Chandler v. Calumet & Hecla Mining Co.
149 U.S. 79 (1893)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Chandler v. Calumet & Hecla Mining Co., 149 U.S. 79 (1893)

Chandler v. Calumet and Hecla Mining Company

No. 202

Argued April 6-7, 1893

Decided April 24, 1893

149 U.S. 79

Syllabus

Swamp lands in Michigan which were not embraced in the list of such lands made by the Surveyor General February 12, 1853, as coming within the provisions of the grant to the September 28, 1850, 9 Stat. 514, c. 84, which list was approved by the Secretary of the Interior January 11, 1854, and which lands were patented to the state March 3, 1856, as so listed and approved, were not included within the said grant of September 28, 1850.

These several official acts, by the proper officers, operated as an adjudication as to what were swamp lands within the grant of September 28, 1850, and to exclude contradictory parol evidence.

The grant by the state, May 25, 1855, of the land in controversy here, operated to convey it to the grantee, whether the state's title was acquired under the Swamp Land Act, or under the grant of August 6, 1852, 10 Stat. 35, c. 92, for the purpose of building a ship canal.

Railroad Co. v. Smith, 9 Wall. 95, explained, qualified and distinguished from this case.

This was an action of ejectment brought by the plaintiff in error, a citizen of Illinois, against the defendant in error, a Michigan corporation, to recover a tract of forty acres of land in Houghton County, Michigan, particularly described as the "southeast quarter of the northwest quarter of section 23, township 56 north, range 33 west."

Both parties to the controversy derive their title from the State of Michigan, the plaintiff under a patent of the state, issued to him on November 3, 1887, and the defendant by various mesne conveyances, under a state patent issued to the St. Mary's Falls Ship Canal Company, a New York corporation, on May 25, 1855. The material and uncontroverted facts of the case on which the questions involved depend are the following: by the Act of Congress approved September 28, 1850, 9 St. p. 519, c. 84, known as the "Swamp-Land Act," there

Page 149 U. S. 80

was granted to the State of Michigan the whole of the swamp and overflowed lands, made unfit thereby for cultivation within the state, and it was made the duty of the Secretary of the Interior to make lists and plats of such lands, and transmit them to the governor of the state, and cause patents therefor to issue conveying such lands in fee simple. After the passage of this act, the Commissioner of the General Land Office, by correspondence with the authorities of the state, suggested, through the surveyor general thereof, as a mode or method of selecting or segregating the swamp from the other public lands, that the field notes of the United States surveys of lands should be accepted by the state as the basis of identification of the swamp lands which were intended to be granted by Congress. An act of the Legislature of Michigan passed June 28, 1851, accepted the grant, and adopted, as suggested by the Secretary of the Interior, or the Commissioner of the General Land Office, the field notes of the United States surveys as a basis upon which the swamp lands should be identified and segregated. The surveyor general, on February 12, 1853, made lists of lands which he ascertained to be swamp, and within the provisions of the grant, from the field notes so agreed upon. Those lists were transmitted to the Secretary of the Interior and by him approved January 11, 1854, and under date of February 24, 1854, a copy of said lists was certified by the Commissioner of the General Land Office to the governor of the state, and thereafter, on March 3, 1856, a patent was issued to the state for the lands described in said lists. The lists of the lands so selected and approved to the state were lodged in the Michigan land office. The lands thus selected and patented to the state, while embracing some portion of township 56 north, range 33 west, did not include the land in controversy.

By an Act of Congress approved August 26, 1852, 10 St. p. 35, c. 92, there was granted to the State of Michigan for the purpose of building a ship canal around the falls of St. Mary's

"seven hundred and fifty thousand acres of public lands, to be selected in subdivisions, agreeable to the United States surveys, by an agent or agents to be appointed by the governor

Page 149 U. S. 81

of said state, subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, from any land within said state subject to private entry."

The state accepted this grant by acts of its legislature approved, respectively, February 5 and February 12, 1853, and authorized commissioners of the state to enter into a contract for the building of such canal. In pursuance of this authority a contract was entered into between the state and certain designated parties for the construction of the ship canal, by the terms of which the parties undertaking its construction, or their assignees, were to receive from the State of Michigan 750,000 acres of land at $1.25 per acre, to be located under the provisions of the Act of August 26, 1852. The terms of this contract need not be specially set forth, as no question arises thereon.

The parties undertaking the construction of the canal subsequently assigned and transferred all their rights and privileges in the contract to the St. Mary's Falls Ship Canal Company. By the act of the legislature authorizing the contract for the construction of the canal, the state undertook the selection of the lands under said grant, and the contractors were to receive the lands so selected in payment for the work of building the canal. The fifth section of the act of the state legislature provided that

"when and as fast as the lands shall have been selected and located, an accurate description thereof, certified by the persons appointed to select the same, shall be filed in the office of the commissioner of the state land office, whose duty it shall be to transmit to the Commissioner of the General Land Office a true copy of said list and to designate and mark upon the books and plats in his office the said lands as 'St. Mary's Canal Lands.'"

By section 6 it was provided that after the completion of the canal within the time specified, to the satisfaction of and the acceptance thereof by the commissioners, the governor, and engineer, and a certificate of that fact filed in the office of the state land office, it was made the duty of said commissioner

"forthwith to make certificates of purchase for so much of said lands as by the terms of the contract for the construction

Page 149 U. S. 82

of said canal are to be conveyed for the purpose of defraying its costs and the expenses hereinbefore provided for, which certificates shall run to such persons and for such portions of said lands so selected and to be conveyed as the contractor may designate, and shall forthwith be delivered to the Secretary of State, and patents shall immediately be issued thereon, as in other cases."

The St. Mary's Falls Ship Canal Company, as the assignee of the construction contract, completed the canal and became entitled to the consideration which the state was to pay therefor.

The agents appointed by the state to select and locate the lands granted for the purpose of building the canal made selections to the amount required, the list of which was filed in the General Land Office of the state, and was certified to the Secretary of the Interior, who, under date of January 24, 1855, duly approved the same to the State of Michigan under the Act of Congress of August 26, 1852. The list of selected lands under this grant, and so approved by the Department of the Interior, included the demanded premises, and on May 25, 1855, the governor of the state, in pursuance of the foregoing legislation and contract on the subject, issued a patent to the St. Mary's Falls Ship Canal Company for a large portion of these selected lands, including therein, by particular description, the premises in controversy, which by mesne conveyances passed to the defendant in error, which entered into possession of the same and was in actual possession thereof at the commencement of the present suit. This conveyance was duly recorded, and after the expiration of five years from the date of the patent, during which they were exempt from taxation, the lands so patented to the canal company have been continually subject to taxes by the state.

It is shown from the foregoing statement of facts, and it is conceded, that the demanded premises had never been selected as a part of the swamp lands granted to the state, nor had the same ever been approved to the state as such, and that no list or plat of swamp lands in Michigan made by or by the authority of the Secretary of the Interior contained or

Page 149 U. S. 83

described the tract in question as swamp land, although a portion of the land in the vicinity thereof, and in the same township, was included in the lists of such lands which were selected and approved by the Secretary of the Interior.

It thus appears that the plaintiff and the defendant have each a conveyance from the State of Michigan for the particular tract of land in controversy, and that the conveyance to the defendant in error was prior in time to the conveyance to the plaintiff in error. The latter, however, claims that the demanded premises were a part of the swamp and overflowed lands granted to the state by the Act of Congress of September 28, 1850, and as such were conveyed to him by the patent of the state issued on November 3, 1887, and that he thereby acquired a title to the same superior to that which the defendant in error acquired under the prior patent to the canal company, through which the defendant in error derives its title. In support of this contention, it is urged that the Swamp Land Act was in effect a grant in praesenti, so that the title of the state to such lands dated from the date of that act, and consequently the state did not and could not acquire title to the tract in question under the Act of August 26, 1852.

On the other hand, the defendant in error insists that the act of the state and of the Department of the Interior in the selection of lands under the Swamp Land Act amounted to an adjudication or a determination on the part of the Department of the Interior that the parcel of land in question was not embraced within the provisions of the act of 1850, and that the same, having been affirmatively and particularly selected and certified to the state under the grant of August 26, 1852, was a direct adjudication that it came properly within the canal grant; that the legal effect and operation of the two selections, considered together, made with the consent and concurrence of the state, was to exclude, by implication, the particular premises here involved from the operation of the former grant, and to expressly include the same within the latter grant, and that this adjudication or determination of the department cannot be collaterally attacked or called in question in an action at law. The defendant in error further

Page 149 U. S. 84

contends that, even conceding that the title of the state to the lands in question was derived under the act of 1850, it acquired the superior title thereto, under and by virtue of the conveyance made to the St. Mary's Falls Ship Canal Company by the state's patent of May 25, 1855, which operated to pass to said company whatever title the state had to the premises in question, independently of the source from which it had derived its title.

On the trial of the case by the court and jury, the plaintiff, to maintain the issues on his part, introduced his patent from the state and offered oral evidence to prove that the tract conveyed thereby, and involved in the suit, with the exception of about seven acres thereof, was in fact swamp and overflowed land, being wet and unfit for cultivation within the meaning of the Swamp Land Act of Congress, and was so at the time of the approval of the act. To this evidence the defendant objected, and the court, reserving its ruling thereon until after the defendant had introduced its proof, sustained the objection and refused to allow the evidence to go to the jury, to which ruling the plaintiff excepted.

After all the evidence in the case had been introduced, the plaintiff, by his counsel, requested the court to direct the jury to return a verdict in his favor. This the court refused to do, and instructed the jury to bring in a verdict for the defendant, which was accordingly done, and judgment was entered thereon, to which the plaintiff excepted, and to reverse this judgment the present writ of error is prosecuted.

The opinion of the court below is reported in 36 F. 665, and its action in rejecting the oral testimony and in directing a verdict for the defendant was rested upon two grounds: first, that after the Secretary of the Interior had discharged his duty and approved the list of swamp lands, made, in accordance with his suggestion, from field notes of government surveys with the consent of the state, which selection and identification did not include the parcel of land in question, although embracing other lands in the same township, there was in effect a determination that the land in controversy was not covered by or embraced within the swamp

Page 149 U. S. 85

land grant; and secondly that the state, having accepted the parcel of land in question under the grant of 1852 and having conveyed the same to the canal company, was estopped from thereafter asserting any title thereto.

Page 149 U. S. 88

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