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LOGAN V. DAVIS, 233 U. S. 613 (1914)

U.S. Supreme Court

Logan v. Davis, 233 U.S. 613 (1914)

Logan v. Davis

No. 247

Submitted March 9, 1914

Decided May 11, 1914

233 U.S. 613


Under § 237, Judicial Code, this Court has jurisdiction to review a judgment of a state court denying a claim duly set up under a confirmatory patent issued under § 4 of the Land Grant Adjustment Act of 1887 and holding that the patentee was not entitled to the benefit of the provisions of that section.

The decision of the Secretary of the Interior that the grantee of a railroad company was a purchaser in good faith in the sense of the Adjustment Act of 1887, is conclusive so far as it is based on fact and cannot be disturbed except as it may be grounded upon an error of law, there being no charge of fraud.

The practical interpretation of an ambiguous or uncertain statute by the executive department charged with its administration is entitled to the highest respect, and, if acted upon for a number of years, will not be disturbed except for very cogent reasons.

Successive Secretaries of the Interior having uniformly interpreted the remedial sections of the Adjustment Act of 1887 as embracing purchases

Page 233 U. S. 614

made after the date of the act no less than prior purchases, if made in good faith, and many thousands of acres having been patented to individuals under that interpretation, this Court will not now disturb it. Knepper v. Sands, 194 U. S. 476, distinguished.

A remedial statute is to be construed liberally so as to effectuate the purpose of the legislative body enacting it, and so held as to the Adjustment Act of 1887. United States v. Southern Pacific Railroad Co., 184 U. S. 49.

One is a purchaser in good faith within the sense of § 4 of the Adjustment Act of 1887, if he is in actual ignorance of defects in the railroad company's title and the transaction is an honest one on his part, the ordinary rule respecting constructive notice being inapplicable. United States v. Winona & St. Peter R. Co., 165 U. S. 463.

147 Ia. 441 reversed.

This case arises out of conflicting claims to 80 acres of land in O'Brien County, Iowa, under the Act of March 3, 1887, 24 Stat. 556, c. 376, as amended February 12, 1896, 29 Stat. 6, c. 18, providing for the adjustment of railroad land grants, etc. The land is within the place limits of the grant made May 12, 1864, 13 Stat. 72, c. 84, to the State of Iowa to aid in the construction of a railroad from Sioux City, in that state, to the southern boundary of Minnesota. The grant was in praesenti, and embraced every alternate section, designated by odd numbers, for ten sections in width on each side of the road, with the usual exceptions and provision for indemnity. The company which was to construct the road and receive the benefit of the grant was to be designated by the state legislature. Upon the presentation of a certificate by the governor of the state that any section of ten consecutive miles of the road was completed, the Secretary of the Interior was to issue to the state patents for one hundred sections of land "for the benefit of" the company constructing the road, and this was to be repeated as each additional ten miles was constructed until the entire road was completed and all the lands patented. If the road was not completed within ten years from the company's acceptance of the grant,

Page 233 U. S. 615

the lands "granted and not patented" were to revert to the state, to enable it to secure the completion of the work, and if the road was not completed within five years after the expiration of the ten years, then the "lands undisposed of" were to revert to the United States. The Sioux City & St. Paul Railroad Company was designated by the state legislature as the beneficiary of the grant in 1866, the company accepted it in the same year, and a map definitely locating the line of the road was filed with the Secretary of the Interior and approved in 1867. As so located, the road was about 80 miles in length. In 1872, the company constructed it from the southern boundary of Minnesota to LeMars, Iowa, a distance of 56.25 miles, but the remaining part was never constructed, a trackage right to Sioux City over another road being acquired by the company. In 1872 and 1873, the governor certified that five sections of ten miles each, constituting fifty miles of continuous road from the southern boundary of Minnesota, had been completed and put into operation conformably to the granting act, and the Secretary of the Interior thereupon caused a large amount of lands within the primary and indemnity limits of the grant to be patented to the state "for the use and benefit of" the company, the tract in controversy being among those so patented. Most of the lands patented to the state were soon conveyed by it to the company, but some were not, this tract being among the latter. The company, however, was claiming it in virtue of the grant and the patent to the state. Litigation was had between this company and another, by reason of their overlapping land grants, to determine which was entitled to this tract and others within the overlap, and by the final decree in 1886 this tract was awarded to this company. 117 U. S. 117 U.S. 406. In truth, more land was patented to the state for the benefit of the company, and more land was conveyed by the state to the company, than the latter was entitled to

Page 233 U. S. 616

receive for the five ten-mile sections of completed road, not counting the additional 6.25 miles, and in 1882, the state legislature passed an act declaring that the state thereby resumed all lands "which have not been earned" by the company, but the act did not more definitely point out the lands intended to be resumed. Iowa Laws 1882, c. 107. And in 1884, the state legislature passed an act declaring (§ 1) that all lands resumed and intended to be resumed by the Act of 1882 "are hereby relinquished and conveyed to the United States," and also (§ 2):

"The Governor of the State of Iowa is hereby authorized and directed to certify to the Secretary of the Interior all lands which have heretofore been patented to the state, to aid in the construction of said railroad, and which have not been patented by the state to the Sioux City & St. Paul Railroad Company, and the list of land so certified by the Governor shall be presumed to be the lands relinquished and conveyed by § 1 of this act. Provided, that nothing in this section contained shall be construed to apply to lands situated in the Counties of Dickinson and O'Brien."

Iowa Laws 1884, c. 71. The tract in controversy, being in O'Brien County, came within the excepting words of the proviso.

This tract was part of an odd-numbered section of land immediately adjoining the third ten-mile section of constructed road, the completion of which was duly certified by the governor, and was unreserved, unappropriated, and vacant at the date of the granting act and at the time the line of road was definitely located. Thus, it was not only a part of the lands granted, but was earned by actual construction. And, strictly speaking, it was rightly patented to the state for the benefit of the company, the excess in the lands patented being caused by the inclusion in the patents of other lands differently situated and not earned by the completion of the five ten-mile sections of road.

September 11, 1888, while the tract was still free from

Page 233 U. S. 617

any homestead, preemption, or kindred claim, and while the patent therefor, issued to the state in 1873, for the benefit of the company, was still outstanding, Ellen M. Childs purchased the tract from the company, paying $88.00 in cash and agreeing to pay ten deferred installments, with interest thereon, making the full price $1,270.64, which was the fair value of the land. At the time of her purchase, the tract was in the actual and undisputed possession of the company through a tenant named Fitzgerald, who then became her tenant, and through him she continued in the undisturbed possession until October 8, 1889, when she sold to Logan, the plaintiff in error, who paid her $228 in cash and took the land subject to the payment of the ten deferred installments. Fitzgerald then became the tenant of Logan and remained in possession in that capacity until the spring of 1890, when Davis, the defendant in error, with a gang of men and teams, went upon the land, took possession of it, and began cultivating the larger part of it. In what he did, Davis acted without the consent of Logan, and with knowledge of Mrs. Childs' purchase from the company in 1888, of her sale to Logan in 1889, and of Fitzgerald's possession as tenant of Mrs. Childs and then of Logan. Although subsequently maintaining the possession obtained in the spring of 1890, Davis did not reside upon the tract or erect any buildings upon it.

In October, 1889, the United States brought a suit -- the bill was filed October 4 and the subpoena was served October 8 -- against the company under the adjustment act of March 3, 1887, supra, to regain the title to nearly 22,000 acres of land in Dickinson and O'Brien Counties, including this tract, theretofore patented to the state for the benefit of the company, the theory upon which such relief was sought being that the company had received a larger quantity of other lands than it was entitled to receive under the granting act, and therefore

Page 233 U. S. 618

could not properly claim the 22,000 acres. In the circuit court, the United States prevailed, and this Court affirmed the decree. 159 U. S. 159 U.S. 349. The ground upon which the decision rested is indicated by the following extract from the opinion (p. 159 U. S. 370):

"Our conclusion, then, is that the Sioux City Company, having failed to complete the entire road for the construction of which Congress made the grant in question, was not entitled to the whole of the lands granted, but at most, only to one hundred odd-numbered sections -- as those sections were surveyed, whatever their quantity -- for each section of ten consecutive miles constructed and certified by the governor of the state, and that, according to the measurement of 1887, which is accepted as the basis of calculation, the railroad company had, prior to the institution of this suit, received more lands, on account of the fifty miles of constructed road, certified by the governor, than it was entitled to receive. Under this view, it is unnecessary to inquire whether the particular lands here in dispute should not have been assigned to the company, rather than other lands, containing a like number of acres, that were, in fact transferred to it, and which cannot now be recovered by the United States by reason of their having been disposed of by the company. If the company has received as much in quantity as should have been awarded to it, a court of equity will not recognize its claim to more, in whatever shape the claim is presented."

There was no attempt to make Mrs. Childs, Logan, or the tenant Fitzgerald a party to that suit. During its pendency, and on March 13, 1894, Logan entered into an agreement in writing with the company whereby the latter extended the time for paying the ten deferred installments until ninety days after a decision should be rendered in the suit by this Court, and whereby he agreed that, if the decision should be adverse to the company, he would accept

Page 233 U. S. 619

from it the amount already paid, with interest, in full satisfaction of all demands against the company on account of the failure of the title.

Shortly following the decision of this Court in that suit, the lands recovered by the United States, including this tract, were regularly restored to public entry in conformity with the provisions of the adjustment act, and a contest at once ensued in the Land Department over this tract. Logan, claiming to be a purchaser in good faith, applied for a confirmatory patent under § 4, and Davis, claiming to be a bona fide occupant, sought to obtain title under the homestead law. A hearing before the local land office at which the parties presented such evidence as they had in support of their respective claims resulted in a decision by the local officers in favor of Davis. This was affirmed by the Commissioner of the General Land Office on the theory that the agreement of March 13, 1894, was fatal to Logan's claim as a purchaser, and upon an appeal to the Secretary of the Interior, the decisions below were reversed, it being found and held by the Secretary that Logan was a purchaser in good faith within the meaning of § 4 of the adjustment act; that the agreement of March 13, 1894, did not alter his status as a purchaser, and that Davis' possession, acquired after the purchase by Logan, and with knowledge of it, did not eliminate the element of good faith from the latter's purchase or otherwise defeat his claim. As a result of this decision, Logan made the requisite payment to the government (see amendatory act of February 12, 1896, supra), and was given a confirmatory patent.

It is conceded that Mrs. Childs and Logan were both citizens of the United States, and in that respect within the remedial provisions of § 4 of the adjustment act, and also that, in the contest before the Land Department, Logan testified that, at the time of his purchase from Mrs. Childs, in 1889, he had no knowledge of any adverse claim to the

Page 233 U. S. 620

tract. The present record, however, does not purport to contain all the evidence produced in that contest.

When the proceeding in the Land Department was concluded, Logan sued Davis in the local state court to recover the possession, and, by the pleadings subsequent to the petition, the character of the action was so far changed that Davis sought to have Logan declared a trustee of the title for him, Davis, and directed to convey the same to him, and Logan sought to have his title quieted as against Davis, as well as to recover the possession. In Davis' pleading, Logan's right under the confirmatory patent was assailed upon the grounds (1) that the grant of 1864 was completely and finally adjusted by the legislation and action of the state in 1882 and 1884, and so was not within the operation of the adjustment Act of 1887; (2) that the remedial provisions of § 4 of that act were confined to purchases made prior to the date of the act, and so were not applicable to Mrs. Childs' purchase chase in 1888 or Logan's purchase in 1889; (3) that Mrs. Childs and Logan were bound to take notice of the various acts and matters bearing upon the company's right to this tract, and so it was legally impossible for either to be a purchaser in good faith within the meaning of § 4, and (4) that the decision of the Secretary of the Interior reversing the action of the local officers and of the Commissioner of the General Land Office was given "unlawfully and without any authority of law." The last ground evidently was intended as a mere conclusion from the others, for nothing else was alleged to make it even colorable. The case was heard upon an agreed statement of facts, the substance of which has been recited, and a decree was rendered in favor of Davis, which was affirmed by the supreme court of the state. 147 Ia. 441. That court held that Logan was not a purchaser in good faith within the meaning of § 4 of the adjustment Act of 1887, and this upon the theory (a) that he was presumed to have

Page 233 U. S. 621

known the character of the company's title, and (b) that § 4 was not applicable to a purchase made after the date of the act. To reverse that decision, Logan prosecutes this writ of error.

Page 233 U. S. 623

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