the power of Congress is exclusive, and that only through its exercise in some form can rights in lands belonging to the United States be acquired. True, for many purposes a state has civil and criminal jurisdiction over lands within its limits belonging to the United States, but this jurisdiction does not extend to any matter that is not consistent with full power in the United States to protect its lands, to control their use, and to prescribe in what manner others may require rights in them. Thus, while the state may punish public offenses, such as murder or larceny, committed on such lands, and may tax private property, such as live stock, located thereon, it may not tax the lands themselves, or invest others with any right whatever in them. United States v. McBratney, 104 U. S. 621, 624, 26 L. ed. 869, 870; Van Brocklin v. Tennessee (Van Brocklin v. Anderson) 117 U. S. 151, 168, 2. L. ed. 845, 851, 6 Sup. Ct. Rep. 670; Wisconsin C. R. Co. v. Price County, 133 U. S. 496, 504, 33 L. ed. 687, 690, 10 Sup. Ct. Rep. 341. From the earliest times Congress by its legislation, applicable alike in the states and territories, has regulated in many particulars the use by others of the lands of the United States, has prohibited and made punishable various acts calculated to be injurious to them or to prevent their use in the way intended, and has provided for and controlled the acquisition of rights of way over them for highways, railroads, canals, ditches, telegraph lines, and the like. The states and the public have almost uniformly accepted this legislation as controlling, and in the instances where it has been questioned in this court its validity has been upheld and its supremacy over state enactments sustained. Wilcox v. Jackson, 13 Pet. 498, 516, 10 L. ed. 264, 273; Jourdan v. Barrett, 4 How. 169, 185, 11 L. ed. 924, 931; Gibson v. Chouteau, 13 Wall. 92, 99, 20 L. ed. 534, 536; Camfield v. United States, 167 U. S. 518, 42 L. ed. 260, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 864; Light v. United States, 220 U. S. 523, 536, 537, 55 L. ed. 570, 574, 31 Sup. Ct. Rep. 485. And so we are of opinion that the inclusion within a state of lands of the United States does not take from Congress the power to control their occupancy and use, to protect them from trespass and injury, and to prescribe the conditions upon which others may obtain rights in them, even though this may involve the exercise in some measure of what commonly is known as the police power. 'A different rule,' as was said in Camfield v. United States, 167 U. S. 518, 42 L. ed. 260, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 864, 'would place the public domain of the United States completely at the mercy of state legislation.'

It results that state laws, including those relating to the exercise of the power of eminent domain, have no bearing upon a controversy such as is here presented, save as they may have been adopted or made applicable by Congress.

The next position taken by the defendants is that their claims are amply sustained by §§ 2339 and 2340 of the Revised Statutes, originally enacted in 1866 [14 Stat. at L. 253, chap. 262, § 9] and 1870 [16 Stat. at L. 218, chap. 235, § 17, Comp. Stat. 1913, §§ 4647, 4648]. By them the right of way over the public lands was granted for ditches, canals, and reservoirs used in diverting, storing, and carrying water for 'mining, agricultural, manufacturing, and other purposes.' The extent of the right of way in point of width or area was not stated, and the grant was noticeably free from conditions. No application to an administrative officer was contemplated, no consent or approval by such an officer was required, and no direction was given for noting the right of way upon any record. Obviously this legislation was primitive. At that time works for generating and distributing electric power were unknown, and so were not in the mind of Congress. Afterwards, when they came into use, it was found that this legislation was at best poorly adapted to their needs. It was limited to ditches, canals, and reservoirs, and did not cover power houses, transmission lines, or the necessary subsidiary structures. In that situation Congress passed the Act of May 14, 1896, chap. 179, 29 Stat. at L. 120, Comp. Stat. 1913, § 4944, which related exclusively to rights of way for electric power purposes, and read as follows:

'That the Secretary of the Interior be, and hereby is, authorized and empowered, under general regulations to be fixed by him, to permit the use of right of way to the extent of twenty-five feet, together with the use of necessary ground, not exceeding forty acres, upon the public lands and forest reservations of the United States, by any citizen or association of citizens of the United States, for the purpose of generating, manufacturing, or distributing electric power.'

We regard it as plain that this act superseded §§ 2339 and 2340 in so far as they were applicable to such rights of way, It dealt specifically with that...

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