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BELEY V. NAPHTALY, 169 U. S. 353 (1898)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Beley v. Naphtaly, 169 U.S. 353 (1898)

Beley v. Naphtaly

No. 180

Submitted January 6, 1898

Decided February 28, 1898

169 U.S. 353


The patent to the defendant in error does not preclude this Court from inquiring into the effect of the Act of July 23, 1866, c. 219, "to quiet land titles in California," and the Court holds that that act does not require proof of an actual grant from the Mexican authorities to some grantee through whom the title set up is derived, but that the proper officers of the United States had jurisdiction to issue a patent upon being satisfied of the existence of those facts in regard to which it was their province to determine, and that the act includes those who, in good faith and for a valuable consideration, have purchased land from those who claimed and were thought to be Mexican grantees or assigns, provided they fulfill the other conditions named in the act.

The facts in this case do not show as matter of law that Millett could not have been a bona fide purchaser of these lands for a valuable consideration, and whether in fact he were so was a fact to be determined by the government on the issue of the patent, which precluded further inquiry into that question.

A person who was within the statute and had the right to purchase land as provided therein could assign or convey his right of purchase, and his grantee could exercise that right.

The rejection by the Secretary of the Interior of the first application made by the defendant in error for a patent and the subsequent granting of a rehearing and the issuing of a patent thereafter were all acts within his jurisdiction.

The defendant in error, who was the plaintiff below, brought this action in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of California to recover the possession of certain lands described in his complaint and also the value of the rents, issues, and profits thereof. He alleged that he was the owner in fee of the lands in question, and entitled to their possession, and that while such owner, the defendants wrongfully entered upon the lands and ousted him therefrom, and have since wrongfully withheld from him the possession thereof. He further alleged that he was the owner of the land by virtue of a patent duly and regularly issued to him by the United chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 169 U. S. 354

States in the year 1893, under and in pursuance of the provisions of the Act of Congress of April 24, 1820, entitled "An act making further provision for the sale of the public lands," and the acts supplemental thereto, and also under the provisions of section 7 of the Act of Congress of July 23, 1866, entitled "An act to quiet land titles in California," and that the defendants denied the validity of that patent.

The defendants answered, denying the various allegations of the complaint, and the case came to trial without a jury, a jury having been waived by all the parties.

The plaintiff put in evidence the patent issued to him from the United States for the land described in the complaint and proved that, while he was in the peaceable and quiet possession of such land, the defendants entered upon it and ousted him therefrom, and have ever since detained the land from him. He also proved its rental value.

The bill of exceptions contains the following:

"It was then admitted by the defendants' counsel that at the time of the issuance of the patent hereinbefore described, the lands therein and in the complaint described were public lands of the United States, subject to sale under the laws of the United States. It was here conceded by defendants' counsel that defendants did not propose to connect themselves in any manner or form with the title of the United States to the premises described in the complaint herein, or any part thereof, either by certificate of purchase, patent, or anything of the kind."

"The plaintiff then rested."

The plaintiff's action rests primarily upon section 7 of the statute of the United States entitled "An act to quiet land titles in California," approved July 23, 1866, 14 Stat. 218, 220. That section, so far as material, reads as follows:

"SEC. 7. And be it further enacted that, where persons in good faith, and for a valuable consideration, have purchased lands of Mexican grantees or assigns, which grants have subsequently been rejected, or where the lands so purchased have been excluded from the final survey of any Mexican grant, and

Page 169 U. S. 355

have used, improved and continued in the actual possession of the same according to the lines of their original purchase, and where no adverse right or title (except of the United States) exists, such purchasers may purchase the same, after having such lands surveyed under existing laws at the minimum price established by law, upon first making proof of the facts as required in this section, under regulations to be provided by the Commissioner of the General Land Office, joint entries being admissible by coterminous proprietors to such an extent as will enable them to adjust their respective boundaries."

To maintain their defense, the defendants then offered in evidence the application made by the plaintiff to purchase the lands from the United States pursuant to the seventh section above quoted. The application and the accompanying papers were offered for the purpose of showing that there had in fact never been any grant from the Mexican government to the Romeros, through whom, as supposed Mexican grantees, the plaintiff below derived his claim, and by reason of which claim he had made application to the land office under the provisions of the seventh section of the above-mentioned act of Congress. The papers offered in evidence by defendants showed that while the country was under Mexican rule, the Romeros had taken proceedings to obtain a grant of lands, which included the land in question, from the Mexican government, and that such proceedings had certainly gone as far as a final decree by the governor providing for the making of a grant asked for, but there was no record evidence of any actual grant's ever having been made. The facts as to the documentary evidence in the case are fully set forth in the report of the case of Romero v. United States, 1 Wall. 721.

The evidence so offered by defendants was objected to on the part of the plaintiff as immaterial, incompetent, and irrelevant for the purpose of affecting the validity of the patent under which the plaintiff claimed title to the lands in question. The court sustained the objection, and the defendants duly excepted. Thereupon the defendants rested, and the court ordered judgment to be entered in favor of the plaintiff and chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 169 U. S. 356

against the defendants for a recovery of the land in accordance with the prayer of the complaint. This judgment was affirmed by the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 73 F.1d 0, and the case is brought here for review.