Walker v. State Harbor Commissioners/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

84 U.S. 648

Walker  v.  State Harbor Commissioners

The alcaldes of the pueblo of San Francisco possessed no authority to grant any lands covered by the tide-waters of the bay. The grants, therefore, under which the plaintiff claims were inoperative to pass any title to the premises. This is admitted by counsel on both sides, and the only question presented by the record for our determination is whether the grants were confirmed by the act of the legislature of May 14th, 1861.

That question is not an open one for this court. It has received its authoritative solution by the judgment of the Supreme Court of the State. In the case of The People v. Davidson, [2] the question arose in that court whether the premises, upon which the defendants there had constructed a wharf, which were the same premises in controversy here, belonged to the defendants, who claimed them under the same alcalde grants and the same act of the legislature of May 14th, 1861, and the court, after full and extended consideration, held that the terms 'tide lands,' used in the act, applied only to lands covered and uncovered by the tides, and did not include lands permanently submerged by the waters of the bay of San Francisco; that the alcalde grants confirmed by the act were grants only of tide lands as thus defined, and did not embrace the grants under which the defendants claimed, and that the premises, so far as they lay below the line of low-water mark, belonged to the State.

It is not for us to express any opinion as to what would be our construction of the act had the Supreme Court of the State never spoken on the subject. In the construction of the statutes of a State, and especially those affecting titles to real property, where no Federal question arises, this court follows the adjudications of the highest court of the State. Its interpretation is accepted as the true interpretation, whatever may be our opinion of its original soundness. It becomes a part of the statute, as much so as if incorporated into the body of it, and in following the statute as thus interpreted we only apply to a local question the law of the place. As has been often remarked, infinite mischiefs would result if, in construing State statutes affecting titles to real property, where no Federal question is involved, a different rule were adopted by the Federal tribunals from that of the State courts.



^2  30 California, 379.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).