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101 Ranch v. United States

Citation: 20 ELR 21331
No. No. 89-5176, 905 F.2d 180/(8th Cir., 05/30/1990)

The court holds that the land owned by plaintiff adjacent to the West Bay of Devil's Lake in North Dakota is subject to the doctrines of submergence and reliction, despite plaintiff's quiet title judgment against the state in 1929 and a quitclaim deed from the state in 1949. The water level of Devil's Lake has fluctuated widely since North Dakota gained title to the lakebed and the exposed lakebed was cultivated as farmland. In 1971, North Dakota conveyed to the United States by quitclaim deed submerged lands as part of the Garrison Diversion water project. The water level gradually increased until farming the lakebed ceased in 1974. Plaintiff sought to quiet title, arguing the state's deed to the United States created a cloud on its title. The court holds that plaintiff's contention that its 1929 judgment and 1949 quitclaim deed override the common law of reliction and submergence is directly contrary to public trust principles. Private ownership of a portion of the lakebed is antithetical to the public trust, upon which the doctrines of navigability, submergence, and reliction are based. The law does not permit an artificial designation of public and private zones on a navigable waterway, since riparian rights have no regard for artificial boundary lines. Although plaintiff received title to certain relicted lands through the 1929 judgment and 1949 quitclaim deed, plaintiff received only those rights it was entitled to as a riparian owner on public waters. To the extent that the water level of Devil's Lake continues to fluctuate, plaintiff will be entitled to any relicted lands.

Counsel for Appellants
Frank T. Knox
Lanier, Knox & Olson
115 N. University Dr., P.O. Box 1007, Fargo ND 58107-1007
(701) 232-4437

Counsel for Appellee
Murray G. Sagsveen
Zuger, Kirmis, Bolinske & Smith
Provident Life Bldg., 316 N. Fifth St., P.O. Box 1695, Bismarck ND 58502-1695
(701) 223-2711

Before MCMILLIAN and BEAM Circuit Judges, and LARSON,* Senior District Judge.