Martin v. Waddell's Lessee

41 U.S. 367 (1842)

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Martin v. Waddell’s Lessee

United States Supreme Court
41 U.S. 367 (1842)

Facts

The King of England held the rights to all the land in the kingdom. However, certain land was held in trust for the benefit of the people. These rights included the right of fishery in the navigable waters (i.e., water that could be used for transportation or commerce) of the kingdom. The right of fishery included the right to harvest both floating fish and shellfish buried in submerged land. In the 1600s, the king conferred some land rights in America to the Duke of York to establish a colony. Later, the duke transferred the land rights to the proprietors of New Jersey. The proprietors received all the rights of property that the king had conferred upon the duke. On the coast of New Jersey, many people depended on access to the submerged lands for their oyster fishing and farming. In 1834, after a land survey was made, William Waddell established a claim to a private oyster bed in the bay. Waddell leased his claim to John Waddell, a fictitious person, otherwise referred to as Waddell’s lessee (plaintiff). Waddell, as Waddell’s lessee, filed an action for ejectment against Merrit Martin and the other oyster fishermen (plaintiffs) who harvested oysters in the area that Waddell claimed as his own. Waddell claimed that he held title to the land and had an exclusive right to harvest fish from the land under the authority of the proprietors as previous owners of the land. Martin and the other fishermen claimed that they had a right to harvest fish because the submerged land was held in trust for common use of the people. The circuit court found that the proprietors were entitled to the exclusive right to harvest fish originating from the grant from the duke, so Waddell received the same entitlement when he established his claim to the land. Martin and the others appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Taney, C.J.)

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