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Summa Corp. ex rel. Lands Comm'n v. California (1984) 466 U.S. 198 held that the State acquired no public trust interest in lands to which title was confirmed under the federal Act of 1851 (Act of March 3, 1851, ch. 41, 9 Stat. 631, 31st Sess., ch. XLI, §§ 1, 8) patent process based on a Mexican land grant unless such interest was asserted by the State in the patent proceedings.
Plaintiff, an unincorporated association, filed a complaint against property owners on behalf of the general public, asserting nonexclusive rights and interests acquired by the general public in a road, parking area and the inland dry sand of a popular beach. Title to the land at issue was derived from a provisional Mexican land grant confirmed by a federal patent issued in the 19th century. Plaintiff claimed that Cal. Const., art. X, § 4, confers on the public a right of access over private property to the tidelands. They also claimed that, under the common law of dedication the owners' predecessors—who owned the property from early in the 20th century until the owners purchased it in 2008—through their words and acts offered to dedicate the road, parking area, and inland sand to public use over a period of decades and that the public accepted that offer by using those parts of the property. Plaintiff sought injunctive and declaratory relief and a judgment quieting title. The trial court granted summary adjudication to the owners on plaintiff's claims and on the owners' counterclaims seeking to refute plaintiff's theories.
Did Cal. Const., art. X, § 4 confer on the public a right of access over private property to the tidelands?
The court held that Cal. Const., art. X, § 4, did not confer on the public a right of access over private property to the tidelands because neither the United States nor California acquired a public interest in the land, including under the public trust doctrine, as neither asserted any such interest during the patent proceedings. Plaintiff alleged facts sufficient to state a common law dedication claim, as the complaint alleged a number of acts on the part of the property owners that could manifest an intent to dedicate to the public, coupled with public use over many decades that could establish acceptance. The trial court plainly erred in quieting title in the owners with respect to tidelands and submerged lands, as such relief was beyond the scope of their cross-complaint.