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Ownership in "Sovereign Capacity"

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The case Lacoste v. Dept. of Conservation of State of Louisiana, 263 U.S. 545 (1924,)  looked at the 1920 Act 135 of the General Assembly of Louisiana, which declared all all wild fur-bearing animals and alligators in the state, and their skins to be the property of the State until a severance tax had been paid. The Court let stand a lower Court ruling that the tax was a police power function for conservation of the resource and not a revenue measure. The Court declared::

"The wild animals within its borders are, so far as capable of ownership, owned by the state in its sovereign capacity for the common benefit of all of its people. Because of such ownership, and in the exercise of its police power the state may regulate and control the taking, subsequent use and property rights that may be acquired therein. Geer v. Connecticut, 161 U.S. 519, 528, 16 S.Sup. Ct. 600; Ward v. Race Horse, 163 U.S. 504, 507, 16 S. Sup. Ct. 1076; Silz v. Hesterberg, 211 U.S. 31, 39, 29 S. Sup. Ct. 10; Patsone v. Pennsylvania, 232 U.S. 138, 143, 34 S. Sup. Ct. 281; Kennedy v. Becker, 241 U.S. 556, 562, 36 S. Sup. Ct. 705; Carey v. South Dakota, 250 U.S. 118, 39 Sup. Ct. 403; State v. Rodman, 58 Minn. 393, 400, 59 N. W. 1098

"The Supreme Court of Louisiana held that...payment of the tax is a condition precedent to the divestiture of the state's title and its transfer to the dealer paying the tax..."

"Our examination of this act discloses no reason why the decision of the state court should be disturbed....It is within the power of the state to impose the exaction as a condition precedent to the divestiture of its title and to the acquisition of private ownership. Expressly, the tax is imposed upon all skins and hides taken within the state..."

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In the case of Foster-Fountain Packing Co. v. Haydel, 278 U.S. 1 (1928,) the Court further refined and clarified the concept of State ownership:

"The authority of the state to regulate and control the common property in game is well established. Geer v. Connecticut, 161 U.S. 519, and cases cited at page 528 (16 S. Ct. 600, 604). These and many other cases show that the state owns, or has power to control, the game and fish within its borders not absolutely or as proprietor or for its own use or benefit but in its sovereign capacity as representative of the people. In Geer v. Connecticut the court, speaking through Mr. Justice White, said (161 U. S. at page 529 (16 S. Ct. 604)):

'Whilst the fundamental principles upon which the common property in game rests have undergone no change, the development of free institutions has led to the recognition of the fact that the power or control lodged in the state, resulting from this common ownership, is to be exercised, like all other powers of government, as a trust for the benefit of the people, and not as a prerogative for the advantage of the government, as distinct from the people, or for the benefit of private individuals as distinguished from the public good. Therefore, for the purpose of exercising this power, the state, as held by this court in Martin v. Waddell, 16 Pet. (367) 410 (10 L. Ed. 997), represents its people, and the ownership is that of the people in their united sovereignty.'


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