Hughes v. Washington

RESPONDENT: Washington
LOCATION: Alamance County

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)

CITATION: 389 US 290 (1967)
ARGUED: Nov 06, 1967
DECIDED: Dec 11, 1967

Facts of the case


Media for Hughes v. Washington

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 06, 1967 in Hughes v. Washington

Earl Warren:

Number 15, Stella Hughes, petitioner, versus the State of Washington.

Mr. Welsh.

Charles B. Welsh:

Yes, Your Honor.

May it please the Court.

Earl Warren:


Charles B. Welsh:

After many years and many miles, we approach this Honorable Court with depreciation for the permission granted.

The problem submitted to you, we deem, to be of basic simplicity whether federal law continues to govern the title to imperceptible accretions added to uplands acquired from the United States Government by patent.

Petitioner, Mrs. Hughes, is the owner of a small unimproved track of land of the western coast of the State of Washington bordering the Pacific Ocean.

She, on the other hand, represents in essence many hundreds of individual and municipal ownerships not only in the State of Washington but in all other similar situated owners and properties and all public land states of this union.

We submit that the problem before you is not academic, it is real, it is substantial.

We're dealing with land basically title to land.

This is not a titled land.

Charles B. Welsh:

In effect it is, Your Honor.

Now that I know --

Charles B. Welsh:

Not as such, no.


Charles B. Welsh:


I know you got a certain time before us.

Charles B. Welsh:

Right, Your Honor.

Now, in a short time ago in 1966, these owners were advised and informed by judicial fiat that the physical characteristics of their waterfront property had been changed.

Likewise, the theory of the law under which this land was purchased by the Government has been changed.

Now, the theory of the law of accretion antedates the commonly law, probably enter dates of the Justinian Code.

It is -- it has been the law of nations.

We complain bitterly, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington changed this law 75 years after the fact and hundred years after the time of acquisition.

Now, at the time of acquisition at until statehood in 1889, counsel freely admits that this law, this theory bound the United States as grantor and us as grantee.

Our line were clearly established by a judicial precedent.

Our western or seaward boundary line is the line of being high tide and that is established by the only known and a certain method that's been advanced to date.

That is the theory or the formula of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey.

Now, to us, it is not a belated action.

It is an action grounded without precedent.