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Great Northern Ry. Co. v. United States, 315 U.S. 262 (1942)

Great Northern Railway Co. v. United States

No. 149

Argued January 13, 14, 1942

Decided February 2, 1942

315 U.S. 262


1. The Right of Way Act of March 3, 1875, granting to railroads the right of way through public lands of the United States, grants an easement only, not a fee, and confers no right to oil and minerals underlying the right of way. Pp. 315 U. S. 271, 315 U. S. 279.

2. This construction of the Act is supported by its language, its legislative history, its early administrative interpretation, and the construction placed upon it by Congress in subsequent enactments. P. 315 U. S. 277.

3. The general rule of construction that any ambiguity in a grant is to be resolved in favor of the sovereign grantor -- nothing passes but what is conveyed in clear and explicit language -- is applicable in the construction of the Act. P. 315 U. S. 272.

4. The history of the times in which a statute was enacted may properly be considered in determining its meaning. P. 315 U. S. 273.

5. Rio Grande Ry. v. Stringham, 239 U. S. 44, discussed and regarded as not controlling. P. 315 U. S. 279.

6. Upon the record in this case, and in view of the state of the pleadings, the United States is entitled to judgment only as to the limited areas in respect of which it is shown by stipulation to have had title. P. 315 U. S. 280.

119 F.2d 821 modified and affirmed.

Certiorari, 314 U.S. 596, to review the affirmance of a decree, 32 F.Supp. 651, enjoining the railroad from drilling or removing oil, gas or minerals underlying its right of way.

Page 315 U. S. 270

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