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U.S. Supreme Court

Oregon & California R. Co. v. United States, 243 U.S. 549 (1917)

Oregon & California Railroad Company v. United States

No. 492

Argued March 8, 9, 1917

Decided April 23, 1917

243 U.S. 549


The Oregon-California Railroad Grants (Acts of July 25, 1866, as amended, and May 4, 1870) made no distinction between land covered with timber and other land, nor between the timber or other incidents and the land itself; title to all was vested in the railroad company for transmission to actual settlers upon the terms prescribed by the acts. The substantial interest granted the company was the right to exact not more than $2.50 per acre in so disposing of the lands. Oregon & California R. Co. v. United States, 238 U. S. 393, discussed and followed.

While the railroad company could use the lands as a basis of credit, it could not by trust deed convey an interest in either land or timber exempt from the obligations imposed by the granting acts or the power of the government to compel their performance.

The granting acts being not mere instruments of conveyance, but laws reserving the right of alteration or repeal, Congress, to overcome a situation largely due to breaches of obligation by the railroad company which made the original scheme impracticable, had power without the company's consent to resume the title and provide for disposition of the land by the government under conditions assuring the company the equivalent of its interest in the grants -- not more than $2.50 per acre.

The "Chamberlain-Ferris Act" of June 9, 1916, c. 137, 39 Stat. 218, examined and found to accord with the power of Congress and the principles laid down by this Court in Oregon & California R. Co. v. United States, 238 U. S. 393.

The former decision of this Court having directed an injunction to hold the land and timber intact until Congress should have reasonable opportunity to make new provisions for disposing of them consistently with the interest of the railroad company, and an act having been passed accordingly after entry of the decree in the district court, this Court, upon a review of the decree based on an alleged chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 243 U. S. 550

departure from its former mandate, may properly determine the validity of the act as a matter involved in the decree's execution.

Under Rule 24, costs in this Court are not allowable in cases where the United States is a party.

Where the United States obtained a decree declaring railroad land grants forfeited for breaches of obligation by the railroad company and upon appeal the decree was reversed because the obligations broken were not conditions subsequent, but statutory covenants, and relief against the company by injunction was decreed accordingly, costs of the litigation in the district court were properly awarded by that court to the United States.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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