Ickes v. Fox - 300 U.S. 82 (1937)


U.S. Supreme Court

Ickes v. Fox, 300 U.S. 82 (1937)

Ickes v. Fox

No. 266

Argued January 6, 1937

Decided February 1, 1937*

300 U.S. 82

Syllabus

1. Suits to which the United States is an indispensable party defendant may be maintained only when the Congress has so provided. P. 300 U. S. 96.

2. Upon the facts alleged in the bills, held that, under the Reclamation Act, the laws of Washington, and contracts between the Government and owners of land in an irrigation project, the rights of landowners to use the water in the quantity per acre required for irrigating their respective lands were not mere rights of contract with the Government, but were vested property rights, appurtenant to their lands and wholly distinct from the interest of the Government in the irrigation works. P. 300 U. S. 96.

3. The Federal Government, as owner, had the power to dispose of the land and water of the public domain together or separately, and by the Desert Land Act, if not before, Congress established the rule that, for the future, the lands should be patented separately. P. 300 U. S. 95.

4. By the Desert Land Act, acquisition of the government title to a parcel of land did not carry with it a water right, but all nonnavigable waters were reserved for the use of the public under the laws of the various arid land States. P. 300 U. S. 95.

5. By the laws of the arid land States generally, and of the State of Washington in particular, and by express provision of the Reclamation Act with respect to lands in federal irrigation projects, the right to use water for irrigation, which can only be acquired by prior appropriation and application to that beneficial use, is a property right, and part and parcel of the land upon which it is applied. P. 300 U. S. 95.

6. In a suit against a government officer to enjoin the enforcement of an order which would unlawfully deprive the plaintiff of vested

Page 300 U. S. 83

property rights, the truth of allegations as to the ownership of the rights is conceded by a motion to dismiss; but, even if the allegations were denied, a presumption that the plaintiff might be able to prove them will be indulged in favor of the jurisdiction of the trial court. P. 300 U. S. 96.

7. The United States is not an indispensable party to suits brought to enjoin the Secretary of the Interior from enforcing an order which would wrongfully deprive the plaintiffs of vested property rights that were not only acquired under Acts of Congress, state laws, and government contracts, but settled and determined by his predecessors in office. Pp. 300 U. S. 96-97.

66 App.D.C. 128, 85 F. 2d 294, affirmed.

Writs of certiorari, 299 U.S. 528, to review judgments affirming, upon special appeals, orders of the trial court denying motions to dismiss amended bills in three suits against the Secretary of the Interior.

Page 300 U. S. 87



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