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decided: March 31, 1987.



Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Author: Rehnquist

[ 480 U.S. Page 701]

 CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Choctaw Nation v. Oklahoma, 397 U.S. 620 (1970), the Court determined that certain treaties between the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Tribes and the United States granted to the Tribes fee simple title to the riverbed underlying specified portions of the Arkansas River in Oklahoma. The Court found the circumstances sufficient to overcome the "strong presumption against conveyance by the United States" of title to the bed of a navigable water. Montana v. United States, 450 U.S. 544, 552 (1981). See United States v. Holt State Bank, 270 U.S. 49 (1926). The question presented in this case is whether the United States must pay the Cherokee Nation compensation for damage to these riverbed interests caused by navigational improvements which it has made on the Arkansas River. The damage to sand and gravel deposits resulted from the McClellan-Kerr Project, approved by Congress in 1946, Act of July 24, 1946, ch. 595, 60 Stat. 634, 635-636, and designed to improve navigation by construction of a channel in the Arkansas River from its mouth at the Mississippi to Catoosa, Oklahoma. The project was completed in 1971.

After our decision in Choctaw Nation, the Cherokee Nation sought compensation from the Government. Congress refused to fund the claim after the Department of the Interior

[ 480 U.S. Page 702]

     and the Army Corps of Engineers concluded that the United States' navigational servitude rendered it meritless. See Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations for 1980: Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations, 96th Cong., 1st Sess., pt. 7, pp. 379-392 (1979). Congress did, however, provide respondent with the opportunity to seek judicial relief, conferring jurisdiction on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma to determine "any claim which the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma may have against the United States for any and all damages to Cherokee tribal assets related to and arising from the construction of the [McClellan-Kerr Project]." H. R. 2329, 97th Cong., 1st Sess. (1981).

The Cherokee Nation filed a complaint contending that the construction of the McClellan-Kerr Project resulted in a taking under the Fifth Amendment of the Tribe's riverbed interests without just compensation. The United States in response claimed that its navigational servitude precluded liability for the alleged taking. The District Court granted the Tribe's motion for summary judgment, finding that the decision in Choctaw Nation created a "unique situation by which a portion of the navigable Arkansas River is, essentially, a private waterway belonging exclusively to the Cherokee Nation." App. to Pet. for Cert. 26a. Because the United States did not reserve its navigational servitude in the relevant treaties, the court held, it owed the Tribe just compensation. Id., at 27a.*fn1

[ 480 U.S. Page 703]

     A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed, adopting a different analysis. 782 F.2d 871 (1986). The court rejected the District Court's conclusion that the United States' failure to reserve its navigational servitude defeated that interest. It found it "certain [that] the United States retained a navigational servitude in the Arkansas River." Id., at 876. Nevertheless, the court held that the servitude was insufficient to protect the United States from liability. Finding that "the assertion of a navigational servitude on particular waters acknowledges only that the property owner's right to use these waters is shared with the public at large," id., at 877, the court believed that the effect of the navigational servitude varied with the owner's intended use: "When the exercise of that public power affects private ownership rights not connected to a navigational use, the court must balance the public and private interests to decide whether just compensation is due." Ibid. Applying this test, the court concluded that though the Cherokee Nation could not interfere with the United States' exercise of the navigational servitude, it had a right to compensation for any consequent loss of property or diminution in value.*fn2

We think the Court of Appeals erred in formulating a balancing test to evaluate this assertion of the navigational servitude. No such "balancing" is required where, as here, the interference with in-stream interests results from an exercise of the Government's power to regulate navigational uses of "the deep streams which penetrate our country in every

[ 480 U.S. Page 704]

     direction." Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1, 195 (1824). Though "this Court has never held that the navigational servitude creates a blanket exception to the Takings Clause whenever Congress exercises its Commerce Clause authority to promote navigation," Kaiser Aetna v. United States, 444 U.S. 164, 172 (1979), there can be no doubt that "[the] Commerce Clause confers a unique position upon the Government in connection with navigable waters." United States v. Rands, 389 U.S. 121, 122 (1967). It gives to the Federal Government "a 'dominant servitude,' FPC v. Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., 347 U.S. 239, 249 (1954), which extends to the entire stream and the stream bed below ordinary high-water mark. The proper exercise of this power is not an invasion of any private property rights in the stream or the lands underlying it, for the damage sustained does not result from taking property from riparian owners within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment but from ...

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