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Summa Corp. v. California ex rel. State Lands Comm'n

Citation: 14 ELR 20464
No. No. 82-708, 466 U.S. 198/(U.S., 04/17/1984)

The Court holds that California's public trust interest in certain privately held tidelands was extinguished when the state failed to assert the interest in federal patent proceedings establishing the validity of title to lands ceded by Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo after the Mexican-American War. Summa owns tidelands and traces its title to a federal patent acknowledging a grant from the Mexican Governor of California. The California Supreme Court held that the tidelands were subject to a public trust servitude under Mexican law and that sovereign servitude survived the federal patent proceedings held under the Act of 1851 implementing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The United States Supreme Court notes that the interest California claims is substantial, including the power to enter, possess, and control the use of the tidelands. It rules that such a substantial interest cannot survive patent proceedings conducted to implement a treaty. The Court notes that an ordinary patent proceeding could not deprive a state of an interest due under the equal footing doctrine. However, the patent proceedings in Summa's chain of title were conducted to discharge an international duty owed to Mexico under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Also, the proceedings had the overriding purpose of providing repose to land titles that originated with Mexican grants. The Court holds that property underlying navigable water can be conveyed in recognition of an international duty. The Court notes that the patent proceedings were intended to confirm Mexican titles, not to expand them. But it holds that even if the public trust servitude is a sovereign right, it is so substantial a claim that it must be barred if not asserted in the patent proceeding.

Counsel for Petitioner
Warren M. Christopher, Henry C. Thumann, Joseph M. Malkin, Zoe E. Baird
O'Melveny & Myers
400 S. Hope St., Los Angeles CA 90071-2899
(213) 669-6000

John N. McLaurin, William M. Bitting, Steven W. Bacon
Hill, Farrer & Burrill
34th Floor, Union Bank Sq., 445 S. Gigueroa St., Los Angeles CA 90071
(213) 620-0460

Counsel for Respondents
Nancy Alvarado Saggese, N. Gregory Taylor; John K. Van De Kamp, Attorney General
Department of Justice, 1515 K St., Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 445-4334

Counsel for Amicus Curiae
Louis F. Claiborne, Deputy Solicitor General
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2208

Dirk D. Snel, Richard J. Lazarus
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-4400

JUSTICE MARSHALL took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.