United States v. Stinson - 197 U.S. 200 (1905)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Stinson, 197 U.S. 200 (1905)
United States v. Stinson
Argued January 25-26, 1905
Decided March 13, 1905
197 U.S. 200
The government, like an individual, may maintain any appropriate action to set aside its grants and recover property of which it has been defrauded, and while laches or limitations do not of themselves constitute a distinct defense as against the government, yet the respect due to a patent, the presumption that all preceding steps were observed before its issue,
and the necessity of the stability of titles depending on official instruments demand that suits to set aside or annul them should be sustained only when the allegations are clearly stated and fully sustained by proof. In such a suit, the government is subjected to the same rules as an individual respecting the burden of proof, quantity and character of evidence, presumptions of law and fact, and it is a good defense that the title has passed to a bona fide purchaser for value without notice. Generally speaking, equity will not simply consider whether the title was fraudulently obtained from the government, but will also protect the rights of innocent parties.
This suit was commenced in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Wisconsin, on February 25, 1895, to set aside the patents for fourteen quarter sections of land, charged to have been fraudulently acquired by the defendant James Stinson. The lands were entered under the preemption laws, in 1854-1855, by different individuals, and immediately thereafter conveyed by them to James Stinson. The government, as admitted, received $1.25 per acre, the statutory price for lands so entered. The frauds charged are that the entrymen did not occupy and improve the lands as required by law, and did not enter them for their own benefit, but were employed by James Stinson to make the entries; that he paid the purchase price to the government, and also paid the entrymen for their services, and thus, in defiance of the provisions of the statutes, obtained title to the lands. James Stinson, in his answer, under oath, denied specifically the alleged frauds. Quite a volume of testimony was taken. Upon this, the circuit court found that it was not true, as alleged, that James Stinson had been guilty of fraud in obtaining the title to the lands, and dismissed the bill. This dismissal was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals, 125 F. 907, from whose decree the United States appealed to this Court.