Yellen v. Hickel

Decision Date27 September 1972
Docket NumberCiv. No. 69-124.
Citation352 F. Supp. 1300
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of California
PartiesBen YELLEN et al., Plaintiffs, v. Walter J. HICKEL, Individually and as Secretary of the Interior, et al., Defendants, W. E. Jacobs et al., Intervening Landowners.


Arthur Brunwasser, San Francisco, Cal., for plaintiffs.

William R. Klein and Douglas N. King, Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., for defendants.

Charles W. Bender, Patrick Lynch and James Selna, Los Angeles, Cal., and Harry D. Steward, U. S. Atty., San Diego, Cal., for intervening defendants.


WILLIAM D. MURRAY, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiffs brought this suit seeking a writ of mandamus requiring the Secretary of the Interior to enforce Section 5 of the Reclamation Law of 1902.1 On November 23, 1971, a partial summary judgment was issued against the federal government,2 the initial defendants in the suit. The landowners of Imperial Valley, believing that their interests were not sufficiently protected by the government, requested and were granted permission to intervene on their own behalf. A full trial on the merits was then held. All parties have submitted post-trial briefs and the court has reconsidered its partial summary judgment. Now, in light of the testimony and evidence produced at trial, the court reaffirms its partial summary judgment and makes its final determination.

The issues being reconsidered are: (1) the issues of standing and res judicata, (2) the scope of Section 5 of the 1902 Reclamation Act (the residency requirement), (3) the effect of the Boulder Canyon Project Act (hereinafter referred to as the B.C.P.A.) on the Imperial Valley, (4) the rule of Udall v. Tallman, 380 U.S. 1, 85 S.Ct. 792, 13 L.Ed. 2d 616 (1965) which requires deference to longstanding administrative constructions, and (5) the equal protection argument.


The plaintiffs in this suit do have an interest in having Section 5 residency requirement enforced. Section 5 is directed specifically to the provision of water for settlement of individuals upon the land. The plaintiffs, residents of Imperial Valley, are clearly within the general zone of interest that is sought to be protected by this legislation.3 Landowner defendants would have the court believe that only those "directly" affected have standing and that, conveniently, they are the only ones who will be "directly" affected. Obviously the landowners, the beneficiaries of the present state of affairs, are not going to press for enforcement of Section 5. If the plaintiffs are not granted standing to bring this suit, the Department of Interior will in effect be given a license to disregard the law, as well as an immunity from challenges by the intended beneficiaries of the legislation in question.4

The decision of Hewes v. All Persons5 decided by the Superior Court for Imperial County is not res judicata as to this cause of action. The case was originally commenced to confirm the proceedings on the part of the Imperial Valley Irrigation District for the authorization of the execution of the contract with the United States. At the same time, a landowner in the District, Charles Malan, filed an action in the same court to enjoin the District from expending any more money in furtherance of the contract. Malan alleged the invalidity of the contract, in part, because of Malan's contention that Section 5 of the Reclamation Law of 1902 would apply under the contract and control over its terms, thus taking, without compensation, his water rights for all of his land in excess of 160 acres.

The Malan action was consolidated with the District's confirmation action. On July 1, 1933, judgment was entered confirming the validity of the contract. In its opinion the court held that Section 5 of the Reclamation Law did not apply to the contract.

43 U.S.C. § 5116 gives the state courts the power to confirm "proceedings on the part of the district for the authorization of the execution of the contract with the United States." The jurisdiction of the state court is delineated by this statute. The statute confers no jurisdiction upon the state court to decide, as was done in Hewes v. All Persons, whether Section 14 of the B.C. P.A. ("reclamation law shall govern the construction, operation and maintenance") incorporates Section 5's acre and residency limitations. The precise question of whether the term "construction, operation and maintenance" includes the delivery provisions of Section 5 has been decided by the United States Supreme Court in Ivanhoe Irrigation District v. McCracken, 357 U.S. 275, 78 S.Ct. 1174, 2 L.Ed.2d 1313 (1957), and the decision is contrary to the dicta in Hewes, supra.

Plaintiffs are not estopped by a decision rendered at a time when plaintiffs surely would not have been granted standing to contest the issue. Nor are they estopped by a state court decision which is contrary to a subsequent Supreme Court determination of the question.

The question of whether or not Section 5 applies to the Imperial Valley involves interpretation of a federal statute and is therefore a federal question. Federal courts are not bound by a state court precedent on federal questions.

"It was upon a determination of a federal question, therefore, that the Supreme Court of California rested its conclusion that, by Section 10, sales to post exchange were not exempted from the tax. Since this determination of a federal question was by a state court, we are not bound by it." Standard Oil Co. v. Johnson, 316 U.S. 481, 483, 62 S.Ct. 1168, 1169, 86 L.Ed. 1611 (1941). See also 20 Am. Jur. Courts § 222.

Landowner defendants along with the government contend that Section 5 does not apply in a situation in which there has been no "sale", nor does it apply in a situation where an "irrigation district" is involved in lieu of "individual landowners" — the term used in Section 5. Also, they contend that Section 5 imposes only a threshold requirement; not a durational requirement. A "threshold" requirement would, in effect, be an initial prerequisite to the receipt of a water right as herein defined. The requirement would terminate upon granting of a water right rather than continuing on in duration. The suggested threshold periods are either five years or the period of time needed for the irrigation district to repay the government for its capital investment in the irrigation project (the year 2002 in the case of the Imperial Valley Irrigation District).

What is a "Sale"

The United States Supreme Court has answered both of the questions posed by landowners in its decision of Ivanhoe v. McCracken, supra. The question before the court in Ivanhoe involved the application of the 160 acre limitation of Section 5 to individual landowners in Central Valley. The Ivanhoe case differs from this case only in that it involves the 160 acre limitation of Section 5 rather than the residency requirement. The case is analogous in that it involves a "district" and in that the "no sale" prohibition pertains to both the acreage and the residency requirements.

The landowners are quick to point out that Congress has reenacted the acreage limitation many times while failing to mention the residency requirement.7 Landowners would have the court believe that this history of reenactment of the acreage limitation explains the Supreme Court's holding in Ivanhoe. In support of their specious reasoning, the landowners quote Mr. Justice Clark when he alludes to "§ 5 of the Reclamation Act of 1902, as reenacted in § 46 of the Omnibus Adjustments Act of 1926."8 Were the landowners' attorneys to read the substance of Justice Clark's opinion rather than his mere paraphrasing of counsel's argument, they would find that the decision turned on the 1902 Act alone, thus vitiating the import landowners attach to the Acts of 1912 and 1926.9 The Supreme Court in Ivanhoe held the 160 acre limitation applicable to the Central Valley even though the only "sale" involved consisted of a contract10 between the irrigation company and the government by which the irrigation district agreed to repay the construction costs of the project. The Imperial Valley has a contract with the federal government essentially the same as the one in Ivanhoe. The "sale" to the Imperial Valley Irrigation District is the same as the "sale" to the Ivanhoe Irrigation District. Section 5 was found applicable to the Ivanhoe Irrigation District and should be equally applicable to the Imperial Valley contract.

"Districts" as against "Individual Landowners"

The Supreme Court in Ivanhoe held that "where a particular project has been exempted (from reclamation law) because of its peculiar circumstances, the Congress has always made such exemptions by express enactment".11 Finding no specific exemption, the court applied Section 5 to the Central Valley landowners regardless of the fact that the landowners had formed a "district" and Section 5 makes no mention of "districts". This holding is completely compatible with the policy of Section 5 as seen by the court:

"The policy as declared by the Congress has been one requiring that the benefits therefrom be made available to the largest number of people, consistent, of course, with the public good. This policy has been accomplished by limiting the quantity of land in a single ownership to which project water might be supplied."12

Residency, the companion requirement of the 160 acre limitation, will also further the policy of making the benefits from the act available to the largest number of people. The formation of "districts" is merely for administrative expediency. It is not meant to thwart the policy of Section 5.

"Durational or Threshold"

Section 5 does not limit residency to a threshold requirement as defined supra, pages 4-5. To so limit it, would be contrary to the whole tenor of Reclamation Law. No conceivable purpose would be served by freeing the...

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6 cases
  • Holguin v. Elephant Butte Irrigation Dist.
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court
    • September 9, 1977 the three states through which the river runs. The court ruled that this presented a federal question. The case of Yellen v. Hickel, 352 F.Supp. 1300 (S.D.Cal.1972) in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California considered questions of considerable interest i......
  • U.S. v. Imperial Irr. Dist.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • August 18, 1977
    ...was then held. The district court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law and again held for the plaintiffs. Yellen v. Hickel, 352 F.Supp. 1300 (S.D.Cal.1972). Judgment in favor of the plaintiffs was entered and both the government and the intervening landowners appealed. 6 The issue......
  • Champlin Petroleum Co. v. Lyman
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court
    • October 28, 1985
    ...Court to decide); Holguin v. Elephant Butte Irrigation District, 91 N.M. 398, 575 P.2d 88 (1977) (citing with approval Yellen v. Hickel, 352 F.Supp. 1300 (S.D.Cal.1972), holding that state court's interpretation of a federal statute, which is a federal question, is not binding on federal In......
  • Bowker v. Morton, 75-2004
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • August 31, 1976
    ...taxpayer would have no standing to bring this case. Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 88 S.Ct. 1942, 20 L.Ed.2d 947 (1968).3 Yellen v. Hickel, 352 F.Supp. 1300 (S.D.Cal.1972) is not consistent with this test. Without regard to the validity of its holding with respect to standing, it must be read......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
    • United States
    • FNREL - Special Institute Water Acquisition for Mineral Development (FNREL)
    • Invalid date
    ...U.S.C. Sec. 485 (h)(c). [48] 43 U.S.C. Sec. 423 (e). See Ivanhoe Irr. Co. v. McCracken, supra, residency requirements; Yellen v. Hickel, 352 F.Supp. 1300 (E.D. Cal., 1972). [49] For example, on Boysen Reservoir in Wyoming and the Yellowtail Reservoir near the Wyoming-Montana line, the Burea......

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