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Guthrie v. National Bank v. Guthrie, 173 U.S. 528 (1899)

Guthrie v. National Bank v. Guthrie

No. 188

Submitted January 18, 1899

Decided April 8, 1899

173 U.S. 528


In ascertaining the jurisdictional amount on an appeal to this Court, it is proper to compute interest as part of the claim.

Whether a general law can be made applicable to the subject matter in regard to which a special law is enacted by a territorial legislature is a matter which rests in the judgment of the legislature itself.

The statute in question in this case creates a special tribunal for hearing and deciding upon claims against a municipal corporation, which have no legal obligation, but which the legislature thinks have sufficient equity to make it proper to provide for their investigation, and payment when found proper, and it does not in any way regulate the practice in courts of justice, and it is indisputably within the power of the territorial legislature to pass it, and it does not infringe upon the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution.

The court has the power, in the absence of statutory provisions for notice to parties, to make rules regarding it.

The President of the United States, by proclamation dated March 23, 1889, 26 Stat. 1544, declared that the Territory of Oklahoma would be open for settlement on April 22, 1889, subject to the restrictions of the Act approved March 2, 1889, c. 412, 25 Stat. 980, 1004. By that act, the lands were to be disposed of to actual settlers under the homestead laws only, and, until the lands were open for settlement under the proclamation of the President, no person was permitted to enter upon or occupy the same.

By the Act approved May 2, 1890, c. 182, 26 Stat. 81, Congress provided a temporary government for the territory, and by the Act approved May 14, 1890, c. 207, 26 Stat. 109, provision was made for townsite entries.

From the opening of the territory under the proclamation of the President down to the passage of the Act of May 2, 1890, Congress failed to establish any government for it. During that period, settlers had come into the territory, and a number

Page 173 U. S. 529

of townsites had been located and settled upon by them. Many persons located and took up their residence upon the land contained in the present boundaries of the City of Guthrie. The lands were surveyed into streets, alleys, squares, blocks, and lots, and what were known as "provisional municipal governments" were formed. By the general consent of these residents, four distinct provisional municipal corporations or villages, denominated "Guthrie," "East Guthrie," "Capitol Hill," and "West Guthrie," comprising some 320 acres each, were created. They were all without any law governing them, although officers were selected by the people occupying the lands and a form of government was carried on by a kind of mutual understanding. The persons chosen as officers incurred indebtedness in administering the affairs of the municipalities, but there was no authority to raise the necessary revenues, by taxation or otherwise, to pay the same. These officers exercised in fact the powers usually delegated to municipal corporations. Public improvements such as grading streets, constructing bridges, and erecting buildings were made, laws and ordinances were adopted, and offenders were punished. Schools were maintained, and the right of possession of the various claimants to town lots within their respective boundaries was regulated and certificates were issued by the local tribunals constituted by the municipal authorities for determining the rights of settlers and occupants of the various lots within the limits of the municipal governments, and the certificates thus issued were by the second section of the townsite act, above mentioned, 26 Stat. 109, to be taken as evidence of the occupancy of the holder thereof of the lot or lots therein described, except that, where there was an adverse claim to the property, the certificate was to be only prima facie evidence of the claim or occupancy of the holder.

The claims mentioned in the act of the territorial legislature hereafter spoken of arose out of these circumstances, and represented the expenditures of the provisional governments for some or all of the objects above enumerated.

In December, 1890, a code of laws for the permanent government of the territory was enacted by the territorial

Page 173 U. S. 530

legislature, and these provisional village governments, lying adjacent to one another, were incorporated under that authority into the regularly organized Village of Guthrie, and on April 7, 1893, the City of Guthrie became the successor of the village of that name.

On December 25, 1890, the territorial legislature passed an act, chapter 14 of the laws of that year, for the purpose of providing a method by which to raise the necessary funds to pay the indebtedness incurred by the provisional governments of the four villages above named. The act is set forth in the margin. *

Page 173 U. S. 531

Pursuant to the provisions of that act, the district judge duly appointed the commission, which proceeded to hear the cases, and on September 1, 1891, it filed in the District Court of Logan County its final report. That report contained, among other things, a reference to the various claims which were therein said to be owned by the Guthrie National Bank, and it showed the allowance of such claims, separately and in detail, and that they were all based upon warrants which had been issued by the provisional governments. The report also showed that the City Attorney of the City of Guthrie appeared at the hearing and allowance of the claims and defended for the city. The amount allowed against the city in favor of the bank was $4,315.22. Other claims in favor of other parties were allowed, and many were disallowed, by the commission. On the coming in of this report, the case was docketed as a pending case in the district court, and was continued from time to time until March 17, 1893, when the bank made a motion to approve the findings of the commission as regards the claims held by it, which motion was not then decided. On April 7, 1893, the city filed exceptions to the report of the commission. Nothing further was done until March 28, 1896 at which time the city attorney filed a motion in the

Page 173 U. S. 532

district court to dismiss the proceedings by the bank, and all other proceedings based upon the act of the territorial legislature creating the commission, for the reason, as stated, that the act and all proceedings under it were void. On April 2, 1896, the matter came on for hearing upon the motion of the bank to confirm the report of the commission, and the motion of the city to dismiss the proceedings, and on the last-named day, the court sustained the motion of the city and dismissed the proceedings upon the ground that the act under which the commission was appointed was wholly void. This decision of the court was excepted to by the bank, and thereupon it prosecuted a writ of error from the supreme court of the territory to reverse such decision. On June 11, 1897, that court affirmed the decision of the district court and rendered judgment against the bank for costs. To reverse this judgment, an appeal has been taken to, and a writ of error sued our from, this Court.

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