United States v. Missouri, K. & T. Ry. Co. - 141 U.S. 358 (1891)


U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Missouri, K. & T. Ry. Co., 141 U.S. 358 (1891)

United States v. Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway Company

No. 317

Argued March 10-11, 1891

Decided October 19, 1891

141 U.S. 358

Syllabus

Congress, March 3, 1863, granted to Kansas every alternate section of land, designated by odd numbers for ten sections in width on each side, in aid of the construction of the following roads and each branch thereof: first, a railroad and telegraph from the City of Leavenworth, Kansas, by the way of Lawrence and the Ohio City crossing of the Osage River, to the Southern line of the state in the direction of Galveston Bay, in Texas, with a branch from Lawrence by the valley of the Wakarusa River to the point on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad where that road intersects the Neosho River; second, a railroad from the City of Atchison, Kansas, via Topeka, to the western line of that state in the direction of Fort Union and Santa FS, New Mexico, with a branch where the latter road crosses the Neosho, down said Neosho Valley to the point where the road first named enters the Neosho Valley. The act provided that in the case of deficiencies in place limits, it should

"be the duty of the Secretary of the Interior to cause to be selected, for the purposes aforesaid, from the public lands of the United States nearest to tiers of sections above specified, so much land in alternate sections or parts of sections, designated by odd numbers as shall be equal to such lands as the United States have sold, reserved or otherwise appropriated, or to which the rights of preemption or homestead settlements have attached."

The act also provided that the

"sections and parts of sections of land which, by such grant, shall remain to the United States, within ten miles on each side of said road and branches [that is, the even-numbered sections within the place or granted limits] shall not be sold for less than double the minimum price of the public lands when sold, nor shall any of said lands become subject to sale at private entry until the same shall have been first offered at public sale to the highest bidder at or above the increased minimum price, as aforesaid, provided that actual and bona fide settlers, under the provisions of the preemption and homestead laws of the United States, may, after due proof of settlement, improvement, cultivation and occupation, as now provided by law, purchase the same at the increased minimum price aforesaid, and provided also that settlers on any of said reserved sections under the provisions of the homestead law who improve, occupy and cultivate the same for a period of five years and comply with the several conditions and requirements of said act shall be entitled to patents for an amount

Page 141 U. S. 359

not exceeding eighty acres each, anything in this act to the contrary notwithstanding."

By a subsequent act, July 16, 1866, for the benefit of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, Southern Branch, there was granted to the state for the use of that company,

"every alternate section of land or parts thereof designated by odd numbers to the extent of five alternate sections per mile on each side of said road, and not exceeding in all ten sections per mile, but in case it shall appear that the United States have, when the line of said road is definitely located, sold any section or any part thereof, granted as aforesaid, or that the right of preemption or homestead settlement has attached to the same, or that the same has been reserved by the United States for any purpose whatever, then it shall be the duty of the Secretary of the Interior to cause to he selected for the purposes aforesaid, from the public lands of the United States nearest to the sections above specified, so much land as shall be equal to the amount of such lands as the United States have sold, reserved or otherwise appropriated, or to which the right of homestead settlement or preemption has attached as aforesaid, which lands, thus indicated by the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, shall be reserved and held for the Kansas for the use of said company by the said Secretary for the purpose of the construction and operation of said railroad as provided by this act."

This last act provided also

"That any and all lands heretofore reserved to the United States by any act of Congress or in any other manner by competent authority for the purpose of aiding in any object of internal improvement or other purpose whatever be, and the same are hereby, reserved and excepted from the operation of this act except so far as it may be found necessary to locate the route of said road through such reserved lands, in which case the right of way, two hundred feet in width, is hereby granted subject to the approval of the President of the United States, and provided further that said lands hereby granted shall not be selected beyond twenty miles from the line of said road."

The routes of the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Fort Gibson Railroad Company, which got the benefit of the first road named in the act of 1863, and the Union Pacific Railroad Company, Southern Branch, now the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad Company, which succeeded also to the rights of the Atchison company in respect to the road down the Neosho Valley, crossed each other in the valley, so that some of the even-numbered sections within the original place limits of the first-named road were within the indemnity limits of the latter road, and some even-numbered sections were within the common indemnity limits of both roads.

Held:

"(1) That the even-numbered sections within the place limits of the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Fort Gibson Railroad were reserved to the United States by the act of 1863, and therefore were excepted from the grant in the act of 1866 and could not be patented to the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway Company to supply deficiencies in its place limits."

"(2) The even-numbered sections that were within the common indemnity limits of both roads could be used to supply deficiencies in the place limits of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas

Page 141 U. S. 360

Railway Company, saving the rights acquired under the preemption and homestead laws before the selection of such lands for purposes of indemnity."

The principle reaffirmed that title to indemnity lands does not vest in a railroad company for the benefit of which they are contingently granted, but remains in the United States until they are actually selected and set apart under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior specifically for indemnity purposes.

Where a patent has been fraudulently obtained, and such fraudulent patent, if allowed to stand, would work prejudice to the interests or rights of the United States, or would prevent the government from fulfilling an obligation incurred by it either to the public or to an individual which personal litigation could not remedy, there would be an occasion which would make it the duty of the government to institute judicial proceedings to vacate such patent.

These principles equally apply where patents have been issued by mistake, and they are especially applicable where a multiplicity of suits, each one depending upon the same facts and the same questions of law, can be avoided, and where a comprehensive decree, covering all contested rights, would accomplish the substantial ends of justice.

Kansas City, Lawrence &c. Railroad v. The Attorney General, 118 U. S. 682 distinguished, and held to decide only the right of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Company to indemnity from the odd-numbered sections within the overlapping indemnity limits of that company and the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Fort Gibson Company.

In equity. Defendants demurred to the bill, and the demurrer was sustained and the bill dismissed. Plaintiffs appealed. The case is stated in the opinion.



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