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U.S. Supreme Court

Michigan v. Flint and La Pere Marquette R. Co., 152 U.S. 363 (1894)

Michigan v. Flint and La Pere Marquette Railroad Company

No. 913

Submitted January 29, 1894

Decided March 12, 1894

152 U.S. 363


The decision of the highest court of a state in a suit brought by the state to establish its title to lands within the state claimed and occupied by a railroad company that the state was estopped by its acts, conduct, silence, and acquiescence from setting up such claim presents no federal question for revision by this court.

Motion to dismiss. This was a bill or information filed on behalf of the State of Michigan in the Ingham Circuit Court, December 13, 1887, against the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad Company and others, claiming title to certain lands under and by virtue of the grant by Act of Congress of September 28, 1850, commonly known as the "Swamp-Land Grant." 9 Stat. 519.

The claims of the respective parties appear in the pleadings, which were, in substance, as follows:

The bill alleged that the grant transferred to the several states named, and, among others, the State of Michigan, the whole of the swamp and overflowed lands therein made unfit for cultivation and remaining unsold on the 20th of September, 1850, and that it was the duty of the Secretary of the Interior to make lists and plats of the land, and at the request of the governor of the state to issue patents; that the effect of the grant was to vest title in the state, and that the state afterwards asserted title, to all the land, and that such title was recognized by the United States. It was further averred that on or about November 21, 1850, certain instructions were prepared relative to the designation and description of said swamp lands by the Commissioner of the General Land Office, of which a copy was sent to the surveyor general, and another copy to the governor, by which the surveyor general was instructed to make out lists and to regard the field notes on chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 152 U. S. 364

file in his office as the basis thereof, if the state was willing to adopt them, and if not, and the state furnished him with satisfactory evidence that any lands were of the character embraced by the grant, to so report them; that the surveyor general transmitted a copy of his instructions to the governor, and desired information whether the state authorities would accept the field notes, or conclude to have a survey "to determine the boundaries of the swamp and overflowed lands."

It was further alleged that the governor suggested delay, and that on January 3, 1851, the surveyor general gave his opinion that the field notes would show a greater amount of swamp lands than an actual resurvey.

The bill then stated that the survey spoken of indicated the sections or subdivision of sections of government lands which were of a swampy character, and that, pursuant to the propositions and suggestions aforesaid, the legislature of Michigan passed an act, approved June 28, 1851, adopting the notes of the surveyor on file in the office of the surveyor general as the basis upon which the state accepted the lands, and that such legislation was well known to the Land Department in Washington, and understood to be the basis agreed upon for the adjustment of the lands granted by said grant.

That this proposition and these acceptances by the state

"operated and had the legal effect to perfect in the State of Michigan full, complete, and absolute title to all the lands shown by the surveyor general's minutes to be swamp and overflowed lands, and all subdivisions of land, the greater part of which appeared by said minutes to be of a swampy nature."

It was further averred that the surveyor general thereupon proceeded to prepare plats, and designate upon said plats the lands of a swampy nature and character which came within the grant; that the maps and plats are now on file in the office of the Michigan Land Commissioner, and are the identification of the swamp lands granted to the State of Michigan by the said act, and "which this informant submits are effective and binding both upon the United States and all persons claiming from them, as well as the State of Michigan;" that the action chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 152 U. S. 365

of the state, and the lists, were reported to the General Land Office.

The bill then stated that, the title of the State of Michigan having been perfected in this manner, afterwards, Congress, by Act of June 3, 1856, granted lands to Michigan to aid in the construction of certain railroads, and, among others, the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad, and that a large quantity of the lands selected by the railroad company were lands which were shown by the minutes of the surveyor general to be swamp.

That the proposal by the Commissioner of the General Land Office as to the method of identification, the action taken thereon, and the selection of swamp lands were with the approval of the Secretary of the Interior; that by reason thereof and sundry subsequent confirmatory acts of Congress, the title of the state became complete, and that by the means particularly detailed in the bill, these lands became diverted from the swamp land grant, and passed to the railroad company as railroad lands. The prayer was that the lands might be declared to be swamp lands, and that the railroad company had no right in them, that the title of the state be confirmed, and that the defendants be required to account for land and timber sold, and for an injunction to prevent further sales.

The answer denied that the State of Michigan had any power or control over the lands or any of them, and stated that defendant trustees held the title for the railroad company; that this title came from the United States, through the State of Michigan, by an act of the legislature of February 14, 1857, and sundry subsequent conveyances; denied that the effect of the grant was, as stated in the information, to vest title in the state prior to identification, and that the correspondence spoken of in the bill could have the effect to increase the rights of the State of Michigan beyond the terms of the act of Congress granting said lands.

The answer further stated that it was a matter of common knowledge that many of the surveys in Michigan were false and fraudulent, in many cases surveys not having been made chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 152 U. S. 366

in the field at all, but the field notes and maps which were returned being wholly false and fictitious; that in consequence, resurveys were made pursuant to the authority of Congress; that Congress made appropriations for that purpose, and that the notes of the resurvey and the maps of the resurvey became the notes of the survey; that the federal authorities and the state authorities accepted the resurveys as tey and the maps of the resurvey became the notes of the survey; that the federal authorities and the state authorities accepted the resurveys as t