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PALMER V. BARRETT, 162 U. S. 399 (1896)

U.S. Supreme Court

Palmer v. Barrett, 162 U.S. 399 (1896)

No. 194

Submitted March 31, 1896

Decided April 18, 1896

162 U.S. 399


In view of the reservation of jurisdiction made by the New York in the Act of June 17, 1853, c. 356, ceding to the United States jurisdiction over certain lands adjacent to the navy yard and hospital in Brooklyn, the exclusive authority of the United States over the land covered by the lease, the ouster from possession under which is the subject of controversy in this action, was suspended while the lease remained in force.

This is a writ of error to the City Court of Brooklyn, an inferior court of the State of New York. The action was brought to recover damages for an alleged unlawful ouster of the plaintiff from the possession of two market stands in the Wallabout Market, in the City of Brooklyn, and to recover damages for the conversion of certain described personal property which was a part of said stands. Defendant Palmer answered by a general denial, while the defendant Droste, in addition to specific denials, alleged in substance that he lawfully acquired the premises in controversy by a lease from Palmer, his codefendant, and a lessee of the City of Brooklyn.

It appeared from the proof that the stands in question were erected upon ground, part of lands acquired by the government

Page 162 U. S. 400

of the United States for the purposes of a navy yard and naval hospital, and that by chapter 355 of an Act of the legislature of the State of New York passed June 17, 1853, that state ceded to the United States jurisdiction over the lands acquired for the purposes stated. The statute of the State of New York making the cession provided as follows:

"1. The jurisdiction of this state over all lands in and adjacent to the City of Brooklyn belonging to the United States and used and occupied as a navy yard and naval hospital, and which has not heretofore been ceded to the United States, is hereby ceded to the United States for the uses and purposes of a navy yard and naval hospital on the condition contained in this act, and according to the plan furnished by the Navy Department, and bounded as follows: . . ."

"2. Such jurisdiction is ceded as aforesaid on the condition that the United States shall pay or cause to be paid to the City of Brooklyn the sum of eleven thousand three hundred and eighty-three dollars and seventy-three cents, with interest from the first day of February, 1852, until paid, being the balance of an assessment now due on a part of said lands for grading and paving Flushing Avenue. . . ."

"4. The United States may retain such use and jurisdiction as long as the premises described shall be used for the purposes or which jurisdiction is ceded, and no longer. . . . Nor shall the jurisdiction so ceded to the United States impede or prevent the service or execution of any legal process, civil or criminal, under the authority of this state."

"5. Nothing in this act contained shall be construed so as to allow the Common Council of the City of Brooklyn hereafter to tax or assess any of the lands of the United States for any purpose whatsoever."

In October, 1884, an agreement was entered into between the commandant of the Brooklyn navy yard, representing the Navy Department, and a commissioner of the Department of City works of the City of Brooklyn, which agreement recited that permission was granted to the City of Brooklyn to occupy certain described portions of "vacant" government

Page 162 U. S. 401

land situated on Washington and Flushing Avenues, in the City of Brooklyn,

"to be used only as a stand for the market wagons bringing produce into the city from the adjacent country, and those with whom they trade; that the City of Brooklyn will patrol and efficiently police the said premises from the hospital wall, on the east, to the navy yard fence, on the westerly side of Washington Avenue; that no permanent buildings or structures be erected on the lands, there being no objection to the erection of wooden booths, sheds, or other temporary buildings for the sale of groceries, farm produce, horse feed, and other goods, for restaurant purposes, and for the purpose of shelter from the weather, and that during the occupancy of said premises by the City of Brooklyn, the water tax for water consumed by the navy yard be reduced to the same rate as that charged to manufacturing establishments in the City of Brooklyn."

The agreement further provided that the permit in question might be terminated at any time, on thirty days' notice from the Secretary of the Navy, when the city should be entitled to remove all property thereon not belonging to the United States.

At the close of the testimony, counsel for defendant moved the court to dismiss the complaint because of a want of jurisdiction over the subject matter of the action. This want of jurisdiction was based on the contention that the land upon which the stands were erected was, to all intents and purposes, territory of the United States, and that, as the action was local in its character, the courts of another sovereignty could not entertain jurisdiction.

The motion to dismiss being denied, the cause was submitted to the jury, who found for the plaintiff. Judgment having been entered on the verdict, the cause was appealed to the general term of the court, where the judgment was affirmed. This judgment of affirmance was subsequently affirmed by the Court of Appeals of the state, 135 N.Y. 336, and after the filing of the mandate in the clerk's office of the City Court of Brooklyn a writ of error was allowed by a justice of this Court.

Page 162 U. S. 402

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