Sena v. United States
189 U.S. 233 (1903)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Sena v. United States, 189 U.S. 233 (1903)

Sena v. United States

No. 40

Argued January 16, 1903

Decided April 6, 1903

189 U.S. 233

Syllabus

1. Where the boundaries of a Spanish grant made in 1728 are defined with accuracy, they will not be controlled by vague and practically unintelligible terms as to quantity.

2. While, owing to the loose manner in which they were made and the boundaries described, this Court has been extremely liberal in construing Spanish grants, such grants must still be construed favorably to the government, and the grantee is bound to show not only the grant itself; but that its boundaries were fixed with reasonable certainty, and where the Court of Private Land Claims has held that the evidence of settlement, occupation, continuity of possession, cultivation, etc., is so vague, contradictory, and uncertain as to be almost wanting, this Court, in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, will adopt the opinion of the court below in that particular.

3. Where the last known occupant of a Spanish grant made in 1728 had been killed by the Indians in 1839, and, when the land passed to the United States under the treaty of 1848 with Mexico, possession had been abandoned by his descendants for at least nine years and no action was taken by anyone in regard to the grant until 1899, and meanwhile the public land surveys were extended over the tract in 1861, homestead and other entries were made, improvements established, patents secured and mines opened and developed, the doctrine of laches is peculiarly applicable, and under the provisions of the statute establishing it, the Court of Private Land Claims could not be called upon to confirm such a grant.

This was a petition for the confirmation of a tract of land in the County of Santa Fe, New Mexico, known as the Jose de Leyba grant, which has never been officially surveyed, but is estimated to contain about 18,000 acres.

After filing the petition, it was found there were a number of persons holding portions of the tract sued for under a claim of title adverse to the grant; and, upon motion of the United States, requiring these adverse claimants to be made parties defendant, the original petition was amended, and two of these, the American Turquoise Company and one McNulty, joined with the United States in defending the case.

Page 189 U. S. 234

The court disallowed the claim upon the ground that the evidence did not show a perfect grant, inasmuch as there was no evidence of a compliance with the royal ordinance of 1754, which provided that all grants subsequent to 1700 must be confirmed as a prerequisite to their validity, and that, if it were an imperfect grant, it should, under the act creating the Court of Private Land Claims, have been filed within two years from the taking effect of the act, and was therefore barred.

Since the decree of the Court of Private Land Claims, certain additional evidence has been discovered, tending to show possession of the land covered by the grant for a long period subsequent thereto, and which, it is now insisted, supplies the defects which caused the rejection of the grant.

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