United States v. Levy - 38 U.S. 81 (1839)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Levy, 38 U.S. 13 Pet. 81 81 (1839)
United States v. Levy
38 U.S. (13 Pet.) 81
A grant by Governor Coppinger of fourteen thousand five hundred acres of land in East Florida, part of thirty thousand acres granted in consideration of services to the Crown of Spain and the officers of Spain, which had been surveyed by the appointed officer, confirmed.
The Court refused to allow a survey of land to be made to make up for a deficiency in the survey of fourteen thousand five hundred acres in consequence of part of the land included therein being covered with water and being marshes. Even if a survey had not been made under the concession, it would not be competent for the Superior Court of East Florida or for the Supreme Court to designate a new location varying from the original concession, as any such variation would be equivalent to a new grant.
Moses E. Levy, a citizen of the United States, presented a petition to the judge of the Superior Court of East Florida on 18 May, 1829, claiming title to a tract of land containing fourteen thousand five hundred acres, situated in East Florida, being part of thirty thousand acres originally conceded to Fernando de la Maza Arredondo in full property by Governor Don Jose Coppinger on 14 March, 1817, in consideration of services rendered by him to the government and officers of Spain, which fourteen thousand five hundred acres became, by sundry mesne conveyances, the property of the petitioner.
The petition states that there is at the place designated in the said concession for the location of the said fourteen thousand five hundred acres of land, a considerable portion of the land covered by water, and consisting of marshes, which, if included in the survey of the said land, would be a complete loss of so much land as is covered with water or as consists of marshes.
The petitioner avers that by the concession in this case he is entitled to fourteen thousand five hundred acres of land, exclusive of land covered by water and of marshes, and that by the custom, practice, and usage of the Spanish government in East Florida, where it happened that at the place designated for the location of the land granted there was found to be a part of that which would necessarily fall within the survey according to the calls of the grant, covered with water, or consisting of marshes, though included within the boundaries of the survey, it was excluded from the quantity surveyed for the party, and the whole of land clear of such water and marsh, called for by the grant, was surveyed and secured to the party entitled to the benefit thereof. He therefore prays that such directions for the survey of the said fourteen thousand five hundred acres of land may be given as he is justly entitled to by the aforesaid concession and the said usage, practice, and custom of the Spanish government in East Florida.
The petitioner states that since the purchase of said lands by him, he has at very great expense and trouble made a settlement on the lands at a place thereon called Hope Hill, and that he has erected
houses and buildings of various descriptions on the land, and has cultivated a considerable portion thereof and made other beneficial improvements thereon.
The answer of the District Attorney of the United States denies, among other things, that it was the usage and custom in East Florida to have the quantity of land covered by water, or such as is found to be a marsh, replaced by surveys of other land, and insists that the petitioner having procured and accepted a royal grant for fourteen thousand five hundred acres, made according to the survey under the original concession, he is estopped from setting up such usage or custom, if the same existed.
The answer also insists that the court has no power or authority to direct a survey of the said fourteen thousand five hundred acres of land in accordance with any such supposed usage or custom, if it could be shown that any such usage or custom ever existed.
The superior court confirmed the grant for fourteen thousand five hundred acres according to the survey and rejected the claim to have the quantity of land contained in the grant surveyed, excluding land covered with water and marshes.
The United States appealed from this decree.