Louisiana v. Mississippi
516 U.S. 22 (1995)

Annotate this Case

OCTOBER TERM, 1995

Syllabus

LOUISIANA v. MISSISSIPPI ET AL.

ON EXCEPTIONS TO REPORT OF SPECIAL MASTER

No. 121, Orig. Argued October 3, 1995-Decided October 31, 1995

Louisiana's bill of complaint in this original action asks the Court, inter alia, to define the boundary between that State and Mississippi along a 7-mile stretch of the Mississippi River. The case is here on Louisiana's exceptions to the report of the Special Master appointed by the Court.

Held: Louisiana's exceptions are overruled. The case is controlled by the island exception to the rule of the thalweg. The latter rule specifies that the river boundary between States lies along the main downstream navigational channel, or thalweg, and moves as the channel changes with the gradual processes of erosion and accretion. The island exception to that rule provides that if there is a divided river flow around an island, a boundary once established on one side of the island remains there, even though the main downstream navigation channel shifts to the island's other side. Pursuant to the island exception, the Special Master placed the boundary here at issue on the west side of the area here in dispute, thereby confirming Mississippi's sovereignty over the area. The Master took that action after finding that the area derived from Stack Island, which had originally been within Mississippi's boundary before the river's main navigational channel shifted to the east of the island, but which, through erosion on its east side and accretion on its west side, changed from its original location, next to the river's Mississippi bank, to its current location, abutting the Louisiana bank. The Master's findings and conclusions are carefully drawn and well documented with compelling evidence, whereas Louisiana's theory of the case is not supported by the evidence. Pp. 24-28.

Exceptions overruled, and Special Master's report and proposed decree adopted.

KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Gary L. Keyser, Assistant Attorney General of Louisiana, argued the cause for plaintiff. With him on the brief were Richard P. Ieyoub, Attorney General, Jack E. Yelverton, First Assistant Attorney General, and E. Kay Kirkpatrick, Assistant Attorney General.


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James W McCartney argued the cause for defendant Houston Group. Robert R. Bailess argued the cause for defendant State of Mississippi. With them on the brief were Mike Moore, Attorney General of Mississippi, Robert E. Sanders, Assistant Attorney General, and Charles Alan Wright.

JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court. Like the shifting river channel near the property in dispute, this litigation has traversed from one side of our docket to the other. We must first recount this procedural history.

In an earlier action, Mississippi citizens sued in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi to quiet title to the subject property. Certain Louisiana citizens were named as defendants. The parties asserted conflicting ownership claims to an area of about 2,000 acres, stretching seven miles along the Louisiana bank of the Mississippi River, near Lake Providence, Louisiana. The State of Louisiana and the Lake Providence Port Commission intervened in that action and filed a third-party complaint against the State of Mississippi. Concerned, however, with the jurisdiction of the District Court to hear its matter, Louisiana took the further step of instituting an original action in this Court, and it filed a motion here for leave to file a bill of complaint. We denied the motion. Louisiana v. Mississippi, 488 U. S. 990 (1988).

The District Court heard the case pending before it and, in an order by Judge Barbour, ruled in favor of Mississippi. Louisiana, however, prevailed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, 937 F.2d 247 (1991), and we granted Mississippi's petition for certiorari. 503 U. S. 935 (1992).

After hearing oral argument on both substantive issues and jurisdiction, we resolved only the latter. We held that there was no jurisdiction in the District Court, or in the Court of Appeals, to grant any relief in the quiet title action


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Full Text of Opinion

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