Kaiser Aetna v. United States

PETITIONER: Kaiser Aetna
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

DOCKET NO.: 78-738
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 444 US 164 (1979)
ARGUED: Oct 01, 1979
DECIDED: Dec 04, 1979

Ms. Kathryn A. Oberly - on behalf of the Respondent
Richard Charles Bocken - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case


Media for Kaiser Aetna v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 04, 1979 in Kaiser Aetna v. United States

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion in the case of Kaiser Aetna against United States will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

I believe I have a companion case too, Chief, do I not?

Vermilion --

Per curiam, yes.

Oh, per curiam.

Oh, I'm -- that's per curiam also.

In Kaiser Aetna versus United States, in this case petitioners challenge the decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit holding that the public is entitled to a free right of access to the privately developed Hawaii Kai Marina.

Petitioner Kaiser Aetna developed the marina by dredging and filling Kuapa Pond which was a shallow lagoon on the Island of Oahu, Hawaii that covered 523 acres and extended approximately 2 miles inland from Maunalua Bay which is an arm of the Pacific Ocean.

The sole question presented is whether petitioner's improvements to the pond allowed the government under the Commerce Clause to convert it to a public aquatic park after petitioner's had invested a good deal of money in improving it on the assumption that it was a privately owned pond leased to them.

Ponds such as Kuapa Pond were once an integral part of the Hawaiian feudal system.

They've always been considered to be private property by landowners and by the Hawaiian government.

Title to the ponds can be traced back to the Great Mahele or royal land division in which King Kamehameha III allotted large units known as ahupuaas, if I'm right in Hawaiian pronunciation.

Kuapa Pond was part of an ahupuaas that was eventually leased to Kaiser Aetna for subdivision development.

The development became what is now known as Hawaii Kai.

In dredging and filling Kuapa Pond, Kaiser Aetna increased the average depth the pond from 2 to six feet.

Kaiser Aetna also erected retaining walls, built ridges within the development, made accommodations for pleasure boats and created a route of access for boats that connected the marina to Maunalua Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

The Army Corps of Engineers acquiesced in all of this development -- in all of petitioner's improvements made prior to 1972.

But in that year, a dispute arose between petitioners and the Corps concerning whether petitioners were required to obtain approval in accordance with Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act for future construction, excavation and filling in the marina and whether petitioners were precluded from denying the public access to the pond because as a result of the improvements it had become a navigable water of the United States.

The dispute foreseeably ripened into a lawsuit by the United States government against the petitioners in the United States District Court for the District Court of Hawaii.

At the time of trial, a marina style community of approximately 22,000 persons surrounded Kuapa Pond.

It included approximately 1500 marina waterfront lot lessees.

These lessees along with at least 86 non-marina lot lessees from Hawaii Kai and 56 boat owners who were not residents of Hawaii Kai pay fees for maintenance of the pond and for patrol boats that remove floating debris and force boating regulations and maintain the privacy and security of the pond.

Kaiser Aetna controls access to and use of the marina with a few minor exceptions, it is generally not permitted commercial use.

The United States District Court held that the government lacked the authority to open the now dredged pond to the public without payment of the compensation to the owner although it recognized that the United States had the right to regulate under the Commerce Clause and navigational servitude.

The Court of Appeals reversed as to the first holding of the District Court holding that the marina had become a navigable water of the United States and therefore that as a result of the federal navigational servitude which arises from Congress' authority to regulate navigation or the Commerce Clause, the public has a right of unlimited access to the pond.

We now reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Although the now dredged pond may fall within the definition of navigable waters as this Court has used that term and delimiting the boundaries of Congress' regulatory authority under the Commerce Clause, it does not follow that all of this court's cases dealing with Congress' power to regulate navigation and those dealing with the so-called navigational servitude can simply be lumped into one basket.

With the navigational servitude argument to the government herein necessarily rests on that doctrine as an offspring of the broad authority granted Congress to regulate interstate commerce but that authority is subject to the limits of a just compensation clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Here, the government's attempt to create a public right of access to the improved pond goes so far beyond ordinary regulation or improvement for navigation involved in typical riparian condemnation cases that it amounts to a taking requiring just compensation under this decision -- this Court's decision in Pennsylvania Coal Company against Mahon.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is therefore reversed.