United States v. Boisdore's Heirs
49 U.S. 113 (1850)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Boisdore's Heirs, 49 U.S. 8 How. 113 113 (1850)

United States v. Boisdore's Heirs

49 U.S. (8 How.) 113

APPEALS FROM THE DISTRICT

COURT OF MISSISSIPPI

Syllabus

In 1824, Congress passed an act, 4 Stat. 52, entitled

"An act enabling the claimants to lands within the limits of the State of Missouri and Territory of Arkansas to institute proceedings to try the validity of their claims."

The second section provided that, in

"all cases, the party against whom the judgment or decree of the said district court may be finally given, shall be entitled to an appeal, within one year from the time of its rendition, to the Supreme Court of the United States,"

and the fifth section enacted that any claim which shall not be brought by petition before the said courts within two years from the passing of the act, or which, after being brought before the said courts, shall, on account of the neglect or delay of the claimant, not be prosecuted to a final decision within three years, shall be forever barred.

In 1844, Congress passed another act, 5 Stat. 676, entitled

"An act to provide for the adjustment of land claims within the states of Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana, and in those parts of the states of Mississippi and Alabama, south of the thirty-first degree of north latitude, and between the Mississippi and Perdido Rivers."

It enacted

"That so much of the expired act of 1824 as related to the State of Missouri be, and is hereby, revived and reenacted, and continued in force for the term of five years, and no longer, and the provisions of that part of the aforesaid act hereby revived and reenacted shall be, and hereby are, extended to the States of Louisiana and Arkansas, and to so much of the States of Mississippi and Alabama as is included in the district of country south of the thirty-first degree of north latitude, and between the Mississippi and Perdido Rivers."

The act of 1824, revived and reenacted by the act of 1844, did not expire in five years from the passage of the act of 1844, so far as regards appeals from the district court to this Court. It will continue in force until all the appeals regularly brought up from the district courts shall be finally disposed of.

The first two of these cases were appeals from the District Court of Mississippi. One of them, viz., United States v. Heirs of Boisdore, was the same case in which a motion to dismiss was made at the preceding term, as reported in 48 U. S. 7 How. 658.

Page 49 U. S. 114

The third was an appeal from the District Court of Louisiana.

A motion was now made to dismiss the whole three upon a ground which was common to them all, viz., that the act of 1844, reviving and reenacting the act of 1824, continued it in force for the term of five years, and no longer, and that, as the act was passed on 17 June, 1844, it expired upon 17 June, 1849. By reason of which expiration, it was alleged this Court had no longer any jurisdiction over the case.

By an Act of June 17, 1844, 5 Stat. 676, entitled

"An act to provide for the adjustment of land claims within the States of Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana, and in those parts of the States of Mississippi and Alabama south of the thirty-first degree of north latitude, and between the Mississippi and Perdido Rivers,"

it is enacted,

"That so much of the expired act of 26 May, 1824, entitled 'An act to enable claimants to land within the State of Missouri and Territory of Arkansas to institute proceedings to try the validity of their claims,' as related to the State of Missouri, . . . be and is hereby revived and reenacted, and continued in force for the term of five years, and no longer, and the provisions of that part of the aforesaid act, hereby revived and reenacted, shall be and hereby are extended,"

to the States of Louisiana, Mississippi &c.,

"in the same way, and with the same rights, powers, and jurisdictions, to every extent they can be rendered applicable, as if these states had been enumerated in the original act hereby revived, and the enactments expressly applied to them, as to the State of Missouri, and the district court and the judges thereof, in each of these states, shall have and exercise the like jurisdiction over the land claims in their respective states and districts, originating with either the Spanish, French, or British authorities, as by said act was given to the court and the judge thereof in the State of Missouri."

The Act of 26 May, 1824, thus revived and reenacted, 4 Stat. 52, after describing the classes of cases embraced within its provisions, prescribes that the claimants shall present a petition to the district court, setting forth their claims; that proper parties, including the district attorney, shall be made; that the proceedings shall be conducted according to the rules of a court of equity; and that the said court shall have power to hear and determine the questions arising in the cause, and to make a decree. It then, in the latter part of the second section, enacts:

"And in all cases, the party against whom the judgment or decree of the said district court may be finally given shall be entitled to an appeal, within one

Page 49 U. S. 115

year from the time of its rendition, to the Supreme Court of the United States, the decision of which court shall be final and conclusive between the parties, and should no appeal be taken, the judgment or decree of the said district court shall, in like manner, be final and conclusive."

By the fifth section it is enacted

"That any claim to lands, tenements, or hereditaments, within the purview of this act, which shall not be brought by petition before the said courts within two years from the passing of this act, or which, after being brought before the said courts, shall, on account of the neglect or delay of the claimant, not be prosecuted to a final decision within three years, shall be forever barred, both at law and in equity, and no other action at common law, or proceeding in equity, shall ever thereafter be sustained, in any court whatever, in relation to said claims."

In the three cases above mentioned, petitions had been filed in the respective courts, and the district judge confirmed the claims to the several petitioners. The United States appealed to this Court.

Page 49 U. S. 120

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE TANEY delivered the opinion of the Court.

A motion has been made to dismiss this case, for want of jurisdiction in this Court to hear and decide it.

It appears that a petition was filed by the appellees in the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of Mississippi, pursuant to the Acts of Congress of May 26, 1824, and of June 17, 1844, praying to have confirmed to them a large tract of land, which they claimed under a concession or grant which they alleged had been made to their ancestors, by the Spanish authorities.

The petition was filed on February 1, 1845, and on 12 November, 1847, the district judge passed his decree confirming the concession, and on the same day the United States appealed to this Court. The motion is made to dismiss

Page 49 U. S. 121

upon the ground that the act of 1844, which extended to the State of Mississippi the act of 1824, and reenacted it as to claims in that state, limited the duration of both acts to five years and no longer, and that both of these acts, so far as concerns such claims, expired on 17 June, 1849, and this Court having no appellate jurisdiction unless conferred on it by act of Congress, and having derived the jurisdiction it heretofore exercised in cases of this description altogether from the laws above mentioned, its power in this respect ceased when the laws expired; and, there being no act of Congress now in force authorizing it to review the decree of the district court for the Southern District of Mississippi, the appeal of the United States ought to be dismissed for want of jurisdiction.

It is true that this Court can exercise no appellate power over this case, unless it is conferred upon it by act of Congress. And if the laws which gave it jurisdiction in such cases have expired, so far as regards claims in the State of Mississippi, its jurisdiction over them has ceased, although this appeal was actually pending in this Court when they expired.

But the Court is of opinion that the act of 1824, reenacted by the act of 1844 for the State of Mississippi and the other states mentioned in that law, has not expired so far as regards appeals from the district courts to this Court; that it is still in full force, and unless repealed by Congress will continue in force until all the appeals regularly brought up from the district courts shall be finally disposed of.

The act of 1824 originally extended only to the Spanish and French grants in the State of Missouri and the then Territory of Arkansas. It contains no clause limiting generally the duration of the law. The fifth section limits the time within which the claimants may file their petitions to two years, and gives the petitioner three years from the time his petition is brought before the district court, to prosecute it to a final decision in that court; but by the second section either party may appeal to this Court, within twelve months from the time of the final decree in the district court. And as many of the cases might and most probably would be decided in the latter period of the five years within which the party is required to present his claim and prosecute it to a final decision, it is evident that the jurisdiction of this Court to hear and determine the appeal was not intended to be limited to the same period. And as there is no clause of limitation applying to the whole act, nor as to the time within which this Court shall exercise the appellate power conferred on it, the act of 1824, in this respect, is a perpetual one, and if any appeal were at this day depending, which had

Page 49 U. S. 122

been regularly brought up from the State of Missouri or the Territory of Arkansas, the court would have jurisdiction to hear and decide it.

This construction of the original act of 1824 is, indeed, not disputed. But it is insisted that it is otherwise when taken in connection with the act of 1844, which reenacted it for the states therein mentioned, in one of which this case has arisen. And it is contended that the duration of the whole act of 1824, as thus reenacted, including the appellate jurisdiction of this Court, is restricted to five years from the enactment of the law.

This construction cannot be maintained. In expounding a statute, we must not be guided by a single sentence or member of a sentence, but look to the provisions of the whole law, and to its object and policy. And it was evidently the intention of the act of 1844 to place the claims under Spanish and French grants in the states therein mentioned upon precisely the same footing with the claims in Missouri and the Territory of Arkansas, and to give the claimants the same rights and remedies, including the right to appeal to this Court. For it declares in express terms that the act of 1824 shall be extended to them,

"in the same way, and with the same rights, and powers, and jurisdictions to every extent they can be rendered applicable, as if these states had been enumerated in the original act thereby revived, and the enactments expressly applied to them, as to the State of Missouri."

Now if they had been included in the original act, and the enactments applied to them as to the State of Missouri, it is admitted that the appellate jurisdiction of this Court would not be limited to five years. And if it would not, it necessarily follows that it is not limited y the act when reenacted and extended by the law of 1844. For if it were to be so limited, and the jurisdiction of this Court ceased in five years, the rights and powers and jurisdictions in relation to the claimants in these states would be different from what they would have been if they had been included in the original law. Such a construction would in effect take away the jurisdiction of this Court, and deprive each party of the right to appeal within twelve months in the cases decided in the last year of the five, and would make the appeal in almost every case inefficient and nugatory. Certainly, there could be no reason of policy or justice for making such a difference in the jurisdiction of this Court in different classes of similar cases; nor could such have been intended. The error of the appellees appears to have arisen from what is evidently an inaccuracy of language in the act of 1844, when it speaks, in the beginning of the enacting clause, of "so much of the expired act

Page 49 U. S. 123

of 1824" as related to the State of Missouri. Now the act of 1824, as we have already said, had not expired, and is still in force. But the fifth section of the act, which gave the claimant two years from the date of the law to file his petition, and three more to bring it to a final decision, had expired. And the whole context and provisions of the act of 1844 show that it was the intention of the legislature to revive this portion of the act of 1824, and to give to the claimants in the states there mentioned, as it had given to those in the State of Missouri, five years to establish their claims, and to subject them in other respects also to the same regulations and jurisdictions in prosecuting them in the courts of the United States. And the expression, "so much of the expired act of 1824," should have been, "so much of the act of 1824 as had then expired," in order to make this clause consistent with the residue of the act. This evident inaccuracy ought not, however, to embarrass the court in expounding the act, which, taken altogether, is sufficiently plain in its objects and intention, as well as in its language.

The motion to dismiss this appeal must therefore be overruled.

The cases of United States v. Heirs of Powers and United States v. Heirs of Turner stand upon the same grounds, and the motions to dismiss them must therefore be disposed of in like manner.

Order

On consideration of the motion made by Mr. Henderson, of counsel for the appellees, on a prior day of the present term of this Court, to-wit, on Friday the 14th instant, to dismiss this cause for the want of jurisdiction, and of the arguments of counsel thereupon had, as well against as in support of the said motion, it is now here ordered by this Court, that the said motion be, and the same is hereby, overruled.

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