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Maryland v. West Virginia, 217 U.S. 1 (1910)

Maryland v. West Virginia

No. 1, Original

Argued November 2, 3, 4, 1909

Decided February 21, 1910

217 U.S. 1


The record in this case sustains the proposition that, for many years, the people of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, have accepted as the boundary between Maryland and West Virginia the line known as the Deakins line, and have consistently adhered to the Fairfax Stone as the starting point of such line, and that none of the steps taken to delimit the boundary since such line was run in 1788 have been effectual, or such as to disturb the continued possession of people claiming rights up to such Deakins line on the Virginia and Vest Virginia side.

Whether long continued possession by a territory has ripened into sovereignty thereover which should be recognized by other states depends upon the facts in individual cases as they arise.

Where possession of territory has been undisturbed for many years, a prescriptive right arises which is equally binding under the principles of justice on states and individuals.

Even if a meridian boundary line is not astronomically correct, it should not be overthrown after it has been recognized for many years and become the basis for public and private rights of property.

The decree in this case should provide for the appointment of commissioners

Page 217 U. S. 2

to run and permanently mark, as the boundary line between Maryland and West Virginia, the old Deakins line, beginning at a point where the north and south line from the Fairfax Stone crosses the Potomac River and running thence northerly along said line to the Pennsylvania border.

West Virginia is not entitled to the Potomac River to the north bank thereof. Morris v. United States, 174 U. S. 196.

Boundary disputes between states should be adjusted according to the facts in the case by the applicable principles of law and equity, and in such manner as will least disturb private rights and titles regarded as settled by the people most affected, and it should be the manifest duty of the lawmaking bodies of adjoining states to confirm such private rights in accordance with such principles.

The facts, which involve that portion of the boundary line between the two states lying between Garrett County, Maryland, and Preston County, West Virginia, are stated in the opinion.

Page 217 U. S. 22

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