Rector v. Gibbon - 111 U.S. 276 (1884)
U.S. Supreme Court
Rector v. Gibbon, 111 U.S. 276 (1884)
Rector v. Gibbon
Argued March 19, 1884
Decided April 7, 1884
111 U.S. 276
The powers conferred upon the commissioners appointed under the "Act in relation to the Hot Springs Reservation in the State of Arkansas" passed March 3, 1877, 19 Stat. 377, were analogous to those conferred upon the Receiver and Register of the Land Office in cases of conflicting claims to preemption.
The aim of Congress in statutes relieving parties from the consequences of defects in title has been to protect bona fide settlers, and not intruders upon the original settlers, seeking by violence or fraud or breach of contract to appropriate the benefit of their labor. The legislation in this respect and the decisions of this Court upon it reviewed.
The provision in § 5 of the Act of March 3, 1877, that the commissioners shall "finally determine the right of each claimant or occupant," relates to the legal title which under the act is to pass from the United States, but it does not preclude a court of equity, after issue of a patent in accordance with the determination of the commissioners, from inquiring whether the legal title from the United States is not equitably subject to a trust in favor of other parties. Johnson v. Towsley, 13 Wall. 72, cited and followed.
After the passage of the Act of June 11, 1870, 16 Stat. 149, referring the title in the Hot Springs Reservation to the Court of Claims, but before the adjudications under it, A, who had been in possession of a tract in the reservation for nearly forty years, leased it to B with a covenant from B to surrender at the expiration of the term. In the proceedings under that act, A's title was adjudged invalid. Hot Springs Cases, 92 U. S. 698. Under the
Act of March 3, 1877, 19 Stat. 377, A and one claiming by assignment from B appeared before the commissioners, each claiming the right to receive the certificate for the leased tract. The commissioners adjudged it to B's assignee, and a patent issued accordingly. Held that under the circumstances, the assignee of B, the lessee, was estopped in equity from setting up the subsequently acquired legal title against A, the lessor.
This was a suit in equity commenced in Garland Circuit Court in Arkansas and removed under the Removal Act to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Arkansas. The bill alleged that the plaintiff went into possession in 1839 of a tract of land within the Hot Springs Reservation in Arkansas, under color of title derived from the location of a New Madrid claim, and made valuable improvements on it, and continued in possession until dispossessed in 1876 by the receiver appointed by the Court of Claims; that in 1873, a lease was made by his son, as his trustee, to Gibbon and Kirkpatrick, parties defendant, the lessees covenanting to make certain improvements thereon, which were to become the lessor's property on the expiration of the term on payment of a part of the cost, and to pay an agreed rent and to deliver up the premises on the expiration of the term; that in 1877, Gibbon and Kirkpatrick transferred the lease to one Ballantine, who died leaving his children, the other parties defendant, as heirs; that in the proceedings before the commissioners under the Act of March 3d 1877, 19 Stat. 377, the plaintiff appeared and filed a claim to purchase the tract, and the heirs of Ballantine did the same, and that the commissioners awarded the right to the heirs. There were other allegations not material in the issues decided in this case. The bill was demurred to because
"plaintiff claims the property described in the complaint on the ground that he was an occupant and owner of improvements thereon when that question, as appears, was finally decided by the Hot Springs Commissioners under the Act of Congress of March 3, 1877."
Section 5 of that act is as follows
"SEC. 5. That it shall be the duty of said commissioners to show by metes and bounds on the map herein provided for, the parcels or tracts of lands claimed by reason of improvements made
thereon or occupied by each and every such claimant and occupant on said reservation; to hear any and all proof offered by such claimants and occupants and the United States in respect to said lands and in respect to the improvements thereon, and to finally determine the right of each claimant or occupant to purchase the same or any portion thereof at the appraised value, which shall be fixed by said commissioners, provided, however, that such claimants and occupants shall file their claims under the provisions of this act before said commissioners within six calendar months after the first sitting of the said board of commissioners or their claims shall be forever barred, and no claim shall be considered which has accrued since the twenty-fourth day of April, eighteen hundred and seventy-six."
The demurrer was sustained. The plaintiff appealed.