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UNITED STATES v. HERBERT BRYANT

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA


December 9, 1974

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff,
v.
HERBERT BRYANT, INC., et al., Defendants

Corcoran, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: CORCORAN

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

CORCORAN, District Judge.

 The United States has filed this suit *fn1" to quiet title to all fast and submerged lands "in Virginia or the District of Columbia" *fn2" that lie along the waterfront of the City of Alexandria, roughly from Gibbon Street on the south to Slater's Lane on the north, and from the Potomac River on the east to "the January 24, 1791, high water mark of the Potomac River" *fn3" on the west.

 There are some 35 defendants who are the record owners, or interest holders, of such lands. *fn4"

 This Court's jurisdiction is premised upon 28 U.S.C. § 1345 (1970); the Act of April 27, 1912, ch. 96, 37 Stat. 93 (the 1912 Act); and the Act of October 31, 1945, ch. 443, 59 Stat. 552 (the 1945 Act) [set out as a note under D.C.Code Ann. § 1-101 (1973)].

 At the heart of the matter is the long-standing and troublesome question of where lies the boundary between the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Virginia (Virginia), and all of the vexatious problems incident thereto. The greater part of the land in dispute in this action concededly is located within the territorial limits of Virginia; the remainder is said to be situated within the territorial limits of the District of Columbia.

 Before the Court at this time are motions (1) to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction; (2) to quash service of process; (3) to transfer the cause to the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); and (4) to refer the cause to a master.

 For reasons set out hereinafter, the Court holds that it lacks jurisdiction to hear and determine a quiet title action to any land situated within the territorial limits of Virginia.

 I

 A brief history of the dispute over the boundary between Virginia and the District of Columbia is set out in Robinson Terminal,5 and need not be repeated at this juncture. What is to be gleaned from that history, and what is important for our purposes, is that, the present boundary is the mean high water mark on the Virginia shore of the Potomac River, except within the environs of the City of Alexandria, where the boundary is the established pier-head line. *fn6"

 Most of the lands claimed by the Government lie shoreward, or westward, of the pier-head line between Gibbon Street on the south to Second Street on the north where the pier-head line terminates. They make up the so-called "Alexandria Waterfront." Clearly these parcels lie within the territorial limits of Virginia.

 It would also appear that the District of Columbia Government lays no claim to the area between Second and Third Streets and that it, accordingly, lies within the territorial limits of Virginia. *fn7"

 As to the remainder, i.e., the parcels lying between Third Street and Slater's Lane, also claimed by the Federal Government, there may be a question as to whether those parcels lie within the territorial limits of the District of Columbia or Virginia. On the present state of the record, the Court is unable to make a firm finding. *fn8"

 The fact that most, if not all, of the property as to which title is claimed is located in Virginia is crucial to an understanding of defendants' motions to dismiss. The Government asserts that the 1912 and 1945 Acts vested this Court with exclusive jurisdiction to resolve the question of title as to all lands claimed regardless of where situated, while the defendants argue the 1912 and 1945 Acts did not confer such exclusive jurisdiction and that, lacking such a statutory grant of jurisdiction, this Court cannot, under general legal principles, exercise in rem jurisdiction over land situated beyond its territorial boundary. *fn9" The Court agrees with the defendants.

 We turn to each of the statutes involved.

 II

 A. The 1912 Act

 The operative provision of the 1912 Act, § 1, is set out in full in the margin. *fn10" By its terms, the Act established a judicial framework for the resolution of title disputes between the United States and private parties over the ownership of any lands " in the District of Columbia in, under, and adjacent to the Potomac River." *fn11" Although the legislative history of the 1912 Act indicates that the Act was designed primarily to meet the problems of the Anacostia River reclamation, *fn12" the Act explicitly establishes this Court as the forum for title disputes concerning land situated in the District of Columbia -- and only in the District of Columbia. The Government recognizes the applicability of the 1912 Act to "land in the District of Columbia" only, but argues that the 1945 Act extended this Court's jurisdiction to the lands now in controversy.

 B. The 1945 Act

 We have previously alluded to § 101 of the 1945 Act. *fn13" It is § 103 of the Act, however, to which we must look for a resolution of this dispute.

 

§§ 103 provides:

 

Nothing in this Act shall be construed as relinquishing any right, title, or interest of the United States to the lands lying between the mean high-water mark as it existed January 24, 1791, and the boundary line described in section 101; or to limit the right of the United States to establish its title to any of said lands as provided by (the 1912 Act); or the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States for the District of Columbia to hear and determine suits to establish the title of the United States in all lands in the bed, marshes, and lowlands of the Potomac River, and other lands as described by said Act below the mean high-water mark of January 24, 1971 ; . . ..

 It is the Government's position that § 103 of the 1945 Act explicitly reserves exclusive jurisdiction in this Court over the disputed lands notwithstanding that they lie within the territorial limits of Virginia because formerly the "very lands here in controversy were within the territorial limits of this Court for quiet title actions brought by the United States," *fn14" by virtue of the 1912 Act and pertinent decisions of the Supreme Court. The defendants, on the other hand, contend that the 1945 Act does no more than preserve this Court's jurisdiction over lands described in the Act of 1912, i.e., land in the District of Columbia. They bolster this assertion by noting that Section 202 of the 1945 Act extends the jurisdiction of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia over the area within which the disputed lands lie, and that it would be unreasonable to deprive that Court of jurisdiction over such lands.

 The Court's view of § 103 is that it is a legislative reaffirmation of the 1912 Act, that the term "said Act" clearly refers to the 1912 Act, and that the "lands" referred to in § 103 are those lands "in the District of Columbia" as specified by the 1912 Act. This conclusion is consistent with the terms of § 202, which amended the then-Judicial Code so as to embrace within the boundaries of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia the land ceded to Virginia by §§ 101 and 102 of the 1945 Act. *fn15"

 The Government would seek to rebut what to this Court are the plain terms of the 1945 Act by saying that if Congress intended that an action such as this one was to be litigated in Virginia, Congress would not have needed or used the language it employed in § 103. But that position violates the well-known principle of statutory construction that all words in a statute are to be assigned a meaning and not to be considered mere surplusage. See 2 G. Sutherland, Statutory Construction § 4705 (3d ed. 1943).

 Further, the position of the Government would represent a drastic departure from that fundamental principle of law that a Court has in rem jurisdiction only over lands located within its territorial boundaries. See, e.g., Durfee v. Duke, 375 U.S. 106, 115, 84 S. Ct. 242, 11 L. Ed. 2d 186 (1963); Fall v. Eastin, 215 U.S. 1, 11-12, 30 S. Ct. 3, 54 L. Ed. 65 (1909); Huntington v. Attrill, 146 U.S. 657, 669, 13 S. Ct. 224, 36 L. Ed. 1123 (1892); Sebold v. Sebold, 143 U.S.App.D.C. 406, 411, 444 F.2d 864, 869 (1971). "Following the example set in the First Judiciary Act and consistently adhered to since, (Federal District Courts) do not . . . extend across state lines." C. Wright, Federal Courts § 2, at 6 (2d ed. 1970).

 In creating this District Court, then, Congress has recognized that principle by conferring on it jurisdiction only over land lying within the territorial boundaries of this district. *fn16" It is reasonable to assume that if, as the Government urges, the Congress had intended such a drastic departure from that fundamental principle of law, in order to give the Federal Court in the District of Columbia in rem jurisdiction over land in Virginia, it would have explicitly so provided.

 This is not to say that Congress could not have legislated that this Court has exclusive jurisdiction in the case at bar, *fn17" but in the absence of such explicit language, this Court should hesitate to arrogate jurisdiction unto itself. *fn18"

  III

 In light of the above, the Court holds that it is without subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate this controversy as to any land that lies within the territorial limits of the Commonwealth of Virginia. It does, of course, have jurisdiction in any suit involving any land within the District of Columbia.

 To the end that the Court may enter appropriate and explicit orders as to each parcel of land involved in the case at bar, the plaintiff is hereby directed to file with the Clerk of this Court, and to serve on all defendants, within 15 days of the date of this Order, a statement as to which of the defendants are record owners or interest holders of (a) claimed lands known or alleged to lie within the territorial boundaries of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and (b) claimed lands known or alleged to lie within the territorial boundaries of the District of Columbia.

 So ordered.


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