LOCATION:Magoffin Avenue, El Paso
DOCKET NO.: 77-1686
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
CITATION: 440 US 668 (1979)
ARGUED: Jan 15, 1979 / Jan 16, 1979
DECIDED: Mar 27, 1979
Clyde O. Martz – for petitioners
Sara Sun Beale –
Media for Leo Sheep Company v. United States
- Opinion Announcement – March 27, 1979
- Oral Argument – January 16, 1979
- Oral Argument – January 15, 1979
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 27, 1979 in Leo Sheep Company v. United States
Warren E. Burger:
The judgment and opinion of the Court in 1686, Leo Sheep Company against the United States will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.
William H. Rehnquist:
This case comes to us from the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
The Federal Appeals Court has jurisdiction over the largest portion of the Rocky Mountain States.
The petitioner in this Court, Leo Sheep Company, sued the United States in the United States District Court for Wyoming because the United States claimed an easement over land originally granted to the Union Pacific Company and now the property of Leo Sheep.
Both land lies in the vicinity of a reservoir area in Wyoming use by the public for fishing and hunting and the Government claimed an easement over a small part of the Leo Sheep Company’s lands in order to provide road access for the public to the reservoir.
The Union Pacific Act of 1862 granted public lands to the Union Pacific Railroad for each mile of track that it laid in the construction of the first transcontinental railroad.
The grants were made under a system whereby land surrounding the railroad right-of-way were divided into checkerboard blocks with odd-numbered lots being granted to the railroad and even-numbered lots being reserved to the Government.
Because of this method of land grants, it is not possible for the public to reach the reservoir without some intrusion on the land of Leo Sheep Company.
The District Court ruled that the Government could acquire its easement only by a process of condemnation, but the Court of appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed this decision by a divided vote.
It held that the Government did not have to compensate Leo Sheep Company for the use of its land as a public road.
We now in turn reversed the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
In an opinion which may strike some as a judicial counterpart to of the West was one.
We described the history of the construction of the first transcontinental railroad in this country and the prior decisions of this Court which have decided the legal effects of the various Government land grants which accompanied the building of this — the railroad.
Generations of land patents have issued without any express reference to rights now claimed by the Government and this Court as well as other courts had traditionally recognized that special need for certainty and predictability where land titles are concerned.
We are unwilling to accept the Government’s invitation to upset settled expectations to accommodate some ill-defined power to construct public thoroughfares through private property without compensation.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals was accordingly reversed.
Mr. Justice White took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Warren E. Burger:
Thank you, Mr. Justice Rehnquist.