Nebraska v. Iowa

LOCATION: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 379 US 996 (1965)
ARGUED: Jan 25, 1965
DECIDED: Feb 01, 1965

Facts of the case


Media for Nebraska v. Iowa

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 25, 1965 in Nebraska v. Iowa

Earl Warren:

Number 17 Original, State of Nebraska, Plaintiff, versus State of Iowa.

Mr. Moldenhauer.

Howard H. Moldenhauer:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The question to be argued today in this matter is whether this Court is to take jurisdiction of an original action by the State of Nebraska against the State of Iowa to construe and enforce the Iowa and Nebraska boundary compact of 1943.

The -- a motion for leave to file a bill of complaint has been filed with this Court to which was attached to the complaint.Iowa has indicated opposition to this motion on briefs on file.

In 1892, this Court decided that the Missouri River Boundary between Iowa and Nebraska was the middle of the main channel of the Missouri River.

And that in spite of the rapidity of the changes of the Missouri River caused by the velocity of the current that the normal principles of the law of accretion and avulsion applied to the Missouri and that this boundary move where the changes of the channel were gradual or imperceptible by the process known as accretion or reliction but that where the river suddenly abandoned its bank and sought a new bed by the process known as avulsion, the boundary did not move but remained in the abandoned channel.

During the years that followed that decision of this Court, there were many changes, natural changes in the Missouri River and the flooding was very great.

So in the 1930s, the United States Army Corps of Engineers embarked upon a program with channel stabilization.

And they commenced to divert the river into a new and stabilized channel which has been referred to as a design channel.

They did this by the construction of dikes and revetments and by dredging operations.

Well, as a result of all these natural changes, as a result of the action by the Corps of Engineers much land which had been in the State of Nebraska found itself placed on the easterly or Iowa side of the river, much land which had been in the State of Iowa found itself placed on the westerly or the Nebraska side of the Missouri River and there was a great deal of uncertainty and friction which resulted as to where this land was.

So because of this uncertainty and this friction, the states in the early 1940s entered into the negotiations.

And in 1943, both states entered into the Iowa-Nebraska Boundary Compact which was duly ratified by the Congress of the United States.

And this compact did several things.

After accepting an area known as Carter Lake, Iowa by metes and bounds description which was left in Nebraska by avulsion in 1877, the Compact set the new line between Iowa and Nebraska and defined it as the center line of the proposed stabilized channel of the Missouri River as established by maps on file with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in which maps were then subsequently filed with the Secretary's of the State of the two states.

And the Compact went on and it provided that Iowa ceded and relinquish jurisdiction of all lands now in Iowa but lying westerly of said boundary line to Nebraska and Nebraska ceded jurisdiction over all lands on the other side of the river to the State of Iowa.

At that time, when they determined this new line, the states didn't take any action to specifically identify the land.

In fact, we've been informed that it was too expensive of a job at that time and they didn't want to make all these difficult determinations which couldn't be made without litigation and without a great deal of expenditure funds.

They also didn't provide any procedure for describing land which had been placed -- which had been in one state and was thereby ceded to the other by the different metes and bounds descriptions of the different regions or range lines which were applicable to land in that other state.

The Compact didn't stop there with just setting a line.

It continued and this is cited at pages 26 and 30 of our complaint, to provide the titles, mortgages, and other liens good in Nebraska, shall be good in Iowa as to any lands which Nebraska may cede to Iowa in any pending suits or actions which concerns said lands maybe prosecuted to final judgment in Nebraska and such judgment shall be accorded full force in fact in Iowa.

The Compact went one step further and provided for the collection of taxes on lands which had been ceded to the other state by the original ceding state for the year of the Compact.

And then it went on and provided a five-year limitation and stated that all liens or other rights accrued or accruing as aforesaid in this tax provision shall be claimed or asserted within five years or be forever barred.

In fact as it turned out the channel wasn't stabilized and everyone thought it was at that time, the Corps of Engineers changed its plans.

The channel or river broke through in many places.

Some of the maps were destroyed.

But for many years, it appeared that this Compact had solved the boundary problems between Iowa and Nebraska.

And Nebraska citizens continued in their peaceful possession of this land, they improved it, they cleared it.

And because of the stabilization of the river, the land which was really rich bottom land became highly productive farmland.