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FRELLSEN & CO. V. CRANDELL, 217 U. S. 71 (1910)

U.S. Supreme Court

Frellsen & Co. v. Crandell, 217 U.S. 71 (1910)

Frellsen & Co. v. Crandell

No. 129

Argued March 7, 8, 1910

Decided April 4, 1910

217 U.S. 71


Whether a patent is wrongfully issued or can be set aside is a matter to be settled between the state and the patentee, but no individual is authorized to act for the state.

Even if the state could set aside a patent for having been issued on illegal or inadequate consideration, the matter is between it and the patentee, and, until set aside, one tendering the statutory price does not thereby become entitled to receive such land from the state, nor does the tender create a contract with the state within the protection of the contract clause of the federal Constitution. Where the state court so holds, public land of a state, as is the case of public land of the United States, held under patent or certificate of location, is not, until such patent or certificate be set aside at the instance of the state, subject to other entry or purchase.

In the matter of sale and conveyance, each state may administer its public lands as it sees fit, so long as it does not conflict with rights guaranteed by the federal Constitution; nor is any state obliged to follow the legislation or decisions of the federal government or of any other state.

120 La. 712 affirmed.

Congress, by an act entitled, "An Act to Aid the Louisiana in Draining the Swamp Lands Therein," approved March 2, 1849 (9 Stat. 352, c. 87), granted to that state "the whole of those swamp and may be or are found unfit for cultivation." See also Act of September 28, 1850, 9 Stat. 519, c. 84. In 1880, the General Assembly of the State of Louisiana, by an act known as "Act 23 of 1880," approved March 8, 1880 (La.Laws 1880, c. 84, p. 25), authorized the governor of the state to institute proceedings to recover all of those lands not already conveyed to the state, or, if improperly failed to be conveyed, their value in money or government scrip, "provided, that the state shall

Page 217 U. S. 72

incur no cost or expense in the prosecution of the said claims other than an allowance to be made by the governor out of the lands, money, or scrip that may be recovered." On March 20, 1880, the governor made a contract with John McEnergy to recover from the United States the unconveyed balance of the lands, or their value in money or scrip, and agreed to pay him "fifty percentum of the lands, money, or scrip recovered, to be paid as provided in said Act 23." It also provided:

"Where lands in kind are recovered, the compensation, as aforesaid, of the said McEnergy shall be represented in scrip or certificates, to be issued by the register of the land office of the state, and locatable upon any lands owned by the state."

A large amount of lands were recovered, and the register of the state land office issued to John McEnergy certificates in terms made locatable upon and vacant land granted to the state by the act of Congress heretofore referred to. These certificates were sold and assigned by McEnergy, and his assignees located them upon public lands, some of which had not been recovered by McEnergy under his contract. To some of the assignees patents were thereafter issued, while others held simply certificates of location. By Act 106 of 1888 (Laws La., 1888, p. 171), Act 23 of 1880 was repealed, and by § 2 of the repealing act it was provided

"that the act or agreement made between Louis A. Wiltz, Governor of the state, and John McEnergy, made March 20, 1880, purporting to be under the authority of said Act No. 23, is hereby abrogated and terminated."

This repealing act took effect January 1, 1889. By Act No. 125, approved July 8, 1902 (Laws La., 1902, p. 209), it was provided that the swamp and overflowed lands donated by Congress to the state should be subject to entry and sale at the rate of $1.50 per acre. On July 7, 1906, the legislature passed Act No. 85 of 1906 (Laws La., 1906, p. 141), declaring

"that present holders and owners of patents for public lands, issued by the State of Louisiana, their heirs, assignees, or transferees, shall be confirmed as applicants for said lands, from the date of the issuance of said patents, where the said patents

Page 217 U. S. 73

were not paid for in money, but were paid for by certificates or warrants for scrip, which were not legally receivable in payment for such patents, and authorizing such present holders and owners, their heirs, assignees, or transferees, of said patents, to validate and perfect their title to the lands covered by said patents, or to any part or subdivision of such lands, within one year from date of passage of this act, by paying therefor, in cash, the price of $1.50 per acre."

The act further provided that, upon payment of such amount "the said patents shall be valid and legal for all purposes, as if payment therefor had been made in cash at the date of their issuance."

Petitioners, claiming that the location of these certificates upon lands not recovered by McEnergy, and the issuance of patents therefor, were illegal, tendered on March 28, 1905, to the proper officers $1.50 per acre for a large body of lands which were covered by these certificates and patents. They demanded that warrants should be issued to them for the lands, which was refused. On July 11, 1906, they filed their petition in the Twenty-second Judicial District Court for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana, averring that they were the first and only applicants for said lands under the provisions of said Act No. 125 of 1902, or of any other law of the state since the date of the issuance of said illegal certificates and patents, and that, by making the legal tender, they became vested with the right to acquire said lands.

The district court sustained the exception of no cause of action, and entered judgment dismissing the suit. This judgment was affirmed by the supreme court of the state, 120 La. 712, and from that court was brought here on writ of error.

Page 217 U. S. 75

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