Sullivan v. Texas
207 U.S. 416 (1908)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Sullivan v. Texas, 207 U.S. 416 (1908)

Sullivan v. Texas

No. 131

Argued December 20, 1907

Decided January 6, 1908

207 U.S. 416

Syllabus

Where the highest court of the state dismisses an application for writ of error for want of jurisdiction, the judgment of the lower court becomes the judgment of the highest court of the state to which the case can be taken, and the writ of error will properly run to it from this Court.

If the constitutional question is distinctly presented to the state court on motion for rehearing, and is considered and decided adversely, it is properly presented in time, and this Court has jurisdiction to review the judgment under § 709, Rev.Stat.

This Court determines for itself whether an act of the legislature of a state amounts to a contract within the impairment of obligation clause of the federal Constitution.

A state statute confirming a grant of the former sovereign and specifying the area and providing for a survey to ascertain metes and bounds and for filing the field notes does not amount to a contract within the impairment clause of the Constitution that the state will abide by the survey, even though it includes more than the original grant.

The Act of February 10, 1852, of Texas, confirming Mexican grants, did not amount to a legislative contract to abide by the surveys to be made of such grants, nor is the Act of September 3, 1901, directing actions to be brought to recover lands wrongfully in possession of grantees in excess of the amount of the original Mexican grant, but included in the survey made under the act of 1852, unconstitutional as impairing the obligation of a contract.

95 S.W. 645 affirmed.

This case comes to us from a state court, and our jurisdiction is invoked on the ground of a law of the state charged to work an impairment of the obligation of a contract. The facts are that, in 1834, the Mexican State of Tamaulipas granted to Pedro de la Garza a tract of land. The grant, signed by the governor, recited that the grantee had paid the appraised value, $204; that the grant contained

"six and a half leagues of pasture land for large cattle, comprehended in the boundaries, angles, and demarcations which appear in the attached map, countersigned with the seal of this government, signed with a rubric by my secretary, which, for greater distinctness,

Page 207 U. S. 417

are set out in the present title in the following mode: El Alcatraz and San Antonio of the waterfall, east to west on the north side; San Antonio and the Sacramento, north to south on the west; Sacramento and San Francisco, west to east on the south; San Francisco, San Pedro, and El Alcatraz, south to north on the east. The pasture land is bounded on the north by Los Olmos Creek, and on the rest of the sides by vacant lands."

Accompanying the grant was a plat showing an irregular hexagon and a survey made by Antonio Canales, as follows:

"The inclination to the southeast of the Olmos Creek figured in the survey of the irregular hexagon, which appears depicted, which contains six leagues of pasture land for large cattle and 20,782,500 square varas according to the units fixed by the law of the state for agrarian measures. The angular boundaries and most notable places which were defined were the following: A, boundary of the Alcatraz; B, boundary of San Antonio of the waterfall; C, boundary of Sacramento; D, boundary of San Francisco; r, lateral boundary of this pasture and angular of the Santa Rosa de Abajo, called San Pedro; e, lake of the sheep pen; m, n, ponds and heights of the waterfall; o, the little pond. The rectangle h, i, g, l was ceded to this pasture by citizen Pedro Villareal, of which it was defined in the terms which appear in the file of this survey, A.M.B., the Olmos Creek. The survey was made with the greatest exactness, remeasuring the cord every half league and correcting the ten leagues of declination to the northeast, which the compass needle has in these lands. This pasture is bounded on the north by the creek, on the east by the pasture of Paistle, and on the rest by vacant lands."

"Carmargo, Dec. 5th, 1832. ANTONIO CANALES"

Thereafter Tamaulipas became a part of Texas, and that state, on February 10, 1852, passed an act confirming this among other grants. The act of confirmation, so far as is material, provided by § 1

"that the State of Texas hereby relinquishes

Page 207 U. S. 418

all her right and interest in the following-described lands to the original grantees thereof, their heirs and legal assigns, to-wit: County of Starr . . . (103) Pedro de la Garza, six and one-half leagues, called 'Santa Rosa' . . ."

Section 2 of the act is as follows (p. 71):

"SEC. 2. That it shall be the duty of those claiming any of the lands named in this act to have the same surveyed by the district or county surveyor of the county in which the same may be situated, and, upon the return of the field notes thereof to the General Land Office, the Commissioner is hereby authorized and required to have the same plotted on the maps of his office, and issue patents for the same in accordance with existing laws; provided, that no patent shall issue for a less amount than the original grant. That the owners of said lands shall be required to pay the taxes due on the same, from the date of the organization of the respective counties herein mentioned, which taxes shall be paid and legal vouchers for the same exhibited to the Commissioner of the General Land Office before the patent to the same shall issue."

In May, 1859, Felix A. Blucher, a deputy district surveyor of the district, made a survey, the field notes and a plat of which were in August, 1869, filed in the General Land Office. The field notes commenced with the statement:

"Field notes of a survey of eight leagues and twelve labors of land made for Wm. G. Hale and F. J. Parker, the assignees of Pedro de la Garza, this being the quantity of land to which they are entitled by virtue of a grant from the State of Tamaulipas dated on the 3d day of July, A.D. 1834. Surveyed in accordance with an Act of the Legislature of the State of Texas approved Feb'y 10th, 1852, and entitled"

"An Act to Relinquish the Right of the state to Certain Lands Therein Named, This Being Part of Confirmation Numbered 103 for the County of Starr in Said Act."

This survey was not approved, and the field notes were indorsed by the Commissioner of the General Land Office in these words:

"Closes partly all but the approximate area

Page 207 U. S. 419

found with apportioning errors is 267,552,959 sq. vrs. -- 10 leagues, 17 1/2 labors, or 55,252,959 sq. vrs. too much. Aug. 21, '69, Richardson, $2.00."

No patent was ever issued for the land or any part of it. On September 3, 1901, the Legislature of the State of Texas passed an act, § 11 of which is as follows:

"SEC. 11. The attorney general of this state is hereby directed and required to institute and prosecute in the name of the State of Texas such suits as may be necessary to recover from the person or persons in possession thereof or claiming title thereto all lands which are held or claimed under titles emanating from the Spanish or Mexican governments where no valid evidences of such grants are to be found in the records or among the files of the General Land Office, and also such suits as may be necessary to determine the exact location and boundaries of such lands, where the evidence on file in the General Land Office does not sufficiently identify the land claimed, and such suits shall be brought, prosecuted, and tried in the District Court of Travis County, Texas."

In pursuance of this section, this suit was brought, the original petition having been filed September 24, 1902.

The defendant holds title under the original grantee of the State of Tamaulipas, and was, and had been for many years, in possession of the entire tract of over ten leagues surveyed by Blucher, claiming title to all in his possession. The state, conceding his title to six and one-half leagues, contended that all in excess was still its property. The case was tried before the court without a jury, and a judgment entered in behalf of the state for three tracts, which the court found to be outside the boundaries of the original Mexican grant. The Court of Civil Appeals in and for the Third Supreme Judicial District of the state affirmed this judgment. 95 S.W. 645. A petition for rehearing was filed, in which the protection of the contract clause of the Constitution of the United States was specially invoked. In denying the motion for a rehearing, the court considered this constitutional question and decided it

Page 207 U. S. 420

adversely to the plaintiff in error. Thereupon a petition was presented to the supreme court of the state for a writ of error to review the judgment of the court of civil appeals, but that court dismissed the application for want of jurisdiction.

Page 207 U. S. 422

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