Daley and Heft Partner Scott Noya Wins for Port District in Complex Quiet Title Dispute of San Diego Bay’s Historic Tidelands Boundary

Scott Noya won a complex quiet title case for the San Diego Unified Port District after a two-week bench trial in November 2017.  Daley & Heft, on behalf of the Port District, teamed up with the State Attorney General’s office for the California State Lands Commission. Port District is trustee of the San Diego Bay tide and submerged lands granted by State under the Public Trust doctrine.

The plaintiffs are multiple homeowners with properties situated along the Coronado bayfront. The quiet title claims asserted ownership to hundreds of feet of submerged land of San Diego Bay adjacent to their upland parcels. The case involved topographic and hydrographic surveys dating back to the 1850’s, shortly after statehood, and other evidence of historic San Diego Bay coastline conditions.

Port and State contend that the boundary between public and private lands was adjudicated and permanently fixed in 1931 by a prior San Diego Superior judgment entered in City of Coronado v. Spreckels. That earlier quiet title case determined the boundary of public tidelands adjacent to private uplands along the entire Coronado side of San Diego Bay, including at the subject properties.

Plaintiffs disputed that the prior Coronado v. Spreckels case controlled, claiming the 1931 judgment was void or that the judgment merely located the then-existing ambulatory mean high tide line but did not permanently fix the boundary there. Plaintiffs asserted their parcel boundary along the bay is hundreds of feet seaward and should be based on their expert’s interpretation of the mean high tide line depicted on an 1850’s survey map of San Diego Bay.

Port District and State presented voluminous historic evidence from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, including surveys conducted by City of Coronado showing the disputed submerged lands covered by waters of San Diego Bay, records, maps, Coronado City Council meeting minutes, correspondence, Coronado v. Spreckels pleadings, and the 1931 judgment legal description later recited as the boundary in numerous recorded property title documents and maps for over 80 years.

Port and State asserted res judicata as a complete defense to the quiet title claim, citing to the boundary set out in the City of Coronado v. Spreckels 1931 judgment. At trial, the court first heard only the evidence on the res judicata defense, determining plaintiffs’ affirmative quiet title evidence would only be heard in a later phase if the res judicata defense did not apply.

After hearing the evidence at trial San Diego Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes issued a decision finding res judicata applied, providing a complete defense for the San Diego Port District and State of California.  The Court’s decision agreed that the City of Coronado v. Spreckels 1931 judgment determined and permanently fixed the boundary between public tidelands of San Diego Bay and private upland property in Coronado.

The Court entered Judgment Quieting Title on July 11, 2018.

The case is SLPR, LLC, et al. v. San Diego Unified Port District, State of California, San Diego Superior Court Case No. GIC860766-1, consolidated with Case No. 37-2008-00079175-CU-OR-CTL and 37-2016-00025353-CU-EI-CTL

Scott Noya can be reached at 858-755-5666, ext. 7222, or snoya@daleyheft.com