Steel v. Smelting Co.
106 U.S. 447 (1882)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Steel v. Smelting Co., 106 U.S. 447 (1882)

Steel v. Smelting Company

Decided December 18, 1882

106 U.S. 447

Syllabus

1. A patent executed in the required form and by the proper officers, for such a portion of the public domain as is by law subject to sale or other disposal passes the title thereto, and the finding of the facts by the Land Department which authorize its issue is conclusive in a court of law. Smelting Co. v. Kemp,104 U. S. 636, cited upon this point and approved.

2. A party who claims to be aggrieved by such issue, although he cannot have the patent vacated or limited in its operation where it comes collaterally in question in an action for the recovery of possession, may obtain relief in

a court of chancery if he has such an equitable right as will estop the patentee or those claiming under him from asserting the legal title to the land. Otherwise such party must apply to the officers of the government, who, although not clothed with power to set the patent aside, may for that purpose bring suit in the name of the United States.

3. Mineral lands belonging to the United States, although lying within a town site on the public domain, are subject to location and sale for mining purposes, and a title to them is acquired in the same manner as to lands of that description which are elsewhere situate.

4. In ejectment for mineral lands by a party claiming under the patentee, the defendant asserted that he owned the demanded premises "by superiority of possessory title and priority of actual possession" of them as part of a town site, that the patentee was not a citizen, and that frauds, bribery, and subornation of perjury had been used to obtain the patent. Held that it was the province of the Land Department to pass upon such matters before the patent was issued, and that they could not be set up to defeat the action.

6. A party cannot invoke the doctrine of estoppel against the owners by reason of improvements which, with their knowledge, he put upon the land if he was aware at the time that it belonged to them and that he had no title to it.

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