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U.S. Supreme Court

Northern Pacific Ry. Co. v. McComas, 250 U.S. 387 (1919)

Northern Pacific Railway Company v. McComas

No. 172

Argued January 22, 1919

Decided June 9, 1919

250 U.S. 387


Lands constituting parts of odd-numbered sections within the primary limits of the land grant made to the Northern Pacific Railroad Company by the Act of July 2, 1864, c. 217, 13 Stat. 365, but which, at the date when that company's line opposite them was definitely located, were claimed by the State of Oregon under the Swamp Land Acts, as evidenced by its selection list on file in the Land Department, were excepted by the Act of 1864 from the grant of place lands whether the claim of the state was valid or not. Pp. 250 U. S. 389-391.

Patents erroneously issued for such lands as place lands gave to the railroad only the legal title, leaving the equitable title in the United States. Id.

Undisputed possession, cultivation, and improvement of public lands, under a conveyance from a state based on an unapproved selection of the lands as swamp lands, can convey no title. P. 250 U. S. 391.

Where public lands are claimed by an individual under the Swamp Land Act and by a railroad under lieu selections, the courts cannot anticipate adjudication by the Land Department beyond protecting or restoring a possession lawfully acquired. P. 250 U. S. 392.

Whether public lands are such as to come within the Swamp Land Act and whether they have been so occupied and appropriated as not to be subject to lieu selection by a railroad are questions for the decision of the Land Department. Id.

Approval of a lieu land selection is not a mere formal act, but involves an exercise of sound discretion by the Secretary of the Interior. P. 250 U. S. 393.

The Secretary may reject such a selection and hold the title in the United States for the protection of a bona fide occupant who, under a misunderstanding of his rights, has reclaimed and improved the land at large cost. Id. Williams v. United States, 138 U. S. 514, 138 U. S. 524.

Where land occupied and claimed by an individual under the swamp land law was patented pending the suit to a railroad under a lieu chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 250 U. S. 388

selection, held that the occupant could not avail of the statute of limitation or attack the patent collaterally. P. 250 U. S. 393.

Where a railroad reconveys lands erroneously patented as place lands, and elects them as lieu lands, the fact that the land officers entertain the selections and pass one of them to patent establishes that the reconveyance was accepted by the United States. Id.

82 Ore. 639 reversed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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