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WILLIAMS V. UNITED STATES, 138 U. S. 514 (1891)

U.S. Supreme Court

Williams v. United States, 138 U.S. 514 (1891)

Williams v. United States

No. 157

Argued January 21-22, 1891

Decided March 2, 1891

138 U.S. 514


If, through inadvertence and mistake, a wrong description is placed in a conveyance of real estate by an individual, a court of equity would have jurisdiction to interfere and restore to the party the title which he never intended to convey, and it has a like jurisdiction when a wrong description from a like cause gets into a patent of public land.

If the allegations of a bill point to fraud and wrong, and equally to inadvertence and mistake, and the latter be shown, the bill is sustainable, although the former charge may not be fully established.

The provision in the second section of the Act of June 16, 1880, 21 Stat. 287, c. 245, requiring the approval of the Secretary of the Interior to the act of the state authorities of Nevada in selecting lands under the grant made by that act, while it did not vest in him an arbitrary authority, to be exercised at his discretion, empowered him to withhold his approval when it became necessary to do so in order to prevent such a monstrous injustice as was sought to be accomplished by these proceedings.

On June 16, 1880, Congress passed an act, of which the following are the first two sections:

"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled that there be, and are hereby, granted to the Nevada two million acres of land in said state in lieu of the sixteenth and thirty-sixth sections of land heretofore granted to the Nevada by the United States, provided that the title of the state and its grantees to such sixteenth and thirty-sixth sections as may have been sold or disposed of by said state prior to the passage of this act shall not be changed or vitiated in consequence of or by virtue of this act."

"SEC. 2. The lands herein granted shall be selected by the state authorities of said state from any unappropriated nonmineral public land in said state, in quantities not less than the smallest legal subdivision, and when selected in conformity with the terms of this act, the same shall be duly certified to said state by the Commissioner of the General

Page 138 U. S. 515

Land Office, and approved by the Secretary of the Interior."

21 Stat. 287, c. 245.

On May 3, 1883, the lands in controversy were certified to the State of Nevada under this act. This certification was based on an application by the state, formally executed July 29, 1882. On May 20, 1882, the appellant applied to the proper state officers to purchase these lands. On February 2, 1884, in pursuance of this application, a contract was entered into between the state and the appellant for the sale to him of the lands in controversy, he at the time, paying one-fifth of the purchase money and contracting to pay the balance in subsequent annual installments. On December 18, 1884, this bill was filed by the United States in the Circuit Court for the District of Nevada against the appellant alone. Generally speaking, the scope of the allegations in the bill is that the lands were improperly certified to the state; that in equity it had no title, and its contract with the appellant transferred nothing to him, and the prayer was for the cancellation of the contract between the appellant and the State of Nevada, and an adjudication that the appellant had no title or interest in such lands. On November 26, 1886, a decree was entered (30 F. 309) by which the title of appellant in the lands was divested and he directed to surrender up to the State of Nevada for cancellation all contracts or agreements he had with that state for these lands. From such decree appellant appealed to this Court.

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