The Louisiana Supreme Court decided one of the famous “Batture Cases” while located in the Government House. In Morgan v. Livingston, the Louisiana Supreme Court held that the owner of “rural” land fronting the Mississippi River owned the batture, or “alluvion,” which accrued on the property. The batture consisted of silt deposited by the Mississippi River, which naturally added to the dimensions of the property.
Today, many important buildings in the New Orleans French Quarter and Central Business District near the Mississippi River “occupy batture land,” including the Riverwalk, Canal Place, Aquarium of the Americas, Jax Brewery, and Harrah’s Casino.
Batture from the Mississippi River formed both within the city limits of New Orleans and outside of the city limits. As New Orleans expanded, the batture increased in value, and ownership was hotly contested. This batture was claimed by the City of New Orleans, the United States, private citizens, and attorney Edward Livingston. Mayor of New York City from 1801-1803, Livingston moved to New Orleans in 1804, where he established his law practice and engaged in the real estate business. He later served in Congress, as a U.S. Senator from Louisiana, and as President Andrew Jackson's Secretary of State. Litigation concerning this valuable batture land occupied the state and federal courts in Louisiana, and the United States Supreme Court during the first half of the nineteenth century.
Bertrand Gravier had owned much of the land fronting the Mississippi River, above and adjoining New Orleans, as part of his plantation. He claimed the silt batture deposited on the East bank of the Mississippi as his private land and deeded a portion to attorney Edward Livingston as a legal fee. In 1789, Gravier sold a lot on Levee Street, now located in Faubourg St. Mary, to Poeyfarre, who had bought the land before Faubourg St. Mary was created and before Gravier deeded any right in the property to Livingston. Poeyfarre eventually sold the land to Morgan. Morgan claimed that he was entitled to the batture as the owner of the property fronting the river.
Poeyfarre’s deed stated that the land was “front to the river.” The question facing the Court was whether Morgan owned the batture in front of his property or whether Gravier still owed the batture and could deed it to Livingston as a legal fee. The court ruled in favor of Morgan and against Livingston, finding that the land sold by Gravier extended to the river and that Poeyfarre bought the river “bank, including the levee and batture.”
Louisiana Supreme Court Judge Francois Xavier Martin wrote the opinion for the Court. He considered French and Spanish acts of sale and determined that the words “front to the river” meant that the property was bounded by the river. In the country, as opposed to the city, this meant that the landowner was a “riparian owner” and was responsible for repairing the road, ditches, bridges and levees. Judge Martin held that the river consisted of three parts: the water, the bed and the bank. The banks of the river were the property of the riparian owner and passed “as a accessory of the land sold.”
Judge Martin distinguished between owners of lots in New Orleans and owners of rural estates fronting the river. In the city, the owners of lots fronting the river did not own the river bank. The reason for the distinction is that in the city, all property owners pay for the repair of the levees, roads and streets through taxes. In contrast, in the country, only the property owner has the burden of repairing levees, roads and streets on his property. The Court concluded that Poeyfarre purchased a “rural estate” and was responsible for repairing the road and levee along his property. Since he was responsible for repair, Poeyfarre was also entitled to the “alluvion” or batture. Judge Martin relied on natural law, stating “the advantages of every thing should belong to him who bears its burthen [sic]” (Morgan v. Livingston).
Livingston fought for the batture property until his death on May 23, 1836. In fact, he successfully argued in the United States Supreme Court in favor of the City of New Orleans against the United States in a case decided on February 9, 1836. Livingston claimed title to both rural and city batture property but eventually agreed to a compromise with the City of New Orleans that left the banks in the City of New Orleans public property.