Week Fourteen

Week of April 3, 2017 through April 7, 2017

G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board (published order 4/7/2017): The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s preliminary injunction, which had halted a school board’s decision to disallow transgendered public school students from using bathrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify. The order was granted in response to an unopposed motion to vacate preliminary injunction. Consequently, the school board’s policy was upheld. Full Opinion

LVNV Funding, LLC v. Harling (Agee 4/6/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that the filing of Chapter 13 bankruptcy confirmation orders does not bar a debtor’s objection to a creditor’s unsecured claims under res judicata. The court reasoned that determining the validity of individual unsecured claims is a separate process from determining unsecured creditors of a class under § 502 of the Bankruptcy Code in both procedure and timing. The Court affirmed the decision of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of South Carolina. Full Opinion 

US v. Under Seal (Floyd 4/5/2017): The Fourth Circuit held, following the First and Third Circuits, that the JJDPA (Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act) leaves district courts with discretion to authorize disclosure of juvenile materials, affirming the district court’s decision to disclose a transfer transcript and an investigative report. It dismissed the appeal of the district court’s dismissal of appellant’s information without prejudice and the district court’s denial of the motion for dismissal of the information with prejudice; the court also vacated the moot aspects of the district court’s judgment authorizing the disclosure of appellant’s identity by the federal government to the Adult Defense Attorneys, and authorizing Adult Defense Attorneys to use the appellant’s identity or disclose it to others. The Fourth Circuit remanded with instructions to dismiss the government’s prior requests for disclosure of appellant’s identity. Full Opinion

The State of North Carolina v. Alcoa Power Generating, Inc. (Niemeyer 4/3/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that Alcoa had title to a segment of the Yadkin River. The court affirmed the district court’s ruling, that the Yadkin River was not navigable at statehood and thus not property of North Carolina, because the district court did not clearly err in its finding. Full Opinion

 

Highlight Case

The State of North Carolina v. Alcoa Power Generating, Inc., No. 15-2225

Decided: April 3, 2017

The Fourth Circuit held that Alcoa had title to a segment of the Yadkin River. The court affirmed the district court’s ruling, that the Yadkin River was not navigable at statehood and thus not property of North Carolina, because the district court did not clearly err in its finding.

The dispute between North Carolina and Alcoa involved a forty-five-mile segment of the Yadkin River. Alcoa constructed four dams to supply electrical power to its aluminum smelting plant in Badin, North Carolina. When Alcoa closed the smelting plant, North Carolina sought declaratory judgment in the Wake County Superior Court, alleging the areas of the riverbed where Alcoa’s dams were located were the property of North Carolina. The State claimed that Alcoa had been using its property with its permission and the closure of the plant had changed their relationship. Thus, the State sought to revoke Alcoa’s permission to use the area.  To support its claim, North Carolina alleged that the relevant segment of the Yadkin had always been navigable and thus it had owned the area since it became a state.

Alcoa removed the case to federal district court. North Carolina filed a motion to remand the case to state court. The federal district court denied North Carolina’s motion. Both parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment; however, the district court denied both, finding that the question of navigability, central to the resolution, could not be resolved without trial. At conclusion of the bench trial, the district court found that North Carolina had not carried its burden of proving the area had been navigable at statehood. Following the bench trial, the district court concluded as a matter of law that Alcoa had 99% of the contested riverbed under North Carolina’s Marketable Title Act and title to the remaining 1% by way of adverse possession.

North Carolina appealed, challenging the district court’s subject matter jurisdiction; the district court’s finding of navigability; and the district court’s application of the Marketable Title Act and the doctrine of adverse possession.

The Fourth Circuit held that the district court appropriately had subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because where a state law claim turns on construction of federal law it is supported by federal question jurisdiction. In so doing, it rejected North Carolina’s argument that navigability-for-title presents a federal question in thirty-seven states and not for the original thirteen states. The Fourth Circuit noted the “bizarre” state of affairs that would result with two different classes of States under the Constitution.

By affirming the district court, the Fourth Circuit held that the district court did not clearly err in its finding that the Yadkin River was not navigable at statehood. The Fourth Circuit examined how the district court scrutinized the PPL Montana’s requirement to consider navigability. It reasoned that the district court had sufficient evidence before it to support its conclusion, noting that, “taken in its entirety, the expert testimony about navigability in 1789 amply supports the district court’s finding.” The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s conclusion that Alcoa proved its title to 99% of the relevant segment’s riverbed under North Carolina’s Real Property Marketable Title Act (“MTA”). It reasoned that North Carolina did not obtain title to the riverbeds because the relevant segment was not navigable at statehood; there is no exception to the MTA subject to public trust rights; and that the MTA can be used against North Carolina because it is a sovereign. Lastly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s conclusion that Alcoa met its burden of proving title to the remaining 1% of the riverbed. It reasoned that North Carolina had no basis for asserting that it was the landowner during the adverse possession period. In a dissenting opinion, Judge King opined that the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to decide the issue; and even if it had subject matter jurisdiction, it erred on the merits of the case.

In sum, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that Alcoa held title to a segment of the Yadkin River.

Full Opinion

John Dunbar Kornegay, III.

 

Outside Reaction

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