McCabe v. Worthington
57 U.S. 86 (1863)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

McCabe v. Worthington, 57 U.S. 16 How. 86 86 (1863)

McCabe v. Worthington

57 U.S. (16 How.) 86

ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT

OF THE STATE OF MISSOURI

Syllabus

The Act of Congress passed on the 3d of March, 1807, 2 Stat. 440, declared that all claims to land in Missouri should be void unless notice of the claim should be filed with the Recorder of Land Titles, prior to the 1st of July, 1808.

Hence, in the year 1824, a claim which had not been thus filed had no legal existence.

The Act of the 26th May, 1824, 4 Stat. 52, authorizing the institution of proceedings to try the validity of claims, did not reserve from sale lands, the claims to which had not been filed as above.

Therefore, when the owner of such a claim filed his petition in 1824, which was decided against him, and he brought the case to this Court, which was decided in his favor in 1836, but in the meantime entries had been made for parts of the land, the latter were the better titles.

Moreover, the Act of May 24, 1828, 4 Stat. 298, provides that confirmations and patents under the act of 1824 should only operate as a relinquishment on the part of the United States. Therefore, the confirmation by this Court in 1836 was subject to this act.

This was an action of ejectment commenced by the plaintiff against the defendant in the state circuit court of Missouri, where the defendant had judgment, which, on appeal by the plaintiff to the Supreme Court of the State of Missouri, was affirmed by that court.

Page 57 U. S. 87

The plaintiff's title rested on a concession by the Spanish government in 1796, which was confirmed by a decree of the Supreme Court of the United States on the 21st January, 1836, on an appeal from the district court of Missouri, which exercised jurisdiction of the subject matter, under the provisions of the Act of Congress of May 26, 1824, 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 petition was filed by the claimant, Antoine Soulard, on the 22d August, 1824.

In January, 1825, an amended petition was filed by Antoine Soulard, who afterwards died, and on the 4th Monday of March following, the proceedings were revived in the name of the widow and heirs of the said Soulard, and such proceedings were had that a decree was rendered against the petitioners by the district court on the 4th Monday of December, 1825, from which an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States was taken within one year from its rendition, where, on the 21st January, 1836, the decree of the district court was reversed, and the claim of the petitioners was confirmed for all the land claimed, except that which had been sold by the United States before the filing of the petition in the case.

In pursuance to this decree, the land claimed and confirmed was surveyed, and the survey returned to the Commissioner of the General Land Office, on which, on the 22d December, 1845, a patent was issued to the petitioners under whom the plaintiff claims. The land sued for is comprehended within the limits of the survey and in the patent of Soulard's widow and heirs. No notice in writing stating the nature and extent of his claim was ever delivered by Soulard to the Recorder of Land Titles under any of the acts of Congress in relation to that subject. The defendant relied on patents from the United States issued in the year 1836, founded on entries made in the year 1834, while the case of Soulard, widow and heirs, against the United States was pending in the supreme court, which patents embraced the land in controversy.

On the trial in the state circuit court, the counsel for the plaintiff prayed the court to instruct the jury as follows:

"First. That the decree of confirmation, made by the Supreme Court of the United States on the 21st day of January, 1836, to Julia Soulard, widow, and James G. Soulard and others, heirs of Antoine Soulard, deceased, relates back to the time of filing the petition for confirmation, and passes to the confirmees the title to the land thereby confirmed, so as to cut out all titles and claims thereto originating after the filing of said petition."

"Second. If the jury believe from the evidence that the land

Page 57 U. S. 88

sued for was patented by the United States on the 22d day of December, 1845, to the widow and heirs of Antoine Soulard, deceased; that such patent was issued for land surveyed for said patentees in pursuance of a decree of confirmation made by the Supreme Court of the United States, and that such decree of confirmation was founded on a petition for a confirmation filed in the United States Court for the District of Missouri on the 22d day of August, 1824, such patent conveyed to the patentees a better title to the land sued for than that derived from an entry of the same made after the said 22d of August, 1824, or from a patent issued on such entry."

"Third. If the jury believe from the evidence that Antoine Soulard, on the 22d day of August, 1824, petitioned the District Court of the State of Missouri for the confirmation of his title to a claim for 10,000 arpens of land; that said Antoine Soulard died, and the suit was revived and prosecuted in the name of his widow and children; that the said district court decreed against the said claim; that said suit was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, within one year from the time of the rendition of said decree by the district court; that said supreme court afterwards decided in favor of the said claim, and by a decree confirmed the same to said widow and heirs; that the Surveyor of Public Lands for the State of Missouri caused the land specified in said decree to be surveyed for said confirmees; if the jury find these facts to be true, then the said widow and heirs of Antoine Soulard had, by virtue thereof, a better title to the land included in such survey than the defendant can have to any part of it by virtue of an entry made after the said 22d of August, 1824, or by virtue of a patent issued on said entry."

"Fourth. The title under the confirmation of the Supreme Court of the United States to the representatives of Antoine Soulard is a better title than that of the defendant."

"Fifth. The Act of May the 26th, 1824, passed by the Congress of the United States, reserved from sale the lands included within the bounds of all claims of the character embraced within the provisions of the first section of that act, from the time of the filing of the petition for confirmation of such claims in the District Court of Missouri, until such time as said claims should be finally decided against the claimants."

"Sixth. Any entry of land made within the limits of any claim, of the character embraced within the provisions of the first section of the Act of May 26, 1824, after the filing of the petition of the claimant in the district court, as provided for by said act, and before said claim shall be finally decided against the claimant, is a void entry, and the patent issued thereon is a

Page 57 U. S. 89

void patent. Which instructions the court refused to give; to which refusal the plaintiff then and there at the time excepted."

And the court, on motion of defendant, gave the following instructions, to-wit:

"1. If notice of the Soulard claim was not filed with the Recorder of Land Titles in St. Louis prior to the first day of July, 1808, then said claim was not by law reserved from sale, and if not reserved from sale by law, was subjected to sale as other public lands."

"2. If Soulard's claim was not reserved from sale, then the entry of the defendant, if made according to law, being older, is a better title than the plaintiff's confirmation."

"3. The patent of the defendant is prima facie evidence that this entry was regular and lawful."

"4. The Act of Congress of 26th May, 1824, under which Soulard's claim was confirmed, did reserve from sale the land covered by said claim, and any sales of such lands regularly made prior to the confirmation, conveys to the purchaser a better title than said confirmation, such claim not having been filed with the recorder prior to July 1, 1808."

"5. The commencement of a suit by Soulard in the United States court, for the purpose of obtaining a confirmation of his claim, did not operate as notice of his claim, so as to affect a title otherwise regularly obtained from the United States, and sales of such land, made after the commencement of this suit, stands upon the same ground as if made before such suit was commenced."

To the giving of which instructions the plaintiff then and there at the time excepted.

Upon these exceptions the case went up to the Supreme Court of Missouri, where the judgment of the court below was affirmed. And to review this decision the case was brought here.

Page 57 U. S. 95

MR. JUSTICE CATRON delivered the opinion of the Court.

This cause comes here by writ of error to the Supreme Court

Page 57 U. S. 96

of Missouri, under the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act. The error assumed to have been committed below, is that the court misconstrued the Act of May 26, 1824, enabling claimants to lands in Missouri, to institute proceedings to try the validity of their claims.

The action being an ejectment, and the defendant in possession by virtue of patents from the United States, the only question is whether the plaintiff has a better legal title.

The plaintiff relies on a decree of this Court, made in 1836, in favor of Soulard's heirs against the United States for 10,000 arpens of land including the premises sued for. The decree is of younger date than the entries of the defendant, which were made in 1834, and are a good title to sustain or defend an ejectment in Missouri.

Soulard's claim was filed in the district court, in August, 1824, and a confirmation demanded, but which was refused, and the petition dismissed in 1825; from this decree an appeal was prosecuted, and in 1836, a decree was rendered by this Court confirming the claim. And the question here is whether the decree in the supreme court related back to the date of filing the petition against the United States in the district court. If it did, then the plaintiff is entitled to recover, and if it did not, then the judgment below must be affirmed.

The Act of March 3, 1807, declared that all claims to lands should be void unless notice of the claim &c., should be filed with the Recorder of Land Titles, prior to the first of July, 1808. Soulard's claim was not filed with the recorder, nor was it presented to any tribunal for action on it, till suit was brought in 1824 in the district court. Up to that time, the land claimed was subject to sale. This is admitted, but the argument for the plaintiff is that the act of 1824 removed the bar, and restored the claim to its original standing as if the act of 1807 had not been passed. Admitting this to be true, still it proves nothing, as the United States could beyond question have sold this land before 1807, and passed the legal title, and hence the removal of the bar, imposed by that act, left the land equally open to sale at any time after 1807, as it was before that time.

The Act of February 17, 1818, laid off local land districts in Missouri, one of which embraced the land in dispute, and provided for the sale of public lands, from time to time, in each district. But an exception was made according to the act of 1811: that till after the decision of Congress thereon, no tract of land shall be offered for sale, the claim to which, has been in due time, and according to law, presented to the Recorder of Land Titles, and filed in his office.

Page 57 U. S. 97

The claims thus reserved from sale were the ones Congress supposed would come before the district court and be adjudicated under the act of 1824, and as they stood protected from sale, no further provision was made by the act to protect such claims as that of Soulard, which had never been recorded.

Having given no additional protection by the act of 1824, and Congress having the power to grant the land, or to cause it to be done, through the Department of Public Lands, the Commissioner of the General Land Office June 25, 1831, ordered the registers and receivers of the various land districts in Missouri to proceed to sell the lands, not adjudicated under the act of 1824, which had been subject to adjudication: holding that, notwithstanding the provisions of the acts of 1811 and 1818, all claims not brought before the court, or if brought, not prosecuted to a final decision in three years by reason of neglect on the part of the claimant, were subject to be offered at public sale. Volume of Instructions and Opinions, No. 704. Under this established construction, the land in question was sold to the defendant. He could not know that Soulard's heirs claimed the land, as their claim was nowhere recorded in any office appertaining to the Department of Public Lands, and if he had known that such claim existed, still the land court in Missouri had ceased to exist on the 26th of May, 1830, four years before he purchased: Soulard's claim had been rejected in that court, and had been pending on appeal in the supreme court, for nearly ten years after the suit was instituted, whereas the act of 1824 required that it should be prosecuted to a final decision within three years. Thus stand the equities of the defendant. But another consideration is conclusive of this case: the Act of May 24, 1828, § 2, provides, that confirmations had by virtue of the act of 1824, and patents issued thereon, should only operate as relinquishments on the part of the United States, and should in nowise affect the right or title, either in law or equity, of adverse claimants to the same land. The act spoke of confirmations by decree, and declared that the decree should operate prospectively, and consequently embraced a case, where the land was acquired by purchase from the United States before the decree was made, unless the acts of 1811 and 1818 protected the land from sale. For these reasons, we agree with the Supreme Court of Missouri, that the defendant has the older and better legal title, and order the judgment to be

Affirmed.

Order

This cause came on to be heard on this transcript of the record from the Supreme Court of the State of Missouri, and

Page 57 U. S. 98

was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof, it is now here ordered and adjudged by this Court that the judgment of the said supreme court in this cause be, and the same is hereby, affirmed with costs.

Official Supreme Court caselaw is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia caselaw is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.