Illinois v. Kentucky

LOCATION: The Department of Health and Human Services

DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)

CITATION: 500 US 380 (1991)
ARGUED: Mar 18, 1991
DECIDED: May 28, 1991

John Brunsman - on behalf of the Plaintiff
Rickie Leon Pearson - on behalf of the Defendant

Facts of the case


Media for Illinois v. Kentucky

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 18, 1991 in Illinois v. Kentucky

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 28, 1991 in Illinois v. Kentucky

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinions of the Court in two cases will be announced by Justice Souter.

David H. Souter:

Now, the first of these cases is No. 106, Original Illinois versus Kentucky.

We have decided this case in the exercise of the Court's original jurisdiction.

The State of Illinois has filed the bill of complaint asking this Court to determine its common boundary with the Commonwealth of Kentucky on the Ohio River.

Illinois contends that the boundary is the low watermark of northerly shore of the River as it was in 1792 when Kentucky was admitted to the union.

Kentucky claims the boundary to be the northerly low-water mark wherever that maybe from time to time.

The case was referred to a Special Master who reviewed extensive evidence submitted by the parties and the Special Master's report into the Court, he recommends that we determine the boundary to be the low watermark as of 1792 and that we find the record insufficient to support Kentucky's affirmative defenses including its claim to have acquired sovereignty to the River's northerly transient low-water mark under the doctrine of prescription and acquiescence.

The Special Master also recommends that we find the construction of dams on the River has caused the present low-water mark to the further north and it was in 1792.

Finally, he recommends that we order the common boundary of the two States to be determined as nearly at the 1792 line as can now be ascertained.

In the unanimous opinion filed by the clerk today, we agree in large measure with the Special Master's report.

We hold that the boundary between Illinois and Kentucky is the low-water mark in the northerly shore of the Ohio River as it was in 1792.

And we find that Kentucky has failed to prove its affirmative defenses including its claim of prescription and acquiescence.

We decline to find, however, that the construction of dams on the River has raised its level beyond the 1792 level since this issue can be determined in setting the location of the 1792 low-water mark.

The report of the Special Master has adopted except for his recommendation as to the effect of modern dams on the actual low waterline.

The case is remanded for such further proceedings is maybe necessary to prepare and submit an appropriate decree for adoption by the Court locating the 1792 line.