SOUTHERN PACIFIC R. CO. BELL, 183 U. S. 675 (1902)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Southern Pacific R. Co. Bell, 183 U.S. 675 (1902)

Southern Pacific Railroad Company v. Bell

No. 20

Argued and submitted December 5-6, 1901

Decided January 13, 1902

183 U.S. 675


The Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Company took no title to lands within the indemnity limits of its grant until the deficiency in the place limits had been ascertained, and the company had exercised its right of selection.

The Secretary of the Interior had no authority, upon the filing of a plat in the office of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, to withdraw lands lying within the indemnity limits of the grant from sale or preemption, and a patent issued to a settler under the land laws, prior to the selection made by the railroad company, of the land in dispute as lieu lands was held to be valid notwithstanding the lands lay within the forty-mile strip ordered by the act to be surveyed, after the general route of the road had been fixed.

The case of Hewitt v. Schultz, 180 U. S. 139, followed and applied to the facts of this case.

This was a complaint in the nature of a bill in equity filed by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company in the Superior Court of Fresno County, California, against Isaac T. Bell, praying to be declared the rightful owner of a certain quarter-section of land in that county, and that it be adjudged that the defendant Bell holds the legal title to said land in trust for the plaintiff, and requiring him to convey the same to it free of all encumbrances.

The facts of the case, as set forth in the complaint, are substantially as follows: By "An Act Granting Lands to Aid in the Construction of a Railroad and Telegraph Line from the states of Missouri and Arkansas to the Pacific Coast," 14 Stat. 292, c. 278, such road being incorporated under the name of The Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Company, there was granted to such railroad company --

"SEC. 3. . . . Every alternate section of public land, not mineral, designated by odd numbers, to the amount of twenty alternate sections per mile, on each side of said railroad line, as said company may adopt, through the territories of the United States, and ten alternate sections of land per mile on each side

Page 183 U. S. 676

of said railroad whenever it passes through any state, and whenever on the line thereof the United States have full title, not reserved, sold, granted, or otherwise appropriated, and free from preemption, or other claims or rights at the time the line of said road is designated by a plat thereof, filed in the office of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, and whenever prior to said time any of said sections or parts of sections shall have been granted, sold, reserved, or occupied by homestead settlers, are preempted, or otherwise disposed of, other lands shall be selected by said company in lieu thereof, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, in alternate sections, and designated by odd numbers, not more than ten miles beyond the limits of said alternate sections,"


"SEC. 6. And be it further enacted, That the President of the United States shall cause the lands to be surveyed for forty miles in width on both sides of the entire line of said road after the general route shall be fixed, and as fast as may be required by the construction of said railroad, and the odd sections of land hereby granted shall not be liable to sale or entry or preemption, before or after they are surveyed, except by said company, as provided in this act; but the provisions of the Act of September, eighteen hundred and forty-one, granting preemption rights, and the acts amendatory thereof, and the Act entitled 'An Act to Secure Homesteads to Actual Settlers on the Public Domain,' approved May twenty, eighteen hundred and sixty-two, shall be and the same are hereby, extended to all other lands on the line of said road when surveyed, excepting those hereby granted to said company."

By section 18 of the same act, authority was given to the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, incorporated under the laws of California,

"to connect with the said Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, formed under this act at such point near the boundary line of the State of California as they shall deem most suitable for a railroad line to San Francisco, and shall have a uniform gauge and rate of freight or fare with said road, and in consideration thereof, to aid in its construction, shall have similar grants of land, subject to all the conditions and limitations herein provided, and shall be required to construct its

Page 183 U. S. 677

road on the like regulations, as to time and manner, with the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad herein provided for."

On November 26, 1866, the plaintiff accepted the terms and conditions of the charter and grant of July 27, 1866, as above set forth, and on January 3, 1867, duly fixed the general route of its line of road, designating the same by a plat thereof filed in the office of the Commissioner of the General Land Office. This plat and designation having been duly approved and accepted by the Commissioner and Secretary of the Interior on March 22, 1867, all the odd-numbered sections of land lying with in thirty miles of the railroad, as shown upon the plat, were withdrawn from sale or location, preemption or homestead entry, and have ever since remained so withdrawn.

Thereafter, and prior to November 8, 1889, the company duly constructed and equipped the entire railroad provided for in said act, and along the line designated upon the plat filed on January 3, 1867, and the road so constructed, except that part which extends from Mojave to the Needles, was duly accepted and approved by the President and Secretary of the Interior.

A certain quarter-section of land within the granted limits of the railroad, as constructed and shown on the map, having been granted and otherwise disposed of prior to the time when the line of the route was designated by the plat filed with the Commissioner of the General Land Office, the quarter-section of land in dispute in this case, which was within the indemnity, but not within the granted limits of the road, being more than twenty but within thirty miles on one side of the road as constructed, was selected by the railroad in lieu of the quarter-section above described as having been granted and otherwise disposed of by the United States. The land so selected was, at the time the Act of July 27, 1866, was passed, vacant and unappropriated public land of the United States, not mineral, to which the United States then had full title, not reserved, sold, granted, or otherwise appropriated, and free from preemption or other claims or rights, and such land has ever since so remained, except as it has been affected by the acts of the parties to this suit. The company had not, at the time the selection was made, nor has it since, selected or received chanrobles.com-red

Page 183 U. S. 678

lands to the extent or amount earned and acquired by it in virtue of the grant and the provisions of the granted act.

The complaint further alleged that, notwithstanding the rights of the company secured to it by the Act of July 27, 1866, the United States issued a patent for the quarter-section so selected in lieu of the other to the defendant, who claims the legal title to said land in fee simple and free from any trust or obligation to the plaintiff.

To this complaint the defendant interposed a general demurrer, which was sustained, and, the plaintiff having refused to amend his complaint, a final judgment was entered against it and an appeal taken to the Supreme Court of California, where the judgment of the Superior Court of Fresno County was affirmed upon the authority of another case against one Wood. 124 Cal. 475. Whereupon plaintiff sued out a writ of error from this Court.


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