United States v. Little Lake Misere Land Company

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Little Lake Misere Land Company
LOCATION: New York State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 71-1459
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 412 US 580 (1973)
ARGUED: Jan 15, 1973 / Jan 16, 1973
DECIDED: Jun 18, 1973

Austin W. Lewis - for respondents
William Bradford Reynolds - for petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Little Lake Misere Land Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 15, 1973 in United States v. Little Lake Misere Land Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 16, 1973 in United States v. Little Lake Misere Land Company

Warren E. Burger:


Mr. Lewis.

Austin W. Lewis:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

With the Court’s indulgence and although it will require some repetition, I would like to devote my remaining time here today to a step-by-step analysis of the four legal concepts that I consider are applicable in this case.

Hoping that this will place this unique civil right -- civil law problem in proper perspective for the Court.

Initially thought, I will say in the absence of additional questions from the Court, I will lay aside any further discussion of the point that state law should be applied here over in a federal law.

I believe this is fully covered in the briefs and consider that the Leiter Minerals’ opinion of this Court as well as the other cases cited in the respondent’s brief removes us as a serious issue in the case and while certainly no concessions have been made by the Solicitor General, I had a feeling from the Government’s reply brief and the argument made yesterday that this does not -- will not disturb the Government too seriously.

Now, the four items to be considered in my opinion are these: First, a brief discussion of the legal status of mineral servitude in the State of Louisiana; second, a consideration of the three types of mineral servitudes that exist in that State; then third, the legal status of a case of contractual prescription, which on question is involved in the present case; and fourth and finally, the precise nature of the so-called reversionary interests of the United States in a case of contractual prescription, and whether any of the constitutional questions raised by the Government are applicable to this case.

Now, on the first point, I will not devote a great deal of time to the basic mineral servitude.

Its nature appeared to have been understood by the Court yesterday.

Except, I would like to stress that in Louisiana, there can be no separate estate in minerals.

No matter what form, the deed or reservation is placed and what language is used, only a servitude or easement is created which expires in 10 years, if not exercise by drilling.

I might say that --

Potter Stewart:

Is Louisiana unique among the States?

Is the law of Louisiana unique among the States --

Austin W. Lewis:

It is; it is.

Potter Stewart:

-- in holding that there cannot be any property right and --

Austin W. Lewis:

I know of no other States that has --

Potter Stewart:

-- in minerals as such?

Austin W. Lewis:

-- has that rule.

No, sir.

It was based of course in our civil law concepts and no such --

Potter Stewart:

But there is no other -- none of the other States that --

Austin W. Lewis:

I am satisfied --

Potter Stewart:

-- have borrowed the civil law --

Austin W. Lewis:

We made some rather serious research on that which I am having problem too.

Potter Stewart:

Do you think, it should --

William H. Rehnquist:

In the consequence of not being a property interest is that it can’t be alienated or transferred?

One can’t?

Austin W. Lewis:

That’s just one evidence that it is not, Your Honor.