United States - 256 U.S. 51 (1921)

U.S. Supreme Court

United States, 256 U.S. 51 (1921)

United States

No. 325

Argued October 7, 1920

Decided April 11, 1921

256 U.S. 51


1. The Northern Pacific Railroad Act of July 2, 1864, G. 217, 13 Stat. 365, and the Joint Resolution of May 31, 1870, 16 Stat. 378, embodied a proposal that, if the company would bring about the construction and operation of the railroad, desired for the advantage of the government and the public, it should receive in return the land comprehended by the granting provisions of the legislation. P. 256 U. S. 63.

2. By the company's acceptance of this proposal, followed by construction and operation of the railroad and acceptance of the railroad by the President, the proposal was converted into a contract, entitling the company to performance by the government. P. 256 U. S. 64.

3. The provision relating to indemnity land was as much a part of the grant and contract as the one relating to land in place, and the right of the grantee to land within the indemnity limits in lieu of land lost within the place limits was intended to be a substantial right such as is protected by the due process clause of the Constitution. P. 256 U. S. 64.

4. Assuming that the land applicable as indemnity remaining within the indemnity limits was not enough to make up for unsatisfied losses in the place limits, the government could not deprive the company's successor of its right to such land by setting it aside for forest purposes. Pp. 256 U. S. 64-66.

5. The rule that, under such a grant, no right of the railroad company to land within the indemnity limits attaches to any specific tract until the company has selected it applies as between the company and settlers under the homestead and preemption laws (the continued operation of which within the indemnity limits the granting act itself provides for), and applies also as between the company and the United States when the lands available for indemnity exceed the losses, but it has no application as between the company and the United States if the lands available for indemnity are insufficient for that purpose. P. 256 U. S. 65.

6. The question whether lands remaining within the indemnity limits

Page 256 U. S. 52

were sufficient to satisfy losses in the place limits was primarily for the Land Department to decide. P. 256 U. S. 67.

7. But, where the Department, without deciding this question, reserved part of the indemnity lands for forest purposes, and afterwards inadvertently issued a patent therefor to the railroad company upon its selection, held that the question could be determined in a suit brought later by the government against the company to set the patent aside, but only upon a clear showing of the facts, since the decision might conclude both parties as to other lands as well as those immediately involved. P. 256 U. S. 67.

8. A report of the Commissioner of the General Land Office on the adjustment of a railroad land grant showing a deficiency is not enough to establish the existence of such deficiency unless shown to have been approved or consented to by the Secretary of the Interior, since, under the adjustment Act of March 3, 1887, the supervision of the adjustment was specially devolved upon the Secretary. P. 256 U. S. 67.

9. A stipulation that all the lands received by the Northern Pacific Company under its grant and all that it was possible for it to receive thereafter, whether as place or indemnity lands, did not equal the sum total of all the odd-numbered sections within the primary or place limits held not enough to establish a deficiency, since the measure of the grant might be less than the aggregate of the odd-numbered sections within the place limits, due to partial overlapping with another like grant (Southern Pacific R. Co. v. United States, 183 U. S. 519), or to deductions under § 6 of the granting act if the route followed the general line of another railroad with a prior grant, and of the presence or absence of such conditions, the courts could not take judicial notice. P. 256 U. S. 68.

10. The existence of such a deficiency when the government withdrew the lands in controversy is not established by a finding by the Secretary of the Interior that a deficiency existed six years later. P. 256 U. S. 69.

264 F. 898 reversed.

The case is stated in the opinion, post, 256 U. S. 58.

Page 256 U. S. 58

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