United States v. Martinez - 184 U.S. 441 (1902)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Martinez, 184 U.S. 441 (1902)
United States v. Martinez
Argued and submitted January 31, 1902
Decided March 3, 1902
184 U.S. 441
Under the Court of Private Land Claims Act, a party holding from the
Spanish or Mexican government a title that was complete and perfect at
the date of the treaty may apply for a confirmation of such title upon
condition that, if any portion of such lands has been sold or granted by
the United States to any other person, such title from the United States
to such other person shall remain valid, and in such case, the grantee
may obtain judgment against the United States for the value of lands so granted.
Though the act requires that the petitioners shall set forth in their original petition the names of such adverse patentees or persons in possession if it be admitted that such adverse possessors or claimants do hold under grants from the United States and there is no dispute as to boundaries, they need not be made parties, as they could not be affected by the decree.
So, while the act contemplates that notice shall be given such adverse holders, and the claim for a money judgment incorporated in the original petition, relief would not be refused solely upon that ground if sufficient excuse were shown for the omission to make these grantees parties.
But where the original petition for confirmation alleged that there were no such adverse holders or claimants, and no effort appears to have been made to ascertain the facts for more than seven years after such petition was filed, although it appeared such facts were easily ascertainable, it was held that some excuse should be set forth for this long delay, and that a supplemental petition for the value of the lands patented would not be entertained.
This was a petition under the fourteenth section of the Court of Private Land Claims Act for a money judgment against the United States for lands within a Spanish land claim, which lands had been patented by the United States to third parties before the Spanish land grant had been acted upon or confirmed.
The original proceeding out of which the present claim for indemnity grew was a suit begun February 28, 1893, by the present appellees, who, with one exception, claimed to be the heirs at law and legal representatives of Juan Jose Lobato, against the United States, in the Court of Private Land Claims for the confirmation of a grant alleged to have been made to Lobato August 24, 1740, of which juridical possession was given, and the grant ratified and confirmed by the proper authorities June 15, 1744. In their petition, it was alleged that the same tract had been previously granted to Cristobal de Torres, but that his grant had been revoked in 1733 and the tract declared to be crown lands; that from the date of the grant to Lobato in 1740 and for a period of 153 years (down to the time of filing the petition), he and his legal representatives had been in peaceable adverse possession of the same, and that "there are no adverse holders, possessors, or claimants of or to any portion
of said tract." The suit resulted in a decree in favor of the claimants (appellees) confirming the grant and finding the title complete and perfect in the claimants at the date of the cession by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The decree fixed the boundaries of the tract as shown in a map annexed to the petition. From this decree no appeal was prosecuted, and becoming final, it was executed by a survey approved by the court, and the land patented to the grantees.
More than six years after the confirmation of the Lobato grant, the petitioners filed the present petition, alleging that several parcels of land, amounting to 2,056 acres in the aggregate, had been disposed of, granted, and patented by the United States to certain persons named in an exhibit to the petition; that the lands so granted lay wholly within the boundaries of the Lobato grant as confirmed and were among the most valuable parts of such grant. The petition concluded with a prayer for judgment against the United States for the value of the lands so patented.
The United States answered, admitting the confirmation of the Lobato grant and averring that the plaintiffs neglected to make the holders of the patented land parties defendant to the suit as required by law, but that they proceeded to try their cause, obtain a decree of confirmation, which had long since become final, and that, by failure to make the patentees parties defendant and by averring that there were no adverse claimants to any portion of the tract,
"they thereby waived and disclaimed all right, if any they had, to challenge any disposition theretofore made under the laws of the United States to any portion of said grant."
The petitioners filed a general demurrer to this answer, accompanied by an affidavit to the effect that the plaintiffs, until the survey of said grant, did not and could not know or certainly allege and affirm that the lands granted and disposed of by the United States, as set forth in their petition, were within the exterior limits of their grant, and consequently no allegation with relation thereto was made in their original petition, and that such knowledge only came to the petitioners within the last two years.
The demurrer to the answer was sustained, the case submitted upon an agreed statement of facts, and a judgment rendered against the United States for $2,320.91, for 1,856.73 acres at $1.25 per acre, in accordance with the prayer of the petition, Justices Sluss and Murray dissenting.