SANFORD V. SANFORD, 139 U. S. 642 (1891)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Sanford v. Sanford, 139 U.S. 642 (1891)

Sanford v. Sanford

No. 275

Submitted March 30, 1891

Decided April 13, 1891

139 U.S. 642




In May, 1871, one S settled upon unsurveyed public lands in Oregon as an intending preemptor. In September following, he induced his brother to remove from California and make like settlement on adjoining unsurveyed lands and assisted him in building and making other improvements thereon. After official survey and filing of plat thereof in the local land office, each filed a preemption declaration for the land severally occupied by them. Shortly thereafter, and upon ex parte affidavits falsely averring his own residence and occupation thereon, S was granted permission by the Commissioner of the General Land Office to change his preemption declaration so as to include the land claimed and occupied by his brother, who, as shown by the findings, was a qualified preemptor, in actual occupation, with substantial improvements. After issue of patent to S for the land embraced in his amended declaration, he brought ejectment against his brother for possession. The latter thereupon invoked the aid of a court of equity to enjoin S from prosecuting his action of ejectment, to declare the latter trustee of the property, and to compel transfer thereof to him. In such action, held:

(1) That while the determination of the Land Department in a matter cognizable by it in the alienation of lands under the laws of the United States cannot be collaterally impeached, when its enforcement is sought -- where the matter determined is not properly before the department, or its conclusion has been reached from a misconstruction of the law applicable to the case, and it has thus denied to a party rights which upon a correct construction world have been conceded to him, or where misrepresentation and fraud have been practiced necessarily affecting its judgment, a court of equity in a proper proceeding will interfere and control its determination so as to secure the just rights of the party injuriously affected. The party acquiring the property under the circumstances mentioned will be charged as a trustee of the rightful owner, and be compelled to transfer the property to him.