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MASSACHUSETTS V. NEW YORK, 271 U. S. 65 (1926)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Massachusetts v. New York, 271 U.S. 65 (1926)

Massachusetts v. New York

No. 14, Original

Argued March 4, 1926

Decided April 12, 1926

271 U.S. 65


1. Property and dominion over lands in America discovered under royal authority vested in the Crown to be held as part of the public domain for the benefit of the nation. P. 271 U. S. 85.

2. As a result of the Revolution, the people of each state became sovereign, and in that capacity acquired the rights of the Crown in the public domain. Id.

3. A treaty between two of the states granting land and reserving jurisdictional rights is to be construed with regard not only to technical meanings of words used, but also to public convenience, avoidance of controversy, and the object to be achieved. P. 271 U. S. 87. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 271 U. S. 66

4. In construing such an instrument as the Treaty of Hartford, the applicable principles of English law, well understood at its time, the object of the grants made, contemporaneous construction of it, and long usage under it are all to be given consideration and weight. P. 271 U. S. 87.

5. By this treaty, made December 16, 1786, with the avowed purpose of settling all controversies over the territory involved, Massachusetts granted to New York "all the claim, right and title" which Massachusetts had "to government, sovereignty, and jurisdiction" over a large area now in Western New York, then claimed by both states under conflicting royal charters, and New York ceded to Massachusetts

"the right of preemption of the soil from the native Indians, and all other right, title and property (the right and title of government, sovereignty and jurisdiction excepted) which the State of New York"

had in or to the lands and territories within an area described, extending from Pennsylvania on the south to the international boundary on the north, thus embracing not only the southern shores of Lake Ontario, but also in part its navigable waters, which were the principal means of access to the region covered by the grant. The treaty contained a clause securing the right of Massachusetts and her grantees to use the waters of the lake for navigation and fishery. There were numerous islands within the part of the lake embraced by the description. Held, that the treaty conveyed to Massachusetts no title to the bed of the lake, but vested this in New York as incident to the sovereignty both granted and reserved to that state over the area described. Pp. 271 U. S. 85-90.

6. Wherever there is a grant by a state having power to make it of the rights and title of government and sovereignty over a specified territory, or where, in a grant of land to be held in private ownership by one state within the limits of another, there is a reservation to the grantor these sovereign rights, the grant or reservation carries with it, as an incident, title to any lands under navigable waters. P. 271 U. S. 89.

7. The rule that a grant whose boundaries extend to the " shore," or "along the shore" of the sea carries only to high water is inapplicable to conveyances of land on nontidal waters. P. 271 U. S. 92.

8. A conveyance by Massachusetts of land (part of that ceded to her by the Treaty of Hartford) bounded by a line extending "to the shore" and thence "along the shores" of Lake Ontario carried to the water; therefore, she was not entitled to subsequent addition to the strip of shore made by accretions or filling. P. 271 U. S. 91.

9. Practical construction by the two states of the Treaty of Hartford and of the grants made by Massachusetts immediately following it, and long continued acquiescence by Massachusetts in that construction, support the conclusion that Massachusetts neither acquired under the treaty proprietary title to land in the bed of Lake Ontario next the shore nor reserved the shore when alienating the upland. P. 271 U. S. 94.

10. In a suit between states not involving any public boundary or public ownership, costs are awarded against the defeated plaintiff. P. 271 U. S. 96.

Bill dismissed.

Suit brought in his Court by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts against the State of New York, the City of Rochester, private corporations, and individuals, 271 U. S. 636. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 271 U. S. 80

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