United States v. Maine

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Rhode Island District Court

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)

CITATION: 475 US 89 (1986)
ARGUED: Dec 12, 1985
DECIDED: Feb 25, 1986

Henry Herrmann - on behalf of the Plaintiff
Louis F. Claiborne - on behalf of the Defendant
Louie F. Claiborne - for plaintiff

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Maine

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 12, 1985 in United States v. Maine

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in the United States against the State of Maine.

Mr. Herrmann.

Henry Herrmann:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case is an action to quiet title brought by the United States of America against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The area in controversy is a body of coastal water off the coast of Massachusetts known as Nantucket Sound.

The charts appended to both the Massachusetts brief in support of its exception and the United States reply brief, both those charts indicate the configuration and location of Nantucket Sound.

They further indicate the precise nature of the controversy on the ground.

Massachusetts claims that the entirety of Nantucket Sound is state, and therefore United States inland waters and that Massachusetts is the owner of the seabed thereof.

The United States, as the chart appended to its brief shows, it claims a small, what one can call a small federal enclave in the center of the Sound with a narrow passageway leading thereto from the open ocean.

This case at its present state of the proceeding involves only Nantucket Sound.

Other areas in controversy have so far been disposed of, and the present stage of the proceedings are before the Court on the report of its Special Master and on the sole exception taken by Massachusetts.

This exception by Massachusetts is somewhat unusual for two reasons.

First, this is not the type of submerged land or marine boundary case as the Court has heard many in the past, where the state and the federal government are fighting for a small area of land because of the king's ransom in oil royalties that they portend.

Under Massachusetts state law, which has been in existence for a long time, Nantucket Sound is designated a state ocean sanctuary and Massachusetts wishes to preserve its state protection which is absolutely--

Byron R. White:

What is a state ocean sanctuary?

What is that, a state ocean sanctuary?

Henry Herrmann:

--Under Chapter 132-A, Sections 14 and 15 of the Massachusetts General Laws, Your Honor, the state has designated certain particularly important or ecologically or scenically unique areas of its coast as so-called ocean sanctuaries, and those cannot be changed or altered in any way by exploitation, advertising.

There can be no change in the water.

There can be no degradation of the seabed, no erection of structures, no waste disposal.

In other words, the statutory scheme is to preserve the status quo, the pristine beauty of this area, absolutely for all time.

That is the gist of such a designation, Your Honor.

That is the first--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Herrmann, as I understand it, Massachusetts is claiming ancient title as the theory of its recovery?

Henry Herrmann:

--Yes, Justice O'Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And I don't know that this Court has ever recognized ancient title as a theory of recovery as such.

It has had cases dealing with historic title, and I'm not sure that I understand what you think the elements are for establishment of ancient title, and whether you think there are any cases from this Court that would support the application of that theory as opposed to normal principles of historic title.

Henry Herrmann:

Yes, Your Honor.

I think there are two parts to that question.

Let me take the second one first.

I think there is indeed solid precedent from the decisions of this Court... if I may refer the Court to Manchester versus Massachusetts, decided in 1981, there the Court had before it a controversy as to the status of Buzzards Bay, which if I can again... if I may refer the Court to the charts appended to either of the briefs, you will see that Buzzards Bay is one of the semi-contiguous bodies of water to Nantucket Sound.