U.S. Supreme Court
Ochoa v. Hernandez y Morales, 230 U.S. 139 (1913)
Ochoa v. Hernandez y Morales
Submitted December 17, 1912
Decided Junc 16, 1913
230 U.S. 139
Under § 35 of the Foraker Act, appeals from the District Court of the United States for Porto Rico are subject to the provisions applicable to appeals from the supreme courts of the territories under the Act of April 7, 1874, under which the jurisdiction of this Court is confined, in a case where there are no errors assigned upon questions of evidence, to determining whether the findings of the court below support the judgment. Rosaly v. Graham, 227 U. S. 584.
Even if the commanding officer in territory occupied by military forces of the United States has all the legislative power as to such territory possessed by Congress, he is still subject, as Congress is, to the provisions of the Fifth Amendment, and cannot by military orders deprive persons of their property without due process of law.
To shorten the period for acquisition of title by prescription and give the order a retroactive effect so that the period has elapsed at the time the order is made without giving those who have interests in the property an opportunity to be heard and saving no existing rights amounts to taking property without due process of law.
The provision in the judicial order of General Henry published April 7, 1899, during the military occupation of Porto Rico by the United States, reducing the period for prescriptive title to real estate in that island from the periods previously established by law down to six years with retroactive effect and without any opportunity for third parties to be heard amounted to a deprivation of property of the actual owners without due process of law, and was beyond the power of the Military Governor; nor was this provision ratified by any subsequent action of Congress.
The status of Porto Rico during the military occupancy and before the exchange of ratifications of the treaty of peace was the same as that of the Philippine Islands during the same period.
From the exchange of ratifications until Congress acted by the passage of the Foraker Act, the provisional government established in Porto Rico continued as before the peace.
During the entire period, General Orders No. 101 relating to Cuba and chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
reiterated mutatis mutandis as to Porto Rico by General Miles continued in force as the recognized declaration of principles by which the Military government was limited, and, under this, the Governor was without authority to make any order that would deprive any person of his property without due process of law.
While the exact definition of the term "due process of law" may be uncertain, it is certain that it inhibits the taking of one man's property and giving it to another, contrary to settled usages and modes of procedure, and without notice or an opportunity to be heard.
Statutes of limitation may be modified by shortening the time which is still running, but only so that a reasonable time still remains for commencement of an action before the bar takes effect.
Wherever.registry laws are in force, the rule is that a purchaser takes subject to any defects and infirmities that may be ascertained by reference to the chain of title as spread on the record, and this includes invalidity of an order on which title is based.
Under the registry law of Porto Rico, rights of third parties were preserved, and a mortgagee or grantee acquired no better right before the expiration of the period of prescription than the grantor, but took subject to the rights of infants who owned property the title to which had been fraudulently registered in the name of the grantor.
Where the limitations on a person exercising authority are notorious, and are simply in accord with national and international law, there is no hardship in applying the rule that rights cannot be acquired under orders made by such person which are wholly beyond his authority.
5 P.R. 463 affirmed.
The facts, which involve the title to real estate in Porto Rico and the constitutionality of certain military orders during the military occupation of that Island, are stated in the opinion. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary