Lawrence v. Clark County

Annotate this Case
Justia Opinion Summary

The Nevada legislature amended a law to require the Colorado River Commission (CRC) to transfer land to Clark County. The state land registrar refused to deed a portion of the land to the county, believing the land, which was adjacent to the Colorado River, was nontransferable under the public trust doctrine. Clark County filed a complaint for declaratory relief, and Lawrence filed a counterclaim for declaratory judgment. Clark County then filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. The district court granted the county's motion and ordered Lawrence to deed the disputed land to the county. Lawrence appealed. At issue was whether state-owned land once submerged under a waterway can be freely transferred to the county or whether the public trust doctrine prohibits the transfer. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that judgment on the pleadings was improper. The Court concluded that whether the formerly submerged land is alienable turns on the unanswered questions of whether the stretch of water that once covered the land was navigable at the time of Nevada's statehood, whether the land became dry by reliction or by avulsion, and whether transferring the land contravenes the public trust.