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LEE WILSON & CO. V. UNITED STATES, 245 U. S. 24 (1917)

U.S. Supreme Court

Lee Wilson & Co. v. United States, 245 U.S. 24 (1917)

Lee Wilson & Co. v. United States

No. 110

Argued October 4, 5, 1917

Decided November 5, 1917

245 U.S. 24


If, in the making of a survey of public lands, an area is, through fraud or mistake, meandered as a body of water or lake where no such body of water exists, riparian rights do not accrue to the surrounding lands, and the Land Department, upon discovering the error, has

Page 245 U. S. 25

power to deal with the meandered area, to cause it to be surveyed, and lawfully to dispose of it.

The fact that its administrative officers, before discovery of the error, have treated such a meandered tract as subjected to the riparian rights of abutting owners under the state laws, and consequently as not subject to disposal under the laws of the United States cannot estop the United States from asserting its title in a controversy with an abutting owner, and even as against such an owner, who acquired his property before the mistake was discovered and in reliance upon actions and representations of federal officers carrying assurance that such riparian rights existed, the United States may equitably correct the mistake and protect its title to the meandered land. The equities of the abutting owner, if any, in such circumstances are not cognizable judicially, but should be addressed to the legislative department of the government.

The Swamp Land Act of September 28, 1850, c. 84, 9 Stat. 519, did not convey land of its own force, without survey, selection, or patent.

A suit by the United States to quiet its title to land which was excluded from survey through an erroneous meander against a defendant owning abutting land under federal patent and erroneously claiming, in virtue of his patent, riparian rights in the meandered area, is not a suit to vacate or annul the defendant's patent, and the statute of limitations of March 3, 1891, c. 561, 26 Stat. 1095, is not applicable in defense.

In the survey of a township in Arkansas, part of the land was erroneously meandered and described on the plat as a "lake," and the lands abutting on the meander line were subdivided into lots. The state selected the township under the Swamp Land Act of 1850, describing it by number and stating an acreage equal to the entire area within the township lines minus the area meandered. After the Act of March 3, 1857, c. 117, 11 Stat. 251, by which Congress confirmed

"the selection of swamp and overflowed lands granted to the several states . . . heretofore made and reported to the Commissioner of the General Land Office,"

and provided that such selection should be approved and patented, a patent was issued to Arkansas purporting to convey "the whole of the township" (giving its number) except § 16, and stating the acreage conveyed at a figure substantially the same as the total acreage within the township lines minus that section and the meandered area. Held that the effect of the meander was to exclude the meandered area from the township, and that neither the selection, the confirmatory act, nor the patent could be construed as embracing it.

Page 245 U. S. 26

Chapman & Dewey Lumber Co. v. St. Francis Levee District, 232 U. S. 186.

Held further that the state could have derived no title to the meandered area through the Compromise Act of April 29, 1898, c. 229, 30 Stat. 367, as a result of such election and confirmation.

227 F. 827 affirmed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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