Iowa v. Rood
187 U.S. 87 (1902)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Iowa v. Rood, 187 U.S. 87 (1902)

Iowa v. Rood

No. 9

Argued October 14-15, 1902

Decided November 17, 1902

187 U.S. 87

Syllabus

Where the title claimed by the State of Iowa to land formerly the bed of a lake rested solely upon the proposition that the state became vested, upon its admission into the Union, with sovereignty over the beds of all lakes within its borders, and upon the act of the general government in meandering such lakes and excluding from its survey of public lands all such as lay beneath their waters, and the supreme court of the state has decided adversely to the state and in favor of one who claimed under the Act of Congress of September 28, 1850, known as the Swamp Land Act, there is no question involving the validity of any treaty or statute of the United States or the constitutionality of any state statute or authority which gives this Court jurisdiction.

Neither Article III of the treaty with France ceding Louisiana, Article IV, section 3, of the Constitution of the United States, nor the act of Congress of 1848, admitting the Iowa into the Union on an equality with the original states, has even a remote bearing upon the question of title of the Iowa to the land beneath its lakes.

The mere fact that the plaintiff in error asserts title under a clause of the Constitution or an act of Congress, or that such act or a patent of the United States appears in the chain of title, does not constitute such a right, title, or immunity as to give the federal courts jurisdiction, unless there is either a plausible foundation for such claim or the title involves the construction of the act or the determination of the rights of the party under it.

The action of the government surveyors in segregating and setting apart the lakes in question by meander lines from the public lands and the approval of such survey by the Commissioner of the General Land Office was not an adjudication by the government of the United States by its duly authorized officers and agents that the lake so segregated and set

Page 187 U. S. 88

apart was the property of the State of Iowa, and not a part of the public

domain. It was beyond the powers of a government surveyor to determine the title to such lands, or to adjudicate anything whatever upon the subject.

This was a controversy over about 800 acres of land lying in the bed of what is known as Owl lake, in Humboldt County, Iowa. The original plaintiffs, the appellees in this case, claimed under the Act of Congress of September 28, 1850, commonly known as the Swamp Land Grant. Defendants' position was that the lands were unsurveyed lands belonging to the national government, subject to entry under the homestead and preemption laws, under which they had made entry. The State of Iowa intervened and claimed to own the land in virtue of its right of sovereignty over the beds of all lakes meandered by the general government.

The suit was originally instituted by a petition in equity filed in the district court of Humboldt County by Edwin O. Rood and others against George A. Wallace and others, founded upon allegations: (1) that the lands were conveyed to the state under the Swamp Land Act of September 28, 1850, and thence by intermediate conveyances to the plaintiff; (2) that, at the date of this act, the lands were in fact swamp and overflowed lands, and continued to be until Pearsons, plaintiffs' grantor, received the title, marshy and unfit for cultivation without artificial drainage. That in 1884, Pearsons began to reclaim the land by ditches, building fences around it, and for several years used and occupied it for pasturage, and spent a large amount of money in draining, reclaiming it, and making it fit for cultivation; (3) that defendants have taken possession, and built a cabin upon the land, and are interfering with the plaintiffs in their use and enjoyment of it.

Wherefore an injunction was prayed.

A demurrer to this bill was overruled and an answer filed in general denial of the petition.

Thereupon the State of Iowa filed a petition of intervention, alleging that the land in question was a part of the bed of Owl Lake, and did not constitute any part of the land which the United States government was authorized or empowered to sell.

Page 187 U. S. 89

That the state was duly admitted into the Union in 1846, and, as a sovereign state, became the owner of all the lakes within its borders, subject to the right of the public to use the same, and that the title to the soil was in the state. That, in surveying the public lands adjoining the lake, the same was meandered, and the land up to the meander lines sold by the United States to different persons, and after such survey and sale, the United States had no right, title, or interest in any part of the lake bed, and that the same had passed to the state upon its admission to the Union.

The petition denied that the land described was within the swamp land grant, and averred that the act of the plaintiffs and their vendors in draining the said lake and drawing off the water was unlawful.

Wherefore the state prayed a decree against both plaintiffs and defendants, quieting its title to the land, and for a writ of possession removing both parties therefrom.

Defendants Wallace and others subsequently amended their answer to the effect that the lands were unsurveyed lands, subject to entry by settlers, and that defendants had entered the lands as homesteads, built houses thereon, and occupied the same as homes. That, at the date of the Swamp Land Act, the lands were covered by water from six to fifteen feet in depth, with well defined shores and high banks upon the south and east sides, and navigable by ordinary steamboats. That the lands were never swampy, and never came within the meaning of the grant as swamp and overflowed lands. And that whatever rights plaintiffs might have in the land were junior and inferior to those of defendants.

Plaintiffs thereupon amended their petition by averring that, since the commencement of the suit, the lands had been patented to the state under the Swamp Land Act of 1850, and answered the petition of the interveners, alleging that, by the proper officer of the government the character, quality, and condition of said lands were duly adjudicated in the manner provided by law, and that the title of the United States passed through certain patents mentioned in amendments to plaintiffs' petition, and finally inured to the benefit of the plaintiffs,

Page 187 U. S. 90

and that said patents have never been set aside nor cancelled.

Testimony was taken by the plaintiffs, and a decree entered dismissing the interveners' petition, and quieting the title in this and several other cases involving the same facts, in the plaintiffs. On an appeal taken to the Supreme Court of Iowa, the judgment of the district court was confirmed. Whereupon the state sued out a writ of error from this Court.

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