King County v. Abernathy (Majority)Annotate this Case
In "King County v. Michael J. Abernathy et al.", the Supreme Court of the State of Washington answered a question certified by the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. The case involved a dispute over the ownership of a 3.6 mile section of land along the shore of Lake Sammamish, known as the Corridor. In 1887, prior to Washington becoming a state, a railroad company was granted a "right-of-way" to build a railroad over the Corridor. Since then, the Corridor and surrounding shorelands have been used by various parties including individual property owners, the state, and the county. The certified question asked whether a right-of-way approved by the United States Department of the Interior under the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875 is a conveyance "patented by the United States" under Article XVII, Section 2 of the Washington State Constitution. If the land was "patented" by the federal government, it would have been owned by the railroad and later King County. If the land was not patented, Washington would have owned it at the time of statehood and later conveyed it to private parties, and the shoreland would currently belong to the homeowners, the Abernathys. The Washington Supreme Court held that the right-of-way was an easement and did not constitute a land conveyance patented by the United States. Therefore, the land belonged to Washington at the time of statehood and is presently owned by the homeowners.