United States v. Coe - 170 U.S. 681 (1898)


U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Coe, 170 U.S. 681 (1898)

United States v. Coe

No. 8

Argued March 14-15, 1898

Decided May 28, 1898

170 U.S. 681

Syllabus

After a careful examination of all the acts of the Mexican authorities upon which the appellee claims that his title to the grant in question in this case is founded, the Court arrives at the conclusion that the officers who made the grant had no power to make it, and the decree of the Court of Private Land Claims establishing it is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings.

This suit was originally instituted February 2, 1892, by the Algodones Land Company, under provisions of an act 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," approved March 3, 1891.

Pending the litigation, the Algodones Land Company conveyed the property to Earl B. Coe, and upon motion, the action was revived in his name.

The basis of the claim is an alleged grant, which shows that one Fernando Rodriguez, on January 4, 1838 at Hermosillo, presented a petition to the Treasurer General of the State of Sonora, Mexico, stating that he had sufficient means to settle and cultivate a tract of vacant desert land on the northern frontier of the state, situated between the Colorado and Gila Rivers, said lands including the tract from the southern side of the Gila River, in front of the junction of the same with the Colorado River, as far as the crossing (paso) of the Algodones,

Page 170 U. S. 682

and from said point following the eastern margin of the Colorado River as far as the junction of the same with the Gila, a distance of five leagues.

"Wherefore, in the name of the sovereign authority of the state,' he formally registered the same, and asked that a person be appointed to make the measurements and valuation and the necessary publications, 'as required by law."

He also offered at the proper time to furnish satisfactory evidence as to his ability to pay the just taxes (derecho) into the public Treasury,

"it being understood, senor treasurer, that the registry that I now make is under the condition that the settlement and occupation of the said vacant lands by me shall be when the notorious condition and circumstances of the region of the country in which said lands are situated may permit the same to be done, since the said vacant lands are situated in a country desert and uninhabitable on account of the hostility of savages; it being well known that a settlement made by the Spanish government in the desert country Colorado was entirely destroyed in a short time by the Yuma Indians and other savages,"

etc.

Thereupon a commissioner was appointed by the treasurer general, who was directed to ascertain whether the grant would conflict with the rights of any other parties; also to survey and appraise the lands and offer the same for sale under the provisions of certain designated laws of the state.

This commissioner, in the performance of the duties assigned him, caused the land to be appraised and surveyed, and thereafter offered the same for sale at public outcry on each day for thirty consecutive days.

In his petition, Rodriguez offered to pay for the land the amount at which it should be appraised, and, no other person having bid at any of the public offers, the record of the proceedings was returned to the treasurer general for final action. That officer thereupon referred the matter to the promoter fiscal of the public treasury, who, upon a review of the proceedings, declared that Rodriguez ought to be admitted to a composition with the treasury of the state for said lands, and

Page 170 U. S. 683

recommended that three public offers be made, closing his report with the following language:

"This is the report of the undersigned fiscal. Your honor (the treasurer general) will do what is proper in the premises."

The treasurer general thereupon ordered that three public offers of sale be made of said lands in the manner established by law. The "junta de almoneda," or board of sale, thereupon proceeded to make three public offers of sale on consecutive days, and on the third offer declared Rodriguez to be the purchaser.

Thereafter the treasurer general executed a formal instrument in writing in which, after referring to the proceedings thereto had, he recites as follows:

"Wherefore in the exercise of the faculties conceded to me by the laws, decrees, and regulations, and the superior existing orders in relation to lands, by these presents, and in the name of the free, independent, sovereign State of Sonora, as well as that of the august Mexican nation, I concede and confer upon in due form of law, the Senor Don Fernando Rodriguez . . ."

"The five square leagues, and adjudicate the same to him under the conditions which have been admitted as equitable and just by interested party, the Senor Don Fernando Rodriguez -- that is, that he shall settle and cultivate said lands so soon as the circumstances surrounding that distant and desert portion of the state may permit him to do so, in view of the imminent risk and danger there is on account of the savages, but when the said land shall once be settled and cultivated, they shall be kept in condition, and that they shall not be unoccupied and abandoned for any time, and if the same shall be abandoned for the space of three consecutive years, and anyone else denounce said lands, in that event, after the necessary proceedings, they shall be adjudicated anew to the highest bidder, excepting, as is just, those years in which the abandonment was occasioned by the invasion of the enemies, and this only for the time that this condition of things exists,"

etc.

The "junta de almoneda," or board of sale, consisted of

Page 170 U. S. 684

certain officers, among whom was the treasurer general. The powers of the board with reference to the sale of public lands were conferred and defined by the laws of the central Mexican government.



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