Oregon ex rel. State Land Bd. v. Corvallis Sand & Gravel Company

PETITIONER:Oregon ex rel. State Land Bd.
RESPONDENT:Corvallis Sand & Gravel Company
LOCATION:United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare

DOCKET NO.: 75-567
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Oregon Supreme Court

CITATION: 429 US 363 (1977)
ARGUED: Oct 04, 1976
DECIDED: Jan 12, 1977

Peter Herman
Russell Iungerich – for the State of Cal. as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court
Robert Mix

Facts of the case


Media for Oregon ex rel. State Land Bd. v. Corvallis Sand & Gravel Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 04, 1976 in Oregon ex rel. State Land Bd. v. Corvallis Sand & Gravel Company

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 12, 1977 in Oregon ex rel. State Land Bd. v. Corvallis Sand & Gravel Company

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Number 75-567 and the related case, Oregon State Land Board against Corvallis Sand & Gravel would be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

At a point near Corvallis Oregon, a company called Corvallis Sand & Gravel Company, had been digging for many years in the riverbed of the Willamette River without a lease from the State.

The State of Oregon sued Corvallis stand and his sand in the Oregon State Courts claiming that it owned the land in question.

He had asked for an injunction and for damages.

Included in the lawsuit was language lay under the river in an area known as Fischer Cut.

This land was formally an overflow channel of high stages of that river, but after a major flood in November 1909, the main channel of the river was directly through Fischer Cut.

Applying traditional principles derived from the English common law, the Oregon trial court decided it is a matter of state law that the change of the river’s course had been rapid and violent was therefore an abolition and rather than an accretion and awarded title to the land to Corvallis Sand is against the state.

This decision was appealed in the Oregon Court of Appeals.

In the meantime, our decision in Bonelli Cattle versus Arizona, three terms ago was handed out.

In Bonelli, the State of Arizona ands a private landowner had disputed title to land which had been submerged by the movement of the Colorado River, but which it later emerged, reemerged to his dry land.

We held in Bonelli that the dispute should be determined under the doctrines of federal rather than state law because of what is called the Equal-Footing doctrine under which new States are admitted to the union.

The Oregon appellate court in this case still bound by Bonelli to decide this dispute faced upon its understanding of federal law and then accordingly awarded title to Corvallis Sand.

We have carefully examined Bonelli in considering the petition and cross-petition for certiorari here, and I have concluded that its result was incorrect and it should be overruled.

We are convinced from our view of cases decided by this Court over period of nearly a 150 years that state law should govern in situation such as this.

The Equal-Footing doctrine does not provide a basis for the application of federal law since that doctrine simply address title to riverbeds in the States, a title which cannot be later defeated under any principle of federal law.

Our case has have held that state law governs property disputes and dispositions of lands at a boundary of a river.

While we recognized the waiting considerations which argue against overruling of recent case such as Bonelli, we are somewhat fortified in our decision to do so by our conviction that our holding today returns the state of the law to the place where it rested before Bonelli.

We thus remand the case to the Oregon courts for reconsideration of the issues in light of state law.

Mr. Justice Marshall joined by Mr. Justice White has filed a dissenting opinion.

Mr. Justice Brennan has filed a separate statement of dissent.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Rehnquist.