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Law School Case Brief

Miami Corp. v. State - 186 La. 784, 173 So. 315 (1936)

Rule:

Where the forces of nature -- subsidence and erosion -- have operated on the banks of a navigable body of water, regardless of whether it be a body of fresh water or the sea, or an arm of the sea, the submerged area becomes a portion of the bed and is unsusceptible of private ownership. This is of necessity the law, because, to hold otherwise would be contrary to sound principles and public policy upon which the rule is predicated. It is the rule of property and of title in Louisiana, and also a rule of public policy that the State, as a sovereignty, holds title to the beds of navigable bodies of water.

Facts:

Plaintiff alleged that it is the owner of certain lands in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, its title originating in a patent issued by the State of Louisiana to Jabez B. Watkins,  dated May 24, 1883. Plaintiff alleged that the lands were not surveyed at the time of the issuance of the patent, but the boundary is fixed by the shore line of Grand Lake on the date that the patent was issued. Plaintiff further alleged that the shore line has receded eastward until at present a large part of several of the original sections of land is inundated and permanently covered by the waters of the lake.  Plaintiff alleged that it was the owner of the disputed lake bottom through a patent issued by the State to the claimant's predecessor in title. 

Issue:

Was plaintiff the owner of the disputed lake bottom through a patent issued by the State to the claimant's predecessor in title?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The court specifically overruled State v. Erwin, 173 La. 507, 138 So. 84, and concluded that the title to the bottoms of navigable bodies of water belonged to the State as a result of its inherent sovereignty and were unsusceptible of private ownership under the provisions of articles 450 and 453 of the La. Revised Civil Code. The disputed eroded area, which had been added to the bed of the lake by the combined forces of nature, had become so much a part of the bed of the lake that it was the property of the State as a matter of law, and the claimant lost its title.

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