Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

UNITED STATES v. AHTANUM IRR. DIST.

March 7, 1953

UNITED STATES
v.
AHTANUM IRR. DIST. et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FEE

By the Treaty of 1855, the Yakima Indians ceded to the United States all their rights in a larger expanse now included in the State of Washington and reserved a smaller area for their own use. For them the United States became trustee of this land. The north boundary of the reservation ran along Ahtanum Creek, but did not include the stream. *fn1" The bulk of the water there comes from a branch which has its source upon what were then by that cession public lands of the United States. During the ninety-seven years since the treaty, numerous persons, defendants here, have acquired lands north of the reservation by patent from the United States. Both before and after the issuance of patents, these owners and their predecessors made beneficial use of the waters of the Ahtanum upon various of these parcels of land and now possess water rights appurtenant thereto. After 1873, there was considerable water appropriated therefrom by the whites, and some was appropriated for Indian lands. Some few years later, Washington was admitted as a state, 25 Stat. 676, 26 Stat. 1552. After the admission, appropriations continued both north and south of the Ahtanum until more was claimed than flowed therein at low water stage. When governmental agencies finally became impressed with the opportunity of reclamation of western lands, under federal control, this feature led to conflict.

However, in 1908, an agreement was made by government agents and representatives of white owners dividing the water between the reservation and the lands beyond. *fn2" Still later, at the suggestion of the government, the rights of the users upon lands off the reservation were fully adjudicated by the state courts. The Indian lands involved had been allotted in severalty and were held individually by trust patent, and the Indian nation, as such, ceased to have rights therein. A great number of these allotments have been patented in fee and are now owned by whites. Water is furnished to such lands by a ditch originally constructed to carry the share of the waters of the Ahtanum set aside for the Indians by the agreement above referred to. In 1947, the government brought this proceeding to obtain the entire flow of the Ahtanum for the Indians. The whites who claim waters north of the boundary are made defendants, as well as the successors of the Indian allottees on the reservation. The claim of the government set up by the complaint is that by the treaty there was reserved for the Yakima Indian nation the right to all the water of the stream for use upon lands included in the reservation.

 When the United States, by the Act of July 26, 1866, 14 Stat. 251, and subsequent legislation, freed the waters flowing unappropriated over public lands in order to allow ownership to be acquired therein by beneficial use, the Territorial Legislature, differentiating the conditions prevailing then in Yakima County, proclaimed that the custom of appropriation would be the source of the title to water rights in the area thereafter. *fn3" By executive and congressional action, based upon the consent of the people in the area, the State of Washington was thereafter admitted to the Union. Following the precedent set by the territorial lawmakers, the State has adopted, by legislation of its people, by acts of its legislature and by decisions of its courts, and has promulgated the law within its boundaries. In judicial proceedings brought regularly in its courts, the State has continuously exercised jurisdiction over waters so appropriated in Yakima County, where the reservation and the other lands lie, *fn4" with the exception of the water allocated to the Indians by the agreement of 1908.

 The State, with the consent of all concerned, has appeared as intervenor in this proceeding to protect its rights and prerogatives as the local sovereign and as parens patriae in behalf of the individual patentees north of the boundary, who are its citizens and who claim property rights under its laws and under the decrees of its courts.

 This case then, at the outset, presents a highly important problem as to the authority of the federal government over property rights granted by it to individuals within the confines of a state admitted upon equal footing with the thirteen original states. As a preliminary to a determination of these questions, it must be discovered how far the claims of the United States impinge upon the sovereignty of the State of Washington, to which was reserved 'the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited' by the fundamental law 'to the States respectively'. *fn5"

 The division of powers between the central government and the states is fundamental and is firmly established by the Constitution. The authority of the federal government is limited by the words of that document and is by definition either express or implied by necessity from the fundamental text. But in time of war, in the interest of self-preservation, these guaranties may necessarily be eroded in the rush of events. Nevertheless, it is essential to preserve the balance of local and central governments thus established. It is as much the duty of this Court to preserve states' rights as to confirm in the federal government the necessary authority in an existing emergency.

 In the expanse of water law, the rights of each state to control its domestic economy have been expressly recognized. The property interests of individuals established under the theory of water rights current by the interpretation of the particular state have been treated as vested rights. At the culmination of a series of cases which pointed the way, the Supreme Court of the United States, in California-Oregon Power Co. v. Beaver-Portland Cement Company, 295 U.S. 142, 55 S. Ct. 725, 79 L. Ed. 1356, affirmed a decision made by the writer of this opinion in the federal District Court for Oregon, 9 Cir., 73 F.2d 555, and gave final confirmation of the doctrine that the individual state, by legislation and decision, has absolute power to lay down its own peculiar rule of property rights in waters within its boundaries. These rights of the state, the United States recognized when the State of Washington was admitted, and no reservation was made of the rights to water or control thereof, notwithstanding thirty years had then passed since the proclamation of the treaty. There is then no residual power of the federal government to reclaim or recapture water rights which it has granted to individuals and which the State has recognized since its admission to the Union. It is conceded in this case that there are no paramount rights of the government in the sense that exercise of uncontrolled sovereign power is involved.

 But, more important still, the act of admission was a grant of jurisdiction. The gift of the power to hear and decide, bestowed by the sovereign people of this country through their representatives in Congress and the executive department, must be weighed in the light of precedents set up in the dusk of Anglo-Saxon law. But we need not evoke dim memories of grants of jurisdiction such as soc and sac, infangthief and utfangthief, in order to decide this problem. Questions of jurisdiction mark the boundaries of power between sovereignties. If the courts fail to uphold the reservation of power by the Tenth Amendment -- the rights of the states against federal administrative aggression -- the essential structure of our balanced authorities will be destroyed.

 With the act of admission, there was ceded to the State of Washington jurisdiction to adjudicate the rights of persons as to property within its boundaries. *fn6" The federal courts for this purpose are courts of the state in which they sit. Once a property right in a res has been adjudicated under this grant of jurisdiction, the decree is binding upon all the world, including the government. *fn7"

 On this primary branch of the controversy, therefore, the Court holds that the State of Washington has had, since its admission, sovereign power to promulgate by legislation and decisions of its courts a rule of waters for property within its boundaries. The United States had no sovereign powers to change or amend such a law of waters. While the United States had power upon its own lands or lands held in trust to make rules which were different from those which had force in the rest of the state, the government had no power to impose such rules upon property outside the reservation. The municipal law of the state was binding not only upon all the other lands and waters of the area outside the reservation, but specifically upon all patented lands and owners thereof within its limits. *fn8"

 But, if we lay aside these pretensions of continuing sovereignty upon the part of the federal government, there still remain serious questions of the property rights in realty or in water now used outside the limits of the reservation. It should then be considered whether the government, upon its own behalf, has pleaded rights to real property or rights in water and has proven these in strict accordance with the substantive law as promulgated by the state by the evidence adduced at trial.

 Even in the field of property rights, the feeling of the paramount sovereignty of the central power makes itself prominent. *fn9" During the last few years, as a result of the drive to acquire paramount rights, there has been apparent the theory of the policy-making agents that the government has the power to reexamine all grants, no matter how ancient or how well recognized by contemporary legislation and construction of nearly a century, as if the central government were still, as it once was, landowner and sovereign of all the rights in the area covered by the western states.

 The situation has two cardinal points: first, the adjective or procedural; second, the substantive law. On the procedural side then, it has become the fashion for the policy-making lawyers of the government to direct the filing of complaints against individuals, which do not permit the examination of the rights of the government, but which burden the private defendant with the necessity of disproving every possible aspect of any putative claim that ingenuity may subsequently suggest. It was nothing new in this case, therefore, that a complaint was filed which stated no cause of action and apparently suggested some right over and above the rights which ordinary landowners for whom the government is trustee would have. It is characteristic of the attempt to retake for the benefit of the central power rights which long ago passed into private ownership.

 Since the complaint did not define the rights of the individual wards of which the government was acting as trustee, the motion to dismiss might well have been sustained. *fn10" The loose rules of pleading, however, give full scope for anyone attempting to prevail by use of the paramount position of the sovereign. *fn11" Therefore, the questions of law were reserved for trial and pre-trial conferences were held. There devices, which are so eminently successful with private litigants, failed completely to obtain definition of the government position from these attorneys, acting on direction from the national capitol. The result is that the fundamental theory of the government lawyers has never been outlined in the pre-trial order or elsewhere. Instead, it was argued with tremendous insistence that each individual landowner must affirmatively allege and prove by a preponderance of the evidence his title to the water right of which he is in possession by long user and also the beneficial use to which he is now placing the water and, more especially, the absence of waste.

 Before any discussion of the proof, reference must be made to the pre-trial order drawn by the lawyers but signed by the judge. There were no issues of fact or law to particularize the claims of the government. An attempt to try issues which have not been outlined by either pleadings or pre-trial order is not only futile, but it is unjust. Any issue not so formulated cannot be tried because the parties do not know against what to defend. It is not in the case. The provision of the Civil Rules *fn12" that any issue upon which evidence has been introduced without objection may be decided in the trial court or on appeal is invalid if it include such an issue. Unless the cause of action and defense be somewhere delineated before judgment, to the knowledge of the parties, due process of law has not been accorded and the trial is patently unfair.

 This Court refuses to try any such issue.

 The Court therefore tries the one issue of whether the government has proven that it is trustee for the Yakima Indian nation of the entire flow of the Ahtanum reserved by the Treaty of 1855 and therefore has the right to an injunction against anyone using any of the flow. *fn13"

 The government had the burden of establishing either that the Indian wards had had possession of the water right and had been ousted recently by the defendants or that these wards had title thereto and, as a result, the right to immediate possession. *fn14" This principle is firmly settled in land litigation whether at law or in equity. *fn15" The possession of the flow or usufruct is proven by actual application of a specified quantity of water to a beneficial purpose on a particular piece of land. *fn16" Water rights, whether riparian or appropriative, constitute real property and are appurtenant to particular pieces of land. *fn17" The proof must have shown, in order to prevail or even require answer other than a general denial, that the United States appeared as trustee of the naked legal title for certain Indian wards, naming them, who owned, respectively, the equitable title to a piece of land, describing it, which land was entitled to a definite quantity of water, in cubic inches under a certain pressure, and such flow had been beneficially used thereon until deprived thereof by act of defendants. *fn18"

 Since this was not a quo warranto proceeding, such as the Crown was wont to bring in England to question franchises and jurisdictional and property rights to the harassment of its subjects, the Court refused to require the defendants affirmatively to assume this burden. Again, in the face of the persistent refusal of the government to define claims against defendants, the Court refused to require these individuals to state an affirmative defense. This procedural claim of the government lawyers was encysted in the pre-trial order. Therefore, the exact claim of neither side is developed.

 Although the pre-trial order was thus unsatisfactory, the Court signed and entered it and put the case on trial.

 The government did not prove possession of the flow as appurtenant to any piece of real property of a single drop of the water of which it claims the Indian nation is deprived by the patentees of the United States north of the boundary. In fact, there was no proof that the Yakima Indian nation had any rights in this water or interests therein. No communal lands of the Yakima nation are shown to be susceptible to irrigation by any waters of the Ahtanum or to have ever been irrigated thereby. *fn19" The proof does show that there are various parcels of land, held at some time by allottees, within the confines of the Yakima Indian reservation upon which approximately one-fourth of the flow of the Ahtanum has been beneficially applied since about the year 1900. But there is no complaint as to any interference by anyone with the beneficial enjoyment of this portion of the flow allocated by the agreement above mentioned which has actually been used south of the Ahtanum.

 The proof does not show that most of the parcels now in trust for individual Indians are riparian to the stream. On the other hand, most of them are shown not to have any connection with any appropriation or use of water which was made before the state came into the Union. Likewise, the government did not prove that a single cubic foot of water now being used on the north side of the Ahtanum was ever used upon the reservation from 1855 to the present time. This is conclusive that there is no right to have defendants set up ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.