United States v. Coe
155 U.S. 76 (1894)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Coe, 155 U.S. 76 (1894)

United States v. Coe

No. 591

Submitted October 9, 1894

Decided October 29, 1894

155 U.S. 76

Syllabus

The provisions in the Act of March 3, 1891, c. 539, 26 Stat. 854, "to establish a Court of Private Land Claims and to provide for the settlement of private land claims in certain states and territories," authorizing this Court to amend the proceedings of the court below and to cause additional testimony to be taken, are not mandatory, but only empower the Court to direct further proofs and to amend the record if in its judgment the case demands its interposition to that effect.

The judicial action of all inferior courts established by Congress may, in accordance with the Constitution, be subjected to the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the United States.

An appeal lies to this Court from a judgment of the Court of Private Land Claims over property in the territories.

Motion to dismiss for want of jurisdiction. The case was as follows:

On March 3, 1891, an act of Congress was approved entitled "An act to establish a Court of Private Land Claims and to provide for the settlement of private land claims in certain states and territories." 26 Stat. 854, c. 539.

By the first section it was provided:

"That there shall be, and hereby is, established a court to be called the Court of Private Land Claims, to consist of a chief justice and four associate justices, who shall be, when appointed, citizens and residents of some of the states of the United States, to be

Page 155 U. S. 77

appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to hold their offices for the term expiring on the thirty-first day of December, Anno Domini eighteen hundred and ninety-five; any three of whom shall constitute a quorum. Said court shall have and exercise jurisdiction in the hearing and decision of private land claims according to the provisions of this act."

Under section six, it was made lawful

"for any person or persons or corporation, or their legal representatives, claiming lands within the limits of the territory derived by the United States from the Republic of Mexico and now embraced within the Territories of New Mexico, Arizona, or Utah, or within the states of Nevada, Colorado, or Wyoming by virtue of any such Spanish or Mexican grant, concession, warrant, or survey as the United States are bound to recognize and confirm by virtue of the treaties of cession of said country by Mexico to the United States which at the date of the passage of this act have not been confirmed by act of Congress, or otherwise finally decided upon by lawful authority, and which are not already complete and perfect, in every such case to present a petition, in writing, to the said court in the state or territory where said land is situated and where the said court holds its sessions, but cases arising in the states and territories in which the court does not hold regular sessions may be instituted at such place as may be designated by the rules of the court."

Section seven provided:

"That all proceedings subsequent to the filing of said petition shall be conducted as near as may be according to the practice of the courts of equity of the United States, except that the answer of the attorney of the United States shall not be required to be verified by his oath, and except that, as far as practicable, testimony shall be taken in court or before one of the justices thereof. The said court shall have full power and authority to hear and determine all questions arising in cases before it relative to the title to the land the subject of such case, the extent, location, and boundaries thereof, and other matters connected therewith fit and proper to be heard and determined, and by a final decree to settle and determine the question of the validity of the title

Page 155 U. S. 78

and the boundaries of the grant or claim presented for adjudication, according to the law of nations, the stipulations of the treaty concluded between the United States and the Republic of Mexico at the City of Guadalupe Hidalgo, on the second day of February, in the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and forty-eight, or the treaty concluded between the same powers at the City of Mexico on the thirtieth day of December in the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and fifty-three, and the laws and ordinances of the government from which it is alleged to have been derived, and all other questions properly arising between the claimants or other parties in the case and the United States, which decree shall in all cases refer to the treaty, law, or ordinance under which such claim is confirmed or rejected, and in confirming any such claim, in whole or in part, the court shall in its decree specify plainly the location, boundaries, and area of the land the claim to which is so confirmed."

Under the eighth section,

"[a]ny person or corporation claiming lands in any of the states or territories mentioned in this act under a title derived from the Spanish or Mexican government that was complete and perfect at the date when the United States acquired sovereignty therein"

was given the right to apply to the court in the manner in the act provided for other cases, for a confirmation of such title.

Section nine provided as follows:

"That the party against whom the court shall in any case decide -- the United States, in case of the confirmation of a claim in whole or in part, and the claimant, in case of the rejection of a claim, in whole or in part -- shall have the right of appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, such appeal to be taken within six months from date of such decision, and in all respects to be taken in the same manner and upon the same conditions, except in respect of the amount in controversy, as is now provided by law for the taking of appeals from decisions of the circuit courts of the United States. On any such appeal, the Supreme Court shall retry the cause, as well the issues of fact as of law, and may cause testimony to be taken in addition to that given in the court below, and may amend the record

Page 155 U. S. 79

of the proceedings below as truth and justice may require, and on such retrial and hearing every question shall be open, and the decision of the Supreme Court thereon shall be final and conclusive. Should no appeal be taken as aforesaid, the decree of the court below shall be final and conclusive."

By paragraph five of section thirteen, it was provided:

"No proceeding, decree, or act under this act shall conclude or affect the private rights of persons as between each other, all of which rights shall be reserved and saved to the same effect as if this act had not been passed, but the proceedings, decrees, and acts herein provided for shall be conclusive of all rights as between the United States and all persons claiming any interest or right in such lands."

Section nineteen read thus:

"That the powers and functions of the court established by this act shall cease and determine on the thirty-first day of December, eighteen hundred and ninety-five, and all papers, files, and records in the possession of said court belonging to any other public office of the United States shall be returned to such office, and all other papers, files, and records in the possession of or appertaining to said court shall be returned to and filed in the Department of the Interior."

The Court of Private Land Claims was accordingly duly organized, and upon the pleadings and evidence in this case proceeded to a decree confirming a Mexican grant in favor of the appellee to land in the Territory of Arizona. An appeal having been duly prayed and allowed, and the record having been filed in this Court, a motion to dismiss the appeal for want of jurisdiction was submitted.

Page 155 U. S. 82

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