Sturgeon v. Frost

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Land Use
  • Date Filed: March 26, 2019
  • Case #: 17-949
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: KAGAN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which GINSBURG, J., joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

The Nation River in Alaska is not public land and the National Park Service is prohibited from regulating non-public land under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

The National Park Service (Park Service) informed Petitioner that their regulations prohibited him from traveling along the Nation River by hovercraft through a national preserve to hunt moose. This matter made its way to the Supreme Court where Petitioner argued that the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), excepted “non-public land” from the Park Service’s authority. 16 U.S.C.§3103(c).The matter was remanded to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, for consideration of whether the river is “public land” under ANILCA and if it is not, whether Petitioner is subject to the Park Service’s authority, regardless. The Ninth Circuit “concluded that the National River is public land,” but the Supreme Court reversed. The Court reasoned that there is no concern of depletion or diversion of water, which would give the U.S. “title to an interest” under the reserved-water-rights doctrine. The Court went on to conclude that the Park Service cannot regulate non-public lands, including waters, located within national park boundaries. The Court pointed out many times that the Park Service’s authority is limited in Alaska because of ANILCA, that Alaska is “often the exception, not the rule,” and that similar suits in other states would not succeed. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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