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CURTNER V. UNITED STATES, 149 U. S. 662 (1893)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Curtner v. United States, 149 U.S. 662 (1893)

Curtner v. United States

No. 258

Argued April 24-25, 1893

Decided May 1893

149 U.S. 662

Syllabus

When, in a suit in equity brought by the United States to set aside and cancel patents of public land issued by the Land Department, no fraud being charged, it appears that the suit is brought for the benefit of private persons and that the government has no interest in the result, the United States are barred from bringing the suit if the persons for whose benefit the suit is brought would be barred.

When a land-grant railroad company conveys a part of its grant without having received a patent from the United States, and it appears that the United States had issued a patent of the tract to a state, as part of a land grant to the state, and the state parts with its title to an individual, the relative rights of the parties can be determined by proceedings in the courts on behalf of the grantees of the company against the grantees of the state.

This was a bill in equity filed by the United States in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of California, July 23, 1883, against Henry Curtner and others, chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 149 U. S. 663

patentees of the State of California, for the purpose of having certain listings of indemnity school lands situated in that state in township three south, range three east, and in township two south, range one east, set aside and cancelled, and the lands decreed to be held subject to the grant made for the purpose of aiding the construction of the Pacific Railroad, as provided in the Acts of Congress of July 1, 1862, and July 2, 1864.

The bill was demurred to and amended, and to the amended bill a demurrer was interposed which was overruled, Judge Sawyer delivering an opinion. 26 F.2d 6.

The bill averred that on July 1, 1862, Congress passed an act by which the Union Pacific Railroad Company was incorporated for the purpose of constructing a railroad and telegraph line from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean, and by which it was provided that

"there be, and is hereby, granted to the said company, for the purpose of aiding in the construction of said railroad, . . . every alternate section of public land, designated by odd numbers, to the amount of five alternate sections per mile on each side of said railroad, on the line thereof, and within the limits of ten miles on each side of said road, not sold, reserved, or otherwise disposed of by the United States, and to which a preemption or homestead claim may not have attached at the time the line of said road is definitely fixed. . . . And all such lands, so granted by this section, which shall not be sold or disposed of by said company within three years after the entire road shall have been completed shall be subject to settlement and preemption like other lands at a price not exceeding one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre, to be paid to said company."

12 Stat. 489, 492; that the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California was by the act declared entitled to the benefit of this land grant, on the same terms and conditions as the Union Pacific Railroad Company; that on October 31, 1864, the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California assigned to the Western Pacific Railroad Company the right to earn the land grant along and through the location where the land in controversy is situated, and that this assignment chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 149 U. S. 664

was ratified by Act of Congress of March 3, 1865. 13 Stat. 504, c. 89.

It was further alleged that, by the Act of July 1, 1862, the railroad company seeking the benefit of the grant therein provided for was required, within two years after its passage, to file a map of its general route in the Department of the Interior, and thereupon the Secretary of that department should cause the lands within fifteen miles of such general route to be withdrawn from preemption, private entry, and sale. That when any portion of said route was finally located, the Secretary of the Interior should cause the said lands so granted to be surveyed and set

That a map of the general route of the road was filed in the Department of the Interior on December 8, 1864, and that the Secretary of that department, on January 30, 1865, caused the lands within twenty-five miles of such general route to be withdrawn from preemption, private entry, and sale. That the land in controversy was within those limits. That on February 1, 1870, the map of the line of the road, as definitely fixed, was filed with the Secretary of the Interior, and on that day the line of the road was definitely fixed. That on December 29, 1869, the road was completed in all respects as contemplated by said act of Congress, and the Western Pacific Railroad Company was entitled to have and receive patents from the United States for the land in controversy, the same being within ten miles of the road so completed and not sold, reserved, or otherwise disposed of by the United States.

And also that the Western Pacific Railroad Company and chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 149 U. S. 665

the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California became consolidated on June 22, 1870, under the name of the Central Pacific Railroad Company, and that the said Western Pacific and its successor, the Central Pacific, did, within three years of the completion of the said road, sell and dispose of the land in controversy to persons other than the defendants.

The bill then averred that

"the Commissioner of the General Land Office did at the various and respective times hereinafter stated, without right and through error, inadvertence, and mistake, wrongfully list, by certified lists thereof, to the State of California, the said above-described lands,"

and then follow four lists, covering the lands in controversy, dated September 8, 1870; March 11, 1871; November 15, 1871, and March 24, 1873.

That on May 12, 1874, the railroad company, by its deputy land agent, presented to the register and receiver of the local land office a selection of lands claimed by it under its grant, numbered thirteen, including these lands; that the

"mistake, error, and inadvertence of the said commissioner of the General Land Office in listing by certified lists said land to the State of California was not discovered by complainants or its officers of the said Land Department, or by said Central Pacific Railroad Company or its grantees, until the 12th of May, 1874, nor could the same by reasonable diligence have been discovered sooner; that thereupon said register and receiver wrongfully, and in violation of their duty, refused to certify said list as aforesaid requested, and refused to certify the same in any manner whatever."

It was further alleged

"That the State of California did at various times subsequent to said eighth (8th) day of September, A.D. 1870, by its land patents, purport to convey said lands mentioned in said list to divers and sundry persons other than 'the Western Pacific Railroad Company' or its successors, the Central Pacific Railroad Company, and against the will and without the consent of the said companies, or either of them, as folls successors, the Central Pacific Railroad Company, and against the will and without the consent of the said companies, or either of them, as foll