United States v. Union Pacific Ry. Co.
148 U.S. 562 (1893)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Union Pacific Ry. Co., 148 U.S. 562 (1893)

United States v. Union Pacific Railway Company

No. 149

Argued March 20-21, 1893

Decided April 10, 1893

148 U.S. 562

Syllabus

The right conferred by the Act of July 1, 1862, 12 Stat. 489, c. 120, as subsequently amended, upon the corporation afterwards known as the Union Pacific Railway Company, Eastern Division, to construct its road substantially in a direct line to Denver, and from thence northerly, to connect with the Union Pacific Railroad at Cheyenne, and to acquire a grant of public lands thereby upon each side of its railroad as constructed, was not affected by the Act of March 3, 1869, 15 Stat. 324, c. 127, in such a way as to make the Union Pacific, Eastern Division, terminate at Denver and

Page 148 U. S. 563

to cause its land grants to terminate there, but, on the contrary, the act of 1862, being a grant in praesenti, the company's right to lands upon each side of its road became fixed from the moment it proceeded, under the act of 1866, to establish its line of definite location so as to make the same extend from Kansas City westwardly to Denver and thence northwardly to Cheyenne, and the act of 1869 is not to be construed as breaking the continuity of the line.

If there were any doubt with regard to the interpretation of the act of 1869, the construction placed upon it by the Land Department for eighteen years, under which lands have been put upon the market and sold, would be entitled to considerable weight.

This case arose upon demurrers and a plea to a bill in equity filed by the United States against the Union Pacific Railway Company and 173 other corporations and individuals to procure the surrender and cancellation of certain land patents issued to the Kansas Pacific Railway and the Denver Pacific Railway and Telegraph Company, and for a decree declaring all conveyances of such lands clouds upon the title of the United States.

The bill averred, in substance, that by an Act of Congress of July 1, 1862, 12 Stat. 489, incorporating the Union Pacific Railroad Company, such company was authorized to construct a road from a point on the one hundredth meridian of longitude, between the south margin of the valley of the Republican River and the north margin of the valley of the Platte River, in the Territory of Nebraska, to the western boundary of Nevada, and was granted every odd-numbered section of land, amounting to five alternate sections of land per mile, afterwards extended to ten sections by the Act of July 2, 1864, 13 Stat. 356, on each side of said railroad, on the line thereof, and within the limits of ten miles (subsequently increased to twenty) on each side of the road, and that whenever the company should have completed forty consecutive miles of its road (afterwards reduced to twenty by the same act of 1864) patents should issue for such public lands as had been granted to it, and had been earned in accordance with the provisions of the act.

By the same act, it was further provided that the Leavenworth, Pawnee and Western Railroad Company, which had

Page 148 U. S. 564

been chartered by the Territory of Kansas in 1855, was authorized to construct a line of road from the Missouri River at the mouth of the Kansas River, to the aforesaid point on the one hundredth meridian. The corporate name of the said Leavenworth, Pawnee and Western Railroad Company of Kansas was, subsequently to the passage of this act, changed to that of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, Eastern Division.

On July 3, 1866, Congress passed another act, 14 Stat. 79, c. 159, amending those of July 1, 1862, and July 2, 1864, and providing that the Union Pacific Railway Company, Eastern Division, should be authorized to so change the line of its definite location as to connect with the Union Pacific Railroad at a point not more than fifty miles westward from the meridian of Denver, in Colorado.

The bill further averred that after the passage of this Act of July 3, 1866, the Union Pacific Railway Company, Eastern Division, so changed its line the of definite location as to make the same extend from its point of beginning at Kansas City, Missouri, westward, and substantially in a direct line to the City of Denver, Colorado, and from that point northward and substantially in a direct line to a connection with the Union Pacific Railroad at Cheyenne, Wyoming, and proceeded to build its road on that line towards Denver.

Before the Union Pacific had completed its line to Denver, and on March 3, 1869, Congress passed another act, 15 Stat. 324, c. 127, authorizing the Union Pacific Railway Company, Eastern Division, to contract with the Denver Pacific Railway and Telegraph Company, a Colorado corporation, for the construction, operation, and maintenance of that part of its line of railroad and telegraph between Denver and its point of connection with the Union Pacific Railroad at Cheyenne, and to adopt the roadbed already graded by the said Denver Pacific Railway and Telegraph Company as said line, and to grant to said Denver Pacific Railway and Telegraph Company the perpetual use of its right of way and depot grounds, and to transfer to it all its rights and privileges subject to all the obligations pertaining to said part of its line. It was also made the

Page 148 U. S. 565

duty of such road to extend its railroad and telegraph to a connection at the City of Denver so as to form with that part of its line herein authorized to be constructed a continuous line of railroad and telegraph from Kansas City by way of Denver to Cheyenne. It was further declared, section 2, that

"All the provisions of law for the operation of the Union Pacific Railroad, its branches and connections, as a continuous line, without discrimination, shall apply the same way as if the road from Denver to Cheyenne had been constructed by the said Union Pacific Railway Company, Eastern Division."

It was further provided that each of said companies should receive patents to alternate sections of land along their respective lines of road, as therein defined, in like manner, and within the same limits, as provided by law in the case of lands granted to the Union Pacific Railway Company, Eastern Division. Upon the same day, a joint resolution was passed, 15 Stat. 348, authorizing the Union Pacific Railway Company, Eastern Division, to change its name to the Kansas Pacific Railway Company.

In pursuance of these acts, the new Kansas Pacific Railway Company entered into a contract with the Denver Pacific of the nature and for the purpose set out and authorized by the acts, and in pursuance thereof the Kansas Pacific completed its line to Denver, and the Denver Pacific completed its line from Denver to Cheyenne.

The bill thereupon charges that is procuring the passage and accepting the terms of the Act of March 3, 1869, the Kansas Pacific abandoned its intention of building a line of road to connect with the Union Pacific at Cheyenne, and therefore that Denver became the terminus of its road, and the company surrendered all its rights to that portion of the land grant lying beyond its terminus at Denver, and by operation of this act sections of public land within prescribed limits were granted to the Denver Pacific as a new and independent grant; that, the Kansas Pacific and the Denver Pacific having completed their lines of road, they respectively became entitled to certain portions of the land grant independently of each other, notwithstanding the fact that, through their connections

Page 148 U. S. 566

at Denver, they formed a continuous line of railway from Kansas City to Cheyenne, and their rights to public lands, under the several acts aforesaid, extended only laterally along the lines of said roads respectively, and were comprised and limited by lines drawn through the terminus of each of said roads at right angles to the general direction of the lines of said roads. The bill then referred to a map, Exhibit A, as showing the lines of said roads as connected at the City of Denver, their general courses and directions as they extend eastwardly and northwardly from the City of Denver, and the lines by which the rights of said respective companies to public lands, under the acts aforesaid, are limited; that west of the legal terminal limit of the Kansas Pacific land grant, and south of the legal terminal limit of the Denver Pacific land grant, lies a large triangular tract of land of about 200,000 acres, substantially within a radius of twenty miles of the point of connection of the two roads at Denver, which the bill alleges was not within the legal limit of the land grant to either of the two companies, and to the odd-numbered sections of which they asserted claim, and for which they procured patents from the Interior Department, the surrender and cancellation of which said patents it was the object of the bill to secure.

The bill further alleged the consolidation, in January, 1880, of the Kansas Pacific and the Denver Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroad Companies into one corporation, under the corporate name of the Union Pacific Railway Company, which became the successor in interest of the three prior corporation; that certain persons, who were made defendants to the bill, claimed title to certain lands of this tract by direct or mesne conveyances from these companies, of the exact nature of which titles plaintiff is ignorant; that under an Act of March 3, 1887, providing for the adjustment of land grants made by Congress to aid in the construction of railroads, etc., the Secretary of the Interior ascertained that the lands described in the bill had been erroneously and illegally patented, as herein set out, and thereupon made a demand upon the Union Pacific Railway Company, as successor in interest to

Page 148 U. S. 567

the others, for a reconveyance of the tracts of land so erroneously patented, which was refused.

The persons claiming title under these patents having been made parties to the bill, it prayed that the patents and other outstanding deeds and other evidences of title be decreed to be void and surrendered for cancellation as clouds upon the plaintiff's title, and for such other relief as might seem proper.

To this bill demurrers were filed by most or all the defendants, except one Standley, who filed a plea setting up divers statutes and decisions in the land office, upon which it is claimed the patents rested, but which need not be specifically stated. Upon the hearing upon these demurrers and plea, the court made an order sustaining them, 37 F. 551, and, the plaintiff having elected to stand by its bill as originally filed, it was further ordered that the same be dismissed. Thereupon the plaintiff appealed to this Court.

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