Louisiana v. Mississippi Orig. Argued

RESPONDENT: Mississippi Orig. Argued
LOCATION: Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)

CITATION: 466 US 96 (1984)
ARGUED: Jan 16, 1984
DECIDED: Apr 02, 1984

David C. Kimmel - on behalf of Defendants
J. I. Palmer, Jr. - on behalf of Plaintiff

Facts of the case


Media for Louisiana v. Mississippi Orig. Argued

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 16, 1984 in Louisiana v. Mississippi Orig. Argued

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments first this morning in 86 Original, Louisiana against Mississippi and others.

Mr. Palmer, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

J. I. Palmer, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

Louisiana and Mississippi once again disagree about the location of our common boundary in the Mississippi River.

In this litigation we're concerned with about a four-mile stretch of the river which is situated approximately three and a half miles north of the Natchez, Mississippi, bridge.

This case is remarkably similar to the one that you decided in 1966, that being No. 14 Original, in that, while the facts are similar, we also have here an oil well which was drilled in 1972 from the Mississippi side of the river and your decision will in large measure determine, among several issues, in which state this oil well is located.

Mississippi has filed exceptions to the report of the Master in this case and they focused on two basic areas: One is the manner in which the Master analyzed the evidence in the case and fashioned his recommendations to you; and the other is the Master's refusal to draw a specific boundary by geodetic coordinates for the entire area in dispute for the time period in dispute, which is essentially 1972 through 1982.

Now, as the Master's report correctly reflects, Your Honors, Louisiana and Mississippi both recognize that the law of the thalweg controls here.

Your landmark decision of Iowa versus Illinois in 1892 announced the basic law of the case, and in 1906 when you decided Louisiana versus Mississippi in the first instance you told both states that the law of the thalweg controls.

So to that extent we agree on the law.

Of course, the thalweg principle has two basic predicates, one being the principles of accretion and avulsion... excuse me, accretion and erosion... and the other being the principles of avulsion.

Now, the Master on page 4 of his report suggests to you both in the text and in footnote number one that this Court now is involved only with the principles of accretion and erosion as they would apply to the so-called live thalweg of the river in this area.

William H. Rehnquist:

Counsel, what page is footnote number one on?

J. I. Palmer, Jr.:

Page 4, Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

You'll see that the Master asserts in that footnote his presumption that all parties agree that only the live thalweg is at issue here and that, he says, that the sole evidence before this Court relates to that live thalweg.

We say that is a rather bold and erroneous statement of what's in the record before you.

You'll find, first of all, that in Louisiana's complaint, Your Honors, she alleges that the boundary that we're arguing about here was fixed by the law of avulsion as a result of the 1933 Corps of Engineers cut-off of Giles Bend, which is just to the south and constitutes the southern half of this boundary.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, that's not inconsistent with the thalweg being live, is it?

J. I. Palmer, Jr.:

Your Honor, we say to the Court that the thalweg or the boundary in this case consists in the upper part of the live thalweg and in the lower part of the so-called dead thalweg in the Giles Bend Cut-Off.

The state boundary must be continuous, and in this particular location, Your Honor, the thalweg proceeds on its live course until it hits the upper terminus of the dead thalweg which was caused by the Corps of Engineers cutoff.

And that's one of the key contentions of Mississippi here, is that Louisiana not only asserted that the law of avulsion is involved here, but both states throughout trial introduced ample evidence to show the location of the old dead thalweg and also how that has been affected by the westwardly movement of the river.

I would call your attention, Your Honor, to the fact that, in addition to the assertions of both states in the pleadings, the very second exhibit which was introduced at trial, which was Joint Exhibit No. 1, is a map depicting several features in 1971.

The surface location of the well on the Mississippi side of the river, the bottom location, and the specific coordinates and position of the 1964 dead thalweg is shown on that very exhibit and described by metes and bounds coordinates.

Additionally, several exhibits introduced by Louisiana at trial show that 1964 dead thalweg.

Now, in questioning by the Master during the course of the trial, the witness at that time said that for the purposes of that present testimony that depiction of the '64 dead thalweg was not then relevant.

But counsel for Louisiana was asked about those drawings; he said that they weren't relevant then, but might become so later.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, Mr. Palmer, on reading footnote one of the Master's report to which you refer, he says:

"I take the position of all parties to be that the location of the Louisiana-Mississippi boundary relative to the bottom hole location of the well must be determined by reference to the live thalweg. "

Now, is that an incorrect statement in your view?

J. I. Palmer, Jr.:

Your Honor, the implication or the suggestion of the statement is that all we are concerned about is the location of the boundary with respect to that well, and that we say is the fundamental problem here.