San Pedro & Canyon del Agua Co. v. United States - 146 U.S. 120 (1892)
U.S. Supreme Court
San Pedro & Canyon del Agua Co. v. United States, 146 U.S. 120 (1892)
San Pedro and Canyon del Agua Company v. United States
Argued October 17, 24, 1892
Decided November 14, 1892
146 U.S. 120
Idaho & Oregon Land Co. v. Bradbury, 132 U. S. 509, affirmed to the point that
"the authority of this Court, on appeal from a territorial court, is limited to determining whether the court's findings of fact support its judgment or decree, and whether there is any error in rulings, duly excepted to, on the admission or rejection of evidence, and does not extend to a consideration of the weight of evidence or its sufficiency to support the conclusions of the court."
A bill in equity on the part of the United States to set aside a patent of public lands issued by mistake or obtained by fraud will lie either when there are parties to whom the government is under obligation in respect to the relief invoked or when that government has a direct pecuniary interest in such relief each of which facts appears to exist in this case, and one of which is not denied in the letter of Attorney General Brewster, which is set forth in the opinion of the Court.
When the government has a direct pecuniary interest in the subject matter of the litigation the defenses of stale claim and laches cannot be set up as a bar. United States v. Dalles Military Road Co., 140 U. S. 599, affirmed to this point.
T. was a special agent and examiner of surveys for the Land Department. After this suit had been commenced, he was directed by the Land Department to proceed to the disputed territory and make an examination as to the survey. He did so, and besides making surveys and taking photographic views, he also obtained thirteen affidavits of witnesses, selected by himself, as to boundaries, etc. When called as a witness, he produced these affidavits as part of his testimony and gave his conclusions as to the proper boundaries of the grant, based partly at least upon the information obtained from them. After his deposition containing these matters had been filed in the case, and before the hearing in the district court, two motions were made by the defendant -- one to strike out the entire deposition and the other to suppress parts of it. Both were overruled and no exception taken. The district court found for the defendant, and entered a decree dismissing the bill. An appeal having been taken to the supreme court of the territory, the entire record was transferred to that court. There, no new motion to strike out this deposition, or any part of it, was presented, nor were the two motions made in the district court renewed in the supreme court,
or action asked of that court thereon. The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court and set aside the patent. A motion for a rehearing was made, which was denied.
(1) That no motion to exclude the deposition or any part of it having been made in the Supreme Court before decision, and it not appearing in the record that the Supreme Court in giving its decision passed upon the question of its admissibility, there was nothing in that decision to review in that regard.
(2) That the action of the court on the motion for a rehearing presented no question for review by this Court.
(3) That this Court could not review the action of the district court. On the facts it appearing that a fraud was committed in making the survey for the patent and that the defendant was not a bona fide purchaser, it is immaterial that the surveyor was not a party to the fraud.
On February 12, 1844, Jose Serafin Ramirez, a citizen of the Republic of Mexico, and a resident of Santa Fe, in the Department of New Mexico, petitioned the governor of that department for a grant of a tract of land known as the "Canon del Agua," together with the confirmation of the title to a mine claimed as an inheritance from his grandfather. The material part of the petition is as follows:
"I apply to your excellency in the name of the donation laws of the 4th of January, 1813, and 18th of August, 1824, and in the name of the Mexican nation, asking for a tract of vacant land known as the 'Canon del Agua,' near the placer of San Francisco, called 'Placer del Tuerto,' and distant from that town about one league, more or less."
"The land I ask for is vacant, and without owner, and I solicit it because I have no possession or property by which I can support my family. The boundaries solicited are: on the north, the road leading from the placer to the Palo Amarillo; on the south, the northern boundary of the grant of San Pedro; on the east, the spring of the Canon del Agua; on the west, the summit of the mountain of the mine known as 'My Own,' as will appear by the accompanying document No. 1, for which I ask your ratification and that of the departmental assembly, in the manner that I received it, as an inheritance from my grandfather, Don Francisco Dias de Moradillos, and I ask that this title be ratified according to the mining ordinances dated
in the year 1813, title 5, article 1; in view of all of which I pray and request your excellency to grant me possession of the mine, to work it, and the land which it embraces, which is about one league, for cultivation and pasturing my animals, and for grinding ore and smelting metal."
"Jose Serafin Ramirez"
"Santa Fe, February 12, 1844"
To which petition the departmental assembly and the governor thus responded:
"Departmental Assembly of New Mexico"
"In session of today the departmental assembly decrees that Don Serafin Ramirez, auditor of the departmental treasury, and the other heirs of Don Francisco Dias de Moradillos, deceased, have a right, as grandchildren, to the mine referred to in the petition, and title of possession and property, as expressed in the mining laws, and further decrees that his excellency, the governor of the department, in conformity with the colonization laws, shall grant the tract of land prayed for."
"Thomas Oztiz, Secretary"
"Santa Fe, February 13, 1844"
"And in answer to your petition, I grant you the tract asked for, and revalidation of the title to the mine, which are enclosed herewith."
"God and liberty Mariano Martinez"
"To Don Serafin Ramirez, auditor of the departmental Treasury, Santa Fe"
The same year, juridical possession of the tract was given, the description in the certificate thereof being:
"On the north, the road of the Palo Amarillo; on the south, the boundary of the Rancho San Pedro; on the east, the spring of the Canon del Agua; on the west, the highest summit of the little mountain of El Tuerto, adjoining the boundary of the mine known
as 'Inherited Property,' from this date, according to the colonization laws of the republic."
By the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in 1848, 9 Stat. 922, the Territory of New Mexico was transferred to the United States. In 1859, Ramirez filed with the surveyor general of New Mexico his petition, asking official recognition by this government of his grant. The description in this petition was:
"The quantity of land claimed is five thousand varas square, making one Castilian league, and bounded on the north by the placer road that goes down to the yellow timber; on the south, the northern boundary of the San Pedro grant; on the east, the spring of the Canon del Agua; on the west, the summit of the mountain of the mine known as the property of your petitioner, as appears by the original title deeds accompanying the notice, numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5."
A hearing was had on this application on the 10th day of January, 1860. The surveyor general reported in favor of the grant, and on June 12, 1866, Congress passed the following act of confirmation:
"An act to confirm the title of Jose Serafin Ramirez"
"to certain lands in New Mexico"
"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the grant to Jose Serafin Ramirez of the Canon del Agua, as approved by the Surveyor General of New Mexico January twenty, eighteen hundred and sixty, and designated as number seventy in the transcript of private land claims in New Mexico, transmitted to Congress by the Secretary of the Interior January eleven, eighteen hundred and sixty-one, is hereby confirmed: provided, however, that this confirmation shall only be construed as a relinquishment on the part of the United States. and shall not affect the adverse rights of any person whatever."
"Approved June 12, 1866. 14 Stat. 588"
On August 9, 1866, a survey was made by a deputy surveyor, under the direction of the Surveyor General of New
Mexico. This survey, after approval by such surveyor general, was forwarded to the Land Department at Washington, and on July 1, 1875, a patent was issued granting the land with boundaries as established by this survey. The following is a plat of the property as surveyed and patented:
In 1866, Ramirez conveyed the property to Cooley and others, from whom, in 1880, it passed to the present defendant. Thereafter, and on September 15, 1881, this suit was commenced by the United States in the District Court of the first Judicial District of the Territory of New Mexico, to set
aside the patent and annul the title conveyed thereby, on the ground of fraud in the survey. An answer was filed, proofs were taken, and the case went to final hearing before the district court. By that court, on February 16, 1885, a decree was entered in favor of the defendant dismissing the bill. From such decree an appeal was taken to the supreme court of the territory, which, on January 28, 1888, reversed the decision of the district court and entered a decree in favor of the government setting aside and annulling the patent and the survey upon which it was based, from which decree the defendant has appealed to this Court.