Baley v. United States

942 F.3d 1312 (2019)

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Baley v. United States

United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
942 F.3d 1312 (2019)

Facts

In 1906, the federal government created the Klamath River Basin reclamation project (the project) under the Reclamation Act of 1902 to manage the Klamath River along its path from Oregon to the California coast. The project created hundreds of farms over 200,000 acres of agricultural land, which, over time, established appurtenant water rights based on water diversion. The Bureau of Reclamation (the bureau) (defendant) managed the project, which included water delivery to the farmers, protection of the rights of several Native American tribes, and protection of endangered species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). The tribes had no rights to divert water but held federally reserved rights to fish for ceremonial, subsistence, and commercial purposes. These reserved rights gave the tribes the right to prevent other appropriators from diverting water to an extent that would reduce water levels below a level at which fish populations and fishing rights would be affected. In 2001, drought conditions led the bureau to temporarily preclude water deliveries to the farmers because the level of the Klamath had fallen to a level that would affect endangered species and tribal fishing rights. The farmers (with lead plaintiff Loney E. Bailey) (collectively, the farmers) (plaintiffs) brought suit in the United States Court of Federal Claims, asserting that the bureau’s action was an unconstitutional taking of their water rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The court determined that the federally reserved tribal rights, affirmed at least in the 1800s, dated back to time immemorial and therefore were senior to the farmers’ water rights. Therefore, the court held that there was no taking of the farmers’ rights because their rights were subordinate to the tribal fishing rights. The farmers appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Schall, J.)

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