City of Mobile v. Emanuel/Dissent Catron

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Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

42 U.S. 95

City of Mobile  v.  Emanuel

Mr. Justice CATRON dissented.

The premises in controversy lie in front of the city of Mobile, and are claimed by the corporation, by virtue of the act of Congress, of May 20, 1824. They lie both below high and low water-mark.

The court charged the jury that, if the place in controversy was subsequent to the admission of this state into the Union, below both high and low water-mark, then Congress had no right to grant it, and if defendants were in possession, the plaintiffs could not oust them, by virtue of the act of Congress.

That the grant to Forbes extended to high water-mark, and that if the place claimed was between high water-mark, and the channel, in front of the grant, and had been reclaimed by defendants; then the plaintiffs could not recover in virtue of the act of Congress, and this, notwithstanding the reservation of the rights of way specified in the confirmation of the grant to Forbes.

To all of which charge the counsel of the plaintiffs excepted.

The jury found a general verdict of not guilty. As Alabama was admitted into the Union, December 14, 1819, the first instruction was conclusive of the plaintiffs' title. On the admitted fact, that the land lay under the water in 1824, the court pronounced the act of Congress void.

The second instruction depends on the fact, 'whether the defendant had reclaimed the land in front of the grant of Forbes.' There is no evidence in the record that he had done so; and all the evidence purports to have been set out.

A writ of error was prosecuted to the Supreme Court of Alabama. That court simply affirmed the judgment of the Circuit Court: and from that affirmance a writ of error was prosecuted to this court, by the corporation of the city of Mobile, under the twenty-fifth section of the judiciary act.

One error assigned in the Supreme Court of Alabama, was, 'That the charge of the circuit judge denies, that the United States had right and power to grant the premises in question.'

On the general affirmance, can this court take jurisdiction and reverse, because the first instruction was erroneous. In the case of the same plaintiffs against Eslava, 16 Peters, 246, the majority of the court held, that the opinion of the Supreme Court of Alabama certified as part of the record, was no part of it. Speaking of the opinion, the court says: 'Their opinion constitutes no part of the record, and is not properly a part of the case. We must look to the points raised by the exceptions in the Circuit Court, as the only questions for our consideration and decision.'

And so this court held, in even a stronger case, (Gordon v. Longest, 16 Peters, 103,) where there had been a general affirmance of the judgment below, by the Supreme Court of Kentucky.

In Eslava's case, I thought the opinion of the Supreme Court of Alabama formed part of the record: in that case, as in this, the opinion was found in the paper book; but a majority of the court ruled it out, as no part of the record; to which decision I submit, of course.

Looking only to the points raised by the exceptions in the Circuit Court, and we find it established with a plainness admitting of no doubt, that Alabama claims to hold as her own; and does actually hold, by force of her judicial decisions, all the lands within the state, flowed by tide water: and that this claim is founded, on an implied cession of the lands under tide water, by the United States to Alabama, as a consequence of the sanction given by Congress to the state constitution. The disastrous results of this assumption on part of the state courts of Alabama, I endeavoured to point out, (so far as pressure of circumstances would permit,) in my opinions in the cases of these plaintiffs against Eslava and Hallet, 16 Peters, 247 and 263.

That the United States had the undoubted title before the adoption of the constitution of Alabama, has never been denied by any one; and that the state acquired title by that event has not been proved, nor can it be, as I think: nor is it perceived how the question can be avoided in the cause before us, unless we look beyond the record. I therefore believe the judgment should be reversed because there was error in the first instruction. For my reasons I refer to the opinions in the cases of Eslava and Hallet. To these I will add, that it is impossible for this court to follow the decisions of the Supreme Court of Alabama, without overruling the decision in Pollard's heirs v. Kibbie, 14 Peters, 353. William Pollard claimed a square of land below high water-mark fronting the city of Mobile: the claim was founded originally on a Spanish concession, made in 1809. This was merely void, as was held in Foster and Elam v. Neilson, 2 Peters, 254, and in Garcia v. Lee, 12 Peters, 511. By the 2d sec. of the act of 1824, the land was excepted from its operation and did not pass to the city of Mobile. 14 Peters, 364, 365, 366. The title to the square claimed by Pollard therefore remained in the United States until it was granted to his heirs, by a private act of Congress, of 1836, and a patent founded on the act, dated in 1837. This court maintained the title, and a recovery was had on the act of 1836, and the patent from the government.

If the act of 1824 is void, because Congress had no power to grant the lands below the flow of the tides; so is equally, and as certainly, the act of 1836, and the patent founded on it.

Forbes owned the land, in front of the land granted to Pollard's heirs: Forbes's grant extended to high water-mark; was dated in 1802; and was undisputed. This court held in effect that it was bounded, and could not extend by implication beyond the high water-mark. So is the undoubted construction of grants for lands fronting tide waters. A grant of lands on each side of an arm of the sea, and embracing it, does not pass the land under the water by general words; there must be special words of grant, showing plainly the land covered with water, was intended to be granted: without such explicit words of grant, the high lands only pass. Such is the settled doctrine of this court. Martin v. Waddel, 16 Peters, 367. Forbes therefore could not claim as riparian owner, the land granted on his front, to Pollard: to hold otherwise would overrule the decision of Martin v. Waddel.

In any aspect this controversy can be presented, it falls within the decision of Pollard v. Kibbie: that case must be overruled, if the doctrine of the courts of Alabama is maintained.

This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the Supreme Court of the state of Alabama, and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof, it is now here ordered and adjudged by this court, that the judgment of the said Supreme Court in this cause be and the same is hereby affirmed, with costs.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).