In 1897, Jessie Etheridge conveyed 10 acres on a North Carolina island to the United States for $200. The deed stated that the land was conveyed to the United States to operate a lifeboat station on it, but did not state what would happen if the United States ceased operating the station. The United States constructed and operated a lifeboat station on the land until 1989, when it abandoned the station. In 1992, the United States quitclaimed its interest in the property to the local government of Dare County (defendant). Station Associates, Inc. (plaintiff) had purchased an ownership interest in the land from Etheridge’s heirs, and along with the heirs brought suit in state court to regain possession of the land from the County. The trial court granted judgment to the County, holding that the United States had held title to property in fee simple absolute. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the United States had only held title in fee simple determinable. The County then appealed to the Supreme Court of North Carolina.