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UNITED STATES V. CHICAGO, M. & ST.P. RY. CO., 195 U. S. 524 (1904)

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Chicago, M. & St.P. Ry. Co., 195 U.S. 524 (1904)

United States v. Chicago, Milwaukee

and St. Paul Railway Company

No. 64

Submitted November 4, 1904

Decided December 12, 1904

195 U.S. 524


Where it does not appear that one claiming to have entered land prior to its withdrawal under a land grant act had done all that was possible to perfect his entry and had either taken possession or otherwise not acquiesced in the decision, the attempted entry is not sufficient to take the land from jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior so as to prevent him from certifying it under the grant as unappropriated lands of the United States.

Under the acts of 1887, 24 Stat. 556, and 1896, 29 Stat. 42, the title of one who holds under the railway company as a bona fide purchaser and is in actual ignorance of any defect in the company's title will not be affected by any constructive notice of such defect with which a purchaser might be chargeable.

Where an entry had been abandoned prior to certification of indemnity lands by the Secretary of the Interior to a state for the benefit of a railroad company under a land grant, the land is unappropriated land of the United States and can be certified under the grant, and the certification will not be set aside in favor of one who attempts to enter the land as a homesteader after the lands have been selected by the railroad company to make up a deficiency in place lands.

The United States, on the sixth day of March, 1893, filed this bill in the Court of Appeals of the United States for the District of Minnesota, for the purpose of setting aside the certification, under the land grant of Congress, 14 Stat. 87, made by the Secretary of the Interior, of the land described in the bill, to the State of Minnesota, for the benefit of the railroad company, and also to set aside the conveyance thereof by the state to the railroad company, and by the company to one of the individual defendants. A supplemental bill was filed, by leave, March 4, 1901, bringing in by service of the subpoena other individual defendants.

The suit was brought under and pursuant to the Act of Congress of March 3, 1887, 24 Stat. 556, entitled

"An Act to Provide for the Adjustment of Land Grants made by Congress

Page 195 U. S. 525

to Aid in the Construction of Railroads, and for the Forfeiture of Unearned Lands, and for Other Purposes."

Upon trial in the circuit court, the bill was dismissed, and the decree of dismissal was affirmed by the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, 116 F. 969, and from that decree of affirmance the government has appealed here.

The facts upon which the controversy arose are, in substance, as follows: on the fourth day of July, 1866, Congress passed an act making an additional grant of lands to the State of Minnesota, 14 Stat. 87, to aid in the construction of railroads in that state. The Southern Minnesota Railroad Company was at the time of the passage of the act of Congress, a corporation organized under the laws of Minnesota, with the power to construct a line of railroad, as mentioned in that act. The Legislature of Minnesota, on the twenty-fifth day of February, 1867, transferred the land granted to it by the act of Congress to the railroad company, subject to the provisions of that act and also of the state statute.

Among the lands thus transferred was a lot eighty acres in extent, in Faribault County, Minnesota, being the property in dispute in this suit. The land was within the indemnity limits of the grant by Congress to the state, as determined by the map of definite location of the railroad, which became effective February 25, 1867. The deficiency in what are termed the "place" lands was largely in excess of eighty acres. On the twenty-ninth day of November, 1870, the Southern Minnesota Railroad Company selected this tract, in section 35, in lieu of part of the land lost in the granted limits, and the land was certified to the State of Minnesota by the Secretary of the Interior, March 25, 1871, for the benefit of the railroad company, and on the eighth day of August, 1871, the State of Minnesota conveyed it by deed to the railroad company. In March, 1868, the company had mortgaged all of its property, including the land granted under the act of Congress and all subsequently acquired property, to secure

Page 195 U. S. 526

the payment of its bonds. This mortgage was foreclosed, and the property sold and conveyed to a new corporation by the name of the Southern Minnesota Railway Company, and the land was conveyed to that company. On the fifth day of January, 1885, the railway company, by contract in writing, agreed to sell the land in dispute to one A. Boyeson for the sum named in that contract. Boyeson assigned his interest in the contract, on the sixth of January, to Fredericksen, who, on the first day of April, 1885, assigned it to the defendant, Thomas S. Thompson, and, in turn, on the third day of February, 1888, the latter assigned it to Ericksrud, who paid the balance due upon the contract, and received the warranty deed for the land from the railway company on the twentieth day of March, 1888.

Ericksrud died intestate on March 27, 1888, and on November 6, 1888, the land was decreed by the probate court to be the property of the widow and heirs at law of Ericksrud, and they remained in possession, and, on the twenty-fourth of May, 1899, these heirs at law, still being in possession, conveyed the same to the defendant Woodwick for the sum of two thousand dollars cash. This is the title of record coming from the United States to the state, thence to the railroad company, and, by mesne conveyances, to the defendant Woodwick, and there was nothing of record showing that any other person was entitled to the land at the time when Woodwick paid the two thousand dollars to the heirs of Ericksrud, and took the deed therefor. The defendant Donovan, however, lays claim to the land in question pursuant to the facts now to be stated.

Prior to the passage of the granting act of Congress, above referred to, one Luman Barclay had, on the twenty-first day of June, 1866, entered this land in controversy, and also the eighty acres in section 26, adjoining, as a homestead. In the following year (1867), Barclay abandoned the land and went to Canada. Sometime after his departure, and in the same year (1867), Donovan, the defendant, sought to acquire a homestead on government land. He examined the land for

Page 195 U. S. 527

which Barclay had made his entry, and decided to enter it as a homestead. He went to the United States local land office for the purpose, and was informed by the register of the land office that he could not make the entry until Barclay's entry was cancelled. He was also informed that, if he wished to make a claim that Barclay had abandoned his interest, he should publish notice of the time and place where he would make proof upon that matter. He published a notice accordingly, for three weeks, and paid nine dollars as the cost thereof, and, in the fore part of August, 1867, made proof that Barclay had abandoned his homestead claim. Donovan insists that he was given to understand that he could enter the land as a homestead as soon as the local land office received notice from the General Land Office at Washington that Barclay's entry was cancelled. He thereupon made one application to enter both tracts of land -- the eighty acres in section 26 and the eighty-acre tract in question in section 35, but left the date of application blank, because he could make no entry for the lot in section 35 until Barclay's entry had been cancelled. He did this, as he or his witness Bullis said, to head off any other applicant for the land, and he left the application with the local land office. He then went into possession of section 26, and commenced the erection of a house thereon, and he says he commenced the cultivation of a small part of the tract in section 35. This was in the fall of 1867. The Barclay entry was duly cancelled at Washington on the fourteenth of January, 1868, and notice thereafter given to the local land office, and Donovan was notified of the fact. On the sixth day of June, 1868, Donovan went to the local land office and applied to enter the two tracts of land. He was there informed that the odd-numbered sections within twenty miles of the road had been withdrawn from market, and that such withdrawal included the section in question, and that he could not therefore enter the eighty acres in section 36 as a part of his homestead.

Donovan acquiesced in this determination of the local land

Page 195 U. S. 528

office, and made his entry for the eighty acres in section 26. The old application for the two lots was destroyed, and a new one made out for the lot in section 26. He thereafter used the land in section 35, in connection with his own in section 26, and cut grass upon and ploughed some of it; but it does not appear that he laid any claim to it as land which he had attempted to enter, and which had been improperly or wrongfully refused him. His house and other permanent improvements were on section 26. At the time he made proof (in 1875) for the eighty acres in section 26, Donovan says he offered to make proof also as to the land in section 35, but his offer was rejected because, among other reasons, he had not entered the land in that section. He has obtained his patent for the eighty acres in section 26.

On the twenty-sixth day of June, 1883, Donovan applied at the local land office to enter this tract of land in section 35 as an additional homestead, under the Act of March 3, 1879, 20 Stat. 472, and the register certified that the application was for surveyed lands of the class the applicant was legally entitled to enter under the Homestead Act of 1862 -- in other words, unappropriated public lands of the United States. The application was rejected upon the ground that the land so applied for had been certified to the State of Minnesota for the benefit of the railroad company. Donovan appealed from this rejection to the Commissioner of the General Land Office, where, it is stated, the matter is still pending and undetermined.

In 1885, the defendant Thompson, an assignee of the contract made by the railway company with Boyeson, went into possession of the eighty acres in section 35, and ordered Donovan off the same, and Donovan left the land accordingly. After Thompson took possession of the land -- April 1, 1885 -- Donovan, in the same year, commenced a suit in the District Court of Faribault County to obtain possession of the land; and, on or about the twenty-fourth of March, 1887, the state court decided that Donovan had no title to the land, or

Page 195 U. S. 529

right to the possession of the same, and that Thompson had the right to the possession thereof under the contract already mentioned. This judgment against him in the state court was never appealed from by Donovan, nor has it ever been vacated, modified, or reversed. In 1888, Donovan applied to the Land Department at Washington for relief, by reason of the Act of Congress of March 3, 1887, heretofore referred to. In relation to that application, the Commissioner of the General Land Office, on February 14, 1889, addressed a letter to the Secretary of the Interior, and therein spoke of Donovan's application for the institution of proceedings under that act of Congress, and said that Donovan had no title to the land; but he sent all the papers to the Secretary, for review by him. On the first of April, 1889, the Secretary replied to the communication of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, and therein reversed his holding, and directed the latter to make a demand of the railway company for the reconveyance of the land, as provided for in the act. On the twelfth of April, 1890, the Commissioner sent a communication to the Secretary, informing him that a demand for the reconveyance of the land had been made April 9, 1889, upon the railroad company, and that no answer had been made, although more than a year had elapsed since the demand. On the sixteenth of April, 1890, the Secretary of the Interior transmitted the letter to the Attorney General, with a request that suit might be instituted to have the certification of the land in question by the Land Department to the State of Minnesota set aside and cancelled if, in the opinion of the Attorney General, the suit could be maintained. After waiting three years, and on the sixth of March, 1893, the United States filed its bill against the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Company as successor in interest of the former companies, and also against the Southern Minnesota Railway Company, Michael Donovan, Thomas S. Thompson, and C.C. Ericksrud. On August 11, 1894, the companies answered the bill. Donovan did not answer it until March 6, 1901, and then confessed the same,

Page 195 U. S. 530

and prayed that the relief asked for might be granted. On March 4, 1901, the United States filed a supplemental bill, wherein it was stated that no service had ever been made upon Thompson or Ericksrud, and that, on May 24, 1899, the heirs of Ericksrud had joined in a deed conveying the land in question to Louis K. Woodwick. Process was prayed against the defendants, the heirs of Ericksrud, and also against Woodwick, and subpoenas were served on them, and on May 2, 1901, they answered the supplemental bill. A special examiner was appointed to take testimony, and on the thirteenth of January, 1902, he submitted his report of the testimony taken in the suit, to the court.

Page 195 U. S. 534

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