Lockhart v. Johnson - 181 U.S. 516 (1901)
U.S. Supreme Court
Lockhart v. Johnson, 181 U.S. 516 (1901)
Lockhart v. Johnson
Argued March 22, 1901
Decided May 13, 1901
181 U.S. 516
Public lands belonging to the United States, for whose sale or other disposition Congress has made provision by general laws, are to be regarded as legally open for entry and sale under such laws unless some particular lands have been withdrawn from sale by Congressional authority, or by an executive withdrawal under such authority, either express or implied.
Under the act establishing the Court of Private Land Claims, public lands belonging to the United States, though within the claimed limits of a Mexican grant, became open to entry and sale.
If the provisions of the laws of New Mexico, in force when this location was made, were not complied with, and another location is made before such work was done, the new location is a valid location.
In the courts of the United States in action of ejectment, the strict legal title must prevail, and if the plaintiff have only equities, they must be presented on the equity side of the court.
Although the plaintiff has no right to maintain this action, he ought not to be embarrassed by a judgment here from pursuing any other remedy against the defendants, or either of them that he may be advised.
This is an action of ejectment brought by plaintiff in error to recover certain mining property in the Territory of New Mexico. The declaration alleges that the plaintiff, on July 10, 1893, was entitled to the possession of a certain mine, or deposit of mineral-bearing rock in place, situated in the Cochiti mining district, in the County of Bernalillo and Territory of New Mexico, and that, while so in possession, the defendants, on October 1, 1893, entered into and upon the premises and have ever since withheld the possession of the same from the plaintiff to his damage. All the defendants pleaded not guilty, while Pilkey added a further plea that he was not at the time of the commencement of the action in the possession of the premises or any part thereof. The plaintiff demurred to this second plea, and after argument, the demurrer was overruled. The parties went to trial upon these pleadings, and after the
testimony had been taken, the jury, under the instructions of the court, found a verdict for the defendants. The plaintiff appealed from the judgment entered upon the verdict to the supreme court of the territory, where it was affirmed, and he thereupon sued out a writ of error from this Court.
For the purpose of the trial, the parties entered into the following stipulation:
"It is stipulated and agreed by and between the plaintiff and defendants in the above-entitled cause that the premises in controversy in this case are situated within the limits of private land claim reported as number 135 in the office of the surveyor general of the Territory of New Mexico, known as the Canada de Cochiti tract, as said claim was surveyed by the surveyor general, said survey having been made and approved by Clarence Pullen, surveyor general, on the date of June 29, A.D. 1885."
"It is further stipulated that said private land claim was never confirmed upon report of the surveyor general, but two petitions for the confirmation of the same were filed in the Court of Private Land Claims, one by Joel Parker Whitney, Jose Juan Lucero, Lauriano Lucero, Juan Cristoval Lucero, Jose de Jesus Lucero, Juan Teodora Lucero, Jose Telesforo Lucero, Bernard S. Rodey, and Hannah Harris, being numbered 205 of the docket of the Court of Private Land Claims at Santa Fe, and filed March 2, 1893, and the other petition being filed by Manuel Hurtado and Jose Antonio Gallego on the 3d day of March, 1893, and that said petitions were consolidated in said cases heard, and decree of confirmation rendered by said court on the 29th day of September, A.D. 1894, a compared copy of which decree is attached to this stipulation."
"It is further stipulated and agreed that the said premises in controversy in this case are not included within the boundaries of said grant as confirmed by said decree."
"It is further stipulated and agreed that an appeal was taken from said decree by all of the said petitioners to the Supreme Court of the United States, in which court said cause is now pending upon said appeal and undetermined, said appeal being dated the 11th day of March, A.D. 1895."
"It is further stipulated and agreed that the official printed
copies of the reports of the surveyor general to Congress upon said private land claim and all documents attached thereto may be used upon the trial of this cause to the same effect as if they were the original documents and archives on file in the surveyor general's office, subject, however, to such objection as the parties may make upon other grounds."
The plaintiff also showed upon the trial that he and one Benjamin Johnson and the defendant Charles Pilkey on or about May 7, 1893, entered into an agreement at Albuquerque, New Mexico, by which they agreed to form a partnership for the purpose of discovering, locating, and operating mining claims, Pilkey agreeing to prospect and locate such veins and lodes and placers as he might discover containing valuable ores or minerals, in the name and for the joint benefit of all the parties to the agreement, in the proportion of one-third interest to himself and an undivided two-thirds interest to the others. They were to furnish him with tools, etc., and to pay him for some portion of his labor upon the mines which he might discover. In pursuance of this agreement, Pilkey started out and, among others, discovered, took possession of, and assumed to locate the mine in question. It is claimed on the part of the plaintiff that Pilkey, after taking possession of and locating the mine, remained there from July 10, 1893, until some time in October of that year, when, in connection with several other persons, he entered into a conspiracy against his partners and pursuant thereto ceased to do any work on the mine and permitted other persons (defendants herein) to take possession of it and make a relocation thereof, and that they have retained possession ever since.
Evidence was offered at the trial for the purpose of showing these last stated facts, which, under the objection of the defendants, was ruled out and exceptions duly taken.
The defendants contended that the land in controversy was at all times subject to the mining laws of the United States, and that plaintiff did not comply with the provisions thereof or of the laws of New Mexico applicable thereto, and that whatever right or title he ever had in the lands had expired and become
forfeited before the defendants took possession of the land and long before the commencement of this action.