Germania Iron Co. v. United States
165 U.S. 379 (1897)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Germania Iron Co. v. United States, 165 U.S. 379 (1897)

Germania Iron Company v. United States

No. 52

Argued October 20, 1898

Decided February 15, 1897

165 U.S. 379

Syllabus

When, while disputed matters of fact concerning a tract of public land, or the priority of right of claimants thereto, are pending unsettled in the Land Department, a patent wrongfully issues for the tract through inadvertence or mistake, by which the jurisdiction conferred by law upon the Land Department over these disputed questions of fact is lost, a court of equity may rightfully interfere, and restore such lost jurisdiction by cancelling the patent.

On November 20, 1889, a patent was issued by the United States to Thomas Reed for the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter and lots 1 and 2 of section 30, township 63 north of range 11 west, containing 112 acres, in the Duluth Land District of the State of Minnesota. On October 13, 1891, the United States filed in the Circuit Court of the District of Minnesota a bill in equity to set aside such patent, making Thomas Reed, the patentee, and the appellants in this case, parties defendant. These appellants claimed title by conveyances from Reed. Reed made default in the suit, but the appellants appeared and answered, and to their answer

Page 165 U. S. 380

a replication was filed, whereupon, some testimony having been taken, the case was submitted to the court with certain stipulations of fact, and upon the pleadings and these stipulations a decree was entered sustaining the bill and cancelling the patent. On appeal to the circuit court of appeals, this decree was affirmed, 58 F. 334, and thereafter an appeal was taken to this Court.

The facts as shown by the pleadings and stipulations are these: on July 21, 1885, Orilie Stram, formerly Moreau, attempted to make a location of the land in controversy with Sioux half-breed scrip. The validity of these locations was contested by other parties, and on February 18, 1889, the Secretary of the Interior, who had jurisdiction over the matter and the parties, cancelled such scrip locations, and ordered that the land be held for disposal under the public land laws of the United States. On February 23, 1889, Thomas Reed applied to make soldier's additional homestead entry of the lands, which application was sustained by the local land officers, and a final certificate issued to him on that day.

"At the same time that Reed made his entry, Charles P. Wheeler applied to locate the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter of said section 30 with Valentine scrip,"

and

"Warren Wing had applied to enter lot 2 of said section 30 under section 2306, Rev.Stat. . . . On the morning of the day when the Reed entry was allowed, William M. Stokes was, among other applicants to make various kinds of entries before and at the time of the opening of the doors of the local land office at Duluth, present at said doors, and attempting to enter . . . said southwest quarter of the northeast quarter of said section 30 as a soldier's additional homestead."

The applications of Wheeler, Wing, and Stokes were severally denied, and appeals were taken from such denials to the Commissioner of the General Land Office.

On February 18, 1889, the time of the decision by the Secretary of the Interior in respect to the attempted location by Orilie Stram, and ever since, there has been in existence in the Department of the Interior a rule that motions for review of decisions of the Secretary of the Interior should be filed in the

Page 165 U. S. 381

office of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, and that the commissioner should thereupon suspend action under the decision sought to be reviewed. Motions for review of the decision of date February 18th were duly made, and filed on March 13 and 15, 1889, respectively, by the parties affected adversely by said decision. Thereupon an order was made suspending all action under the decision sought to be reviewed, and such order was of force, and such motions were pending unheard and undetermined at the time and after the issuing of the patent sought to be cancelled, and the patent was issued in direct violation or in ignorance of such order. At the time of the issue of such patent, the appeals of Wheeler, Wing, and Stokes were also pending, unheard and undetermined, and have not been since heard or determined.

"While said appeals and motions were pending and undisposed of, a clerk of the General Land Office at Washington, whose duty it was to examine entries of the character, described, in ignorance of the pendency of said conflicting claims, said motions, and said appeals, approved the lands described in the said patent for patenting to Thomas Reed, one of the defendants hereto, and a patent was, upon such approval, issued to him on the 20th day of November, 1889; that said patent was signed by the secretary to the president, and countersigned by the recorder of the General Land Office, each of whom at the time they signed and countersigned said patent as aforesaid, were in ignorance of the pendency of the aforesaid conflicting claims, and acted wholly upon the said approval of said clerk. The approval of the entry for patent and the signatures to the patent were made notwithstanding the fact that a caveat pointing out the conflicts was on file with the rest of the entry papers relating to the lands involved, and such approval and signatures were made in ignorance of the contents of said caveat."

The appellants made no claim as bona fide purchasers, and the case stood as though it were a proceeding against the patentee alone. So far as it bore on the question of good faith, it was admitted that the land was worth $75,000, as alleged in the bill.

Page 165 U. S. 382

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