Washington Law Review


Richard A. Hopp


Plaintiff Bonelli Cattle Company (Bonelli) brought a quiet title action against the State of Arizona to determine ownership of newly reemerged land purchased by Bonelli in 1955 from a federal grantee, the Santa Fe Railroad. When the Santa Fe obtained the parcel in 1910, it comprised 280 acres of dry land. In that year the Colorado River, a navigable stream, formed the boundary between Arizona and Nevada and flowed more than one-quarter mile to the west. However, the Colorado moved slowly eastward so that in 1955 it covered all but 60 acres of the parcel. The submerged portion was re-exposed as a result of dredging and rechannelization of the river in 1959 and 1960 by the United States Bureau of Reclamation. The trial court and the intermediate appellate court upheld Bonelli's claim to the re-exposed portion of the parcel. The Arizona Supreme Court reversed, holding that the re-emergence was caused by artificial, avulsive forces, and hence under state law the re-exposed land belonged to the state (whose title to the river bed had moved with the river). On certiorari the United States Supreme Court reversed. Held: Under the federal common law of accretion, a state's ownership of the newly exposed bed of an inland navigable waterway is defeasible in favor of the riparian federal grantee, absent the state's showing of any need to protect a public benefit or purpose. Bonelli Cattle Co. v. Arizona, 414 U.S. 313 (1973).

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