Property Law Outline - Public Trust Doctrine

Theory is that the state holds certain property rights in trust for the public and is limited in what sticks it possesses. Air, running water, sea, shores, etc.
  1. Types of Public Trust Doctrine Cases
    1. Alienation of Trust Resources
      1. The state cannot alienate certain property held in trust for the public unless it can prove that the alienation will have no effect on the public's use of the resource or will actually benefit public.
      1. Ex. Illinois Central Railroad v. Illinois (Supp)
        1. State sold its harbor to Illinois Central through statute. Later repealed statute. Illinois Central wanted the harbor back.
        1. Held that the original grant of property to the railroad was not valid because it violated the public trust doctrine. Alienation here would have a negative effect on the public's use of the harbor - commerce, fishing, navigation.
      1. Look at the public's use before and after the sale to determine if there is a breach.
    1. Diversion of Trust Resources
      1. Transferring control of a resource from one gov't agency to another is not allowed if the public interest would be harmed.
      2. Ex. Transfer of natural resource lands to energy agency for development.
    1. Access to Trust Resources
      1. The state must retain for the public the ability to access the natural resources, usually navigable waters and tideland.
      2. Ex. Matthews v. Bay Head Improvement Association (Supp)
        1. Association was quasi-gov't entity that controlled access to the beach. Only association members can have access to the dry sand. Association is only open to residents of Bay Head.
        2. Held that the ocean and wet sand are owned by the public, and they must have some way to obtain access to these resources. Membership to the association must be open to the public at large.
      1. Cases are complicated in this area; some states require private property owners to give the public access to the beach through their property.
  1. Drawbacks/Issues
    1. Public trust doctrine has not been successful in environmental cases, mostly shoreline cases.
    1. Sometimes, these look like takings.
      1. However, they are not takings because the taking is done by the judiciary, not the legislature or executive branches.
    1. Where does the authority come from?
      1. If from the common law, why can't the legislature supersede it?
      2. If from prior statute, why can't the legislature repeal/supersede it?
      3. If from Constitutional law, where is it in the Constitution?