Hoadley Rule - Statute of Limitations on Public Trust
The Hoadley rule is a common law doctrine developed by the courts in California beginning with the Supreme Court's landmark 1875 decision in Hoadley v. San Francisco (1875) 50 Cal. 265.
There are few direct references to the Hoadley rule in legal treatises and law reviews, but a review of the Hoadley decision and its progeny shows that this doctrine was reaffirmed by our high state court as recently as 1980 in People v. Shirokow, supra, 26 Cal. 3d 301, 311, and there is no case law that criticizes this doctrine.
Under the Hoadley rule, no statute of limitations will apply to bar a state governmental entity's action to recover an interest in public trust property transferred to or claimed by a private party where the claimed private interest is challenged on the ground it is invalid by law. (See Hoadley, supra, 50 Cal. at pp. 274-276 [land dedicated to public use, and held by the state or a municipality for that purpose, "is not subject to the operation of the Statute of Limitations," and thus adverse possession of the land by a private person will not extinguish such public use];
People v. Kerber, supra, 152 Cal. at pages 733-734 ["Property . . . held by the state in trust for public use cannot be gained by adverse possession, and the statute of limitations does not apply to an action by the state or its agents to recover such property from one using it for private purposes not consistent with the public use. . . . This rule has been often repeated in the opinions of this court."], citing Hoadley, supra, 50 Cal. at p. 275 and 13 other case authorities;
Sixth District, supra, 154 Cal. at p. 130 [statutorily authorized transfer of public property to a private corporation held void on the grounds the property transfer was an unconstitutional gift and the Hoadley rule (as recognized in People v. Kerber, supra, 152 Cal. 731) barred defendants' statute of limitations defense];
People v. Shirokow, supra, 26 Cal. 3d at p. 311 ["More than a century ago, in Hoadley [,supra,] 50 Cal. [at pp.] 274-276, we articulated the rule that property held by the state in trust for the people cannot be lost through adverse possession.
The statute of limitations is of no effect in an action by the state to recover such property from an adverse possessor whose use of the property for private purposes is not consistent with the public use. (People v. Kerber [,supra,] 152 Cal. [at pp.] 733-734.)"]; California Trout, Inc. v. State Water Resources Control Bd., supra, 207 Cal. App. 3d at pp. 630-631 ["The 'public trust' interest as to fishery in a non-navigable stream is in the nature of a state 'property' interest. One may not oust the state from such an interest by operation of a statute of limitations. (See e.g., People v. Kerber [,supra,] 152 Cal. [at pp.] 732-736.)
The reason for this is similar to that which underpins the limitations on estoppel against the state. '"The public is not to lose its rights through the negligence of its agents, nor because it has not chosen to resist an encroachment by one of its own number, whose duty it was, as much as that of every other citizen, to protect the state in its rights.' ( Id., at p. 734.)"].)