Cubbins v. Mississippi River Commission,
241 U.S. 351 (1916)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Cubbins v. Mississippi River Commission, 241 U.S. 351 (1916)

Cubbins v. Mississippi River Commission

No. 299

Argued April 24, 1916

Decided June 5, 1916

241 U.S. 351


Quaere whether a suit against the members of the Mississippi River Commission to enjoin them from constructing levees is not really a suit against the United States of which the courts have no jurisdiction without its consent.

An owner of land fronting on the Mississippi River has no right to

Page 241 U. S. 352

complain of the overflow of his land caused by the building of levees along the banks of the river for the purpose of confining the water in times of flood within the river and preventing it from spreading out from the river into and over the alluvial valley through which the river flows to its destination, although keeping the water within the river is to so increase its volume as to raise its level and cause the overflow complained of.

The general right to an unrestrained flow of rivers and streams and the duty not to unduly deflect or change the same by works constructed for individual benefit, qualified by a limitation as to accidental and extraordinary floods, prevail under the Roman Law and also exist in England, and, notwithstanding some contrariety and confusion in adjudged cases, also in this country.

The overflows of the Mississippi River, which the levees objected to by the complainant are designed to prevent, are accidental and extraordinary, and justify the construction of the levees for the purpose of preventing destruction to the valley of the river.

The conditions existing in the valley of the river demonstrate that the work of the Mississippi River Commission, and of the various state commissions, in constructing the series of levees from Cairo to the Gulf is for the purpose of prevention of destruction and improvement of navigation by confining the river to its bed, and is not for purposes of reclamation.

Congress had power to create the Mississippi River Commission and through it to build levees to improve the navigation of the Mississippi River, and the government does not become responsible to riparian owners for the deflection of water by reason of such levees.

The rights of riparian owners on opposite sides of a stream embrace the authority of both, without giving rise to legal injury to the other, to protect themselves from the harm resulting from the accidental or extraordinary floods, such as occur in the Mississippi River, by building levees if they so desire. Jackson v. United States, 230 U. S. 1.

There is no identity between the great valley of the Mississippi and the flood bed of that river, but the bank of that river is where it is found, and does not extend over a vast and imaginary area. Hughes v. United States, 230 U. S. 24.

The facts, which involve the rights of riparian owners on the Mississippi River and the power of the federal and state governments to construct levees along the same and liability resulting therefrom, are stated in the opinion.

Page 241 U. S. 358

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