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U.S. Supreme Court

Union Oil Co. of California v. Smith, 249 U.S. 337 (1919)

Union Oil Co. of California v. Smith

No. 8

Submitted November 13, 1918

Decided March 31, 1919

249 U.S. 337


In order to create valid rights or initiate a title as against the United States under the mining laws, a discovery of mineral within the location is essential. P. 249 U. S. 346.

For the purpose of exploring for mineral, a qualified person who has entered peaceably upon vacant public land is treated as a licensee or tenant at will of the United States and allowed, as of necessity, a right of possession, the extent of which, i.e., whether confined to pedis possessio or coterminous with the boundaries of his inchoate location -- is not here decided. Id.

The right of possession before discovery may be maintained only by continued actual occupancy by a qualified locator or his representatives engaged in persistent and diligent prosecution of work looking to the discovery of mineral. P. 249 U. S. 348.

Discovery may follow the marking and recording of a mining claim, and perfect the location as of the time of discovery, provided no rights of third parties have intervened. P. 249 U. S. 347.

The terms "assessments," "annual assessment labor," and "assessment work" in acts of Congress, as in the practice of miners, have nothing to do with the locating or holding of a claim before discovery, but refer to the annual labor required by Rev.Stats. § 2324, chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 249 U. S. 338

as a condition subsequent, to preserve the exclusive right of possession of a perfected location, based upon prior discovery. P. 249 U. S. 350.

The Act of February 12, 1903, c. 548, 32 Stat. 825, providing that the annual assessment labor may be done upon any one of a group of contiguous oil land locations not exceeding five, in the same ownership, provided it will tend to their development or to determine their oil-bearing character, refers to locations based each on a discovery of oil within its limits, and evinces no purpose to break down in any way the distinction between the mere pedis possessio of the prospector before discovery and the rights resulting from discovery and perfected location. P. 249 U. S. 351.

Where two contiguous tracts are claimed by the same party under oil land locations without discovery of mineral, drilling a well on one of them, for the purpose of discovering oil, even though it tends to determine the oil bearing character of the other also, will not avail to hold the other against an intervening qualified claimant who enters upon it peaceably and diligently prosecutes discovery work on his own account. Id.

166 Cal. 217 affirmed.

The case is stated in the opinion. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 249 U. S. 342

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