Florida Central & Peninsular R. Co. v. Bell
176 U.S. 321 (1900)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Florida Central & Peninsular R. Co. v. Bell, 176 U.S. 321 (1900)

Florida Central & Peninsular Railroad Company v. Bell

No. 95

Argued and submitted December 22, 1899

Decided February 26, 1900

176 U.S. 321

Syllabus

As the plaintiff's in the circuit court claimed in their declaration that the controversy was one that turned on the construction of the laws of the United States, and as both courts below dealt with the case on that assumption, this Court has jurisdiction to review the judgment of the circuit court of appeals.

As the plaintiffs, some of whom were citizens of Florida and some of whom were citizens of Texas, elected to assert a joint claim to land in Florida in dispute in this case, which was commenced before the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Florida, and carried by appeal to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and as they recovered a joint judgment for their undivided interests therein, and as the plaintiffs' declaration disclosed no federal question, the principles settled in the cases cited by the court in its opinion apply, and compel a dismissal of the suit for want of jurisdiction in the circuit court.

In the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Florida, William J. Bell, John W. Bell, Frank A. Bell, citizens of the State of Texas; E. A. Bell, Matilda P. Feihe, all heirs of and children of Louis Bell, deceased, late of Hillsborough County, State of Florida, and George A. Bell and Simon Bell, heirs of and grandchildren of said Louis Bell, and Anton Feihe, husband of said Matilda P. Feihe, brought an action of ejectment against the Florida Central & Peninsular Railroad Company, a corporation of the State of Florida, seeking to recover possession of about seven acres of land in Hillsborough County, Florida, alleged to be of the value of $30,000, and damages in the sum or $10,000. The declaration alleged that the land in controversy was occupied by defendant as its roadbed and right of way, and that the plaintiffs claimed title to said land under and by virtue of a patent granted by the United States

Page 176 U. S. 322

to said Louis Bell and his heirs upon a preemption claim filed in the local land office of the United States in 1883, and upon appeal to the General Land Office, and upon and from an appeal from the decision of the Commissioner of the General Land Office to the Secretary of the Interior of the said United States, when by the order of the said Secretary the said patent was granted. The declaration further alleged that, in the proceedings in the Land Department, the defendant claimed and contended that the plaintiffs were not, under any of the laws of the United States, entitled to have a patent to said land granted to said Louis Bell and his heirs, and that the defendant at the time of the commencement of this suit, claimed and insisted that the plaintiffs derived no title to said land under and by virtue of the said patent, and at the same time claimed that, under the laws of the United States, and especially under and by virtue of the first section of an act of Congress entitled "An Act Granting Public Lands in Alternate Sections to the states of Florida and Alabama to Aid in the Construction of Certain Railroads in Said states," approved May 17, 1856, it was entitled and had the right to locate the route of its railroad and construct the same through the said lands, and to be in possession thereof, on the ground, among other grounds, that the said land was a part of that tract of land which constituted at one time a military reservation known as the Fort Brook Military Reservation at Tampa, State of Florida. And the plaintiffs further alleged in their declaration that after the passage of an Act of Congress entitled "An Act to Provide for the Disposal of Abandoned and Useless Military Reservations," approved July 5, 1885, they contended for and claimed title and a patent to said parcel of land under and by virtue of the first proviso of the second section of the last-mentioned act of Congress, both in the office of the said General Land Office and of the Secretary of the Interior, and that the defendant appeared in both of the said offices by its counsel, and there claimed and contended, and at the commencement of this suit claimed and contended, that plaintiffs were not entitled to a patent or title to said parcel of land under the

Page 176 U. S. 323

said proviso of said act of Congress, and at the times aforesaid claimed and insisted that it was entitled to locate the route of its railroad through said parcel of land, and to be in possession thereof, under and by virtue of the third proviso of the aforesaid Act of Congress approved May 17, 1856.

This declaration was filed on December 29, 1896, and on January 4, 1897, the defendant appeared and filed a plea of not guilty.

On February 4, 1897, the defendant, after notice to the plaintiffs, asked leave to file further and special pleas denying that the court had jurisdiction of the action, denying that the defendant claimed title under the Act of May 17, 1856, or under any other act of Congress or law of the United States, and alleging the pendency of a prior suit in equity between the same parties in the circuit court of the United States, and also the pendency in the Circuit Court of the Sixth Judicial Circuit of the State of Florida, of a petition and proceeding by the defendant to condemn the land in dispute under its right of eminent domain under the laws of the State of Florida.

Thereafter, on February 18, 1897, the court made the following order:

"This cause coming on to be heard upon the motion of the defendant for leave to file additional pleas, and upon the motion of the plaintiffs to transfer the cause to Tampa for trial, and it having been fully heard and considered, and it appearing that none of said pleas constitute a good defense to said action that could not as well be shown under the general plea of not guilty, it is ordered that said motion to file additional pleas be denied, and that the order to transfer the cause for trial be granted, and that this order be without prejudice to any motion for a stay of an enforcement possession under any judgment which may be recovered on account of condemnation proceedings."

On February 10, 1897, the defendant moved for a continuance, which motion was on February 18 denied.

On March 5, 1897, the defendant moved the court to

"dismiss the cause for the reason that there is nothing on the face

Page 176 U. S. 324

of the declaration to show that this court has jurisdiction to hear and determine the said cause."

On March 11, 1897, after a consideration of this motion to dismiss, it was ordered in open court that said motion be dismissed. On the same day an agreement, signed by the attorneys of the respective parties, to waive a jury and that the cause might be tried by the court was filed.

The cause was so proceeded in that, on March 23, 1897, the court found that the plaintiffs were entitled to possession and have a fee simple title in and to the land in dispute, and assessed their damages in loss of rent and profit in the sum of $1,955, and entered a judgment as follows:

"It is considered by the court that the plaintiff's herein, William J. Bell, John W. Bell, Frank A. Bell, Eliza A. Bell, and Matilda P. Feihe, and George A. Bell, and Simon Bell, do receive and recover from the defendant, the Florida Central & Peninsular Railroad Company, the sum of $1,955, as well as for costs in this behalf, and it is further, considered that said plaintiff's have a fee simple title in and to the lands and premises described as follows, to-wit,"

etc.

On April 10, 1897, the defendant moved the court for a writ of error and a citation to review the judgment in said cause, returnable to the United States circuit court of appeals, and for a supersedeas of the said judgment upon filing a bond. On the same day, the writ of error was allowed and it was ordered that, on the defendant's filing a bond with sufficient sureties in the sum of $3,500, to be approved by the court or by the clerk thereof, the said writ should operate as a supersedeas of the judgment in said cause. A bond was approved and filed accordingly.

On May 24, 1898, the circuit court of appeals affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. 87 F. 369.

And thereupon, on June 2, 1898, a writ of error from this Court was allowed.

Page 176 U. S. 325

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