Judge rules Aldrich owns Fisherman’s Wharf property, not the state

Today, Chancellor Jim Persons entered a Final Judgment that  John Bret Aldrich, not the State, owns the land south of U.S. 90 and west of Oak Street where the Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant and later the Lady Luck Casino was located before Katrina on the Point Cadet waterfront in East Biloxi. 

In the lawsuit, the Secretary of State claimed the dry land was state tidelands.  Aldrich claimed he owned the land by virtue of a 1784 Spanish Land Grant to his predecessor, Jacques Mathurin, as well as a century of gradual expansion of dry land done by oyster and seafood industries. The City of Biloxi, Harrison County Board of Supervisors, and Biloxi Public School District joined the case on Aldrich’s side, to protect property tax revenues.

The Judge found: 

–The “Spanish Land Grant … is valid….and … therefore the public trust did not attach to said land.”

–“The State failed to meet its burden of proof under the Tidelands Act….”

–“ ‘The Secretary of State should have begun with a preliminary map based on the July 1, 1973, mean high water line.  This he did not do….’ ”, quoting from the 2006 Bayview Land case, involving similar issues at the IP Casino site on Back Bay of Biloxi.

–“The artificial accretions on the Aldrich property were done for higher public purposes of the trust for commerce, navigation, and fishing pertaining to the oyster and other seafood industry…and by… the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in service to navigation for national defense in WW II.”

–“The current shoreline is the southern boundary of the Aldrich property.”

–“For nearly a century prior to publishing the Final Tidelands Map in 1994, the State knew of, acquiesced in and indeed encouraged, the progression of artificial accretions on the Aldrich Property by owners engaged in wharfing out for the oyster and other seafood industry and by spoils deposited on the Aldrich Property and adjacent property…by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and therefore as a matter of law the State is in equity estopped from claiming any portion of the Aldrich Property that lies north of the current shoreline.”

–“Fee simple title to the Aldrich Property … is confirmed in John Bret Aldrich.”

“This is a great victory for the people of Biloxi and their history of developing waterfront property for purposes of the Public Trust for Tidelands, ” said Mayor Gilich. “Now, John Bret Aldrich can build a new business in keeping with the revival of Biloxi’s historic waterfront.”

Added Aldrich, “I am glad the judge dismissed the state’s claim of ownership and confirmed that I am the owner of this land which has been in the Aldrich family for more than 47 years. Now I can finally move forward with a new endeavor that will bring more business and jobs to Biloxi and contribute to enhancing and developing this historical area. ”
See the judge’s ruling