Cousin v. Labatut
60 U.S. 202 (1856)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Cousin v. Labatut, 60 U.S. 19 How. 202 202 (1856)

Cousin v. Labatut

60 U.S. (19 How.) 202

Syllabus

In Louisiana, all the evidence taken in the court below goes up to the supreme court, which decides questions of fact as well as of law. In the absence of bills of exceptions, setting forth the points of law decided in the case, this Court must look to the opinion of the state court, made a part of the record by law, in order to see whether or not any question has been decided there which would give this Court appellate jurisdiction, under the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act.

A claim to land in Louisiana was presented to the commissioner appointed under the Act of 1812, 2 Stat. 713, reported favorably upon by him to Congress,

Page 60 U. S. 203

and confirmed by the Act of 1819, 3 Stat. 628. But it did not appear that this claim had been surveyed, or that it had any definite boundaries.

In 1820, the register and receiver gave to the claimant a certificate that he was entitled to a patent, but without saying how it was to be located.

In 1822, Congress passed an Act, 3 Stat. 707, giving to the registers and receivers power to direct the location and manner of surveying the claims to land confirmed by the act of 1819.

In 1826, the register and receiver ordered the claim to be surveyed, speaking of it, however, as being derived from an original claimant, different from the person who was mentioned as the original claimant in the certificate of 1820.

The act of 1822 was remedial, and this difference was immaterial.

When the survey was executed according to that order, it gave a prima facie title, and the United States were bound by it until it was set aside at the General Land Office. The Supreme Court of Louisiana were in error when they decided that it gave no title, and this Court has jurisdiction, under the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act, to review that judgment.

But until the survey was made and approved, the United States could sell the land, and a purchase of a part of it must stand good.

As this case will probably be much referred to hereafter as settling some general principles of great importance, it may be well to state in this report the precise nature of the certificates of confirmation and order of survey.

Under the Act of Congress of April 25, 1812, 2 Stat. 713, Cousin presented a donation claim to the commissioners appointed under that act. On the 2d of January, 1816, the commissioners reported as follows upon this claim, calling it No. 255, and placing it in class B. See American State Papers, Public Lands, vol. 3, 56.

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Page 60 U. S. 204

It will be observed that the name of the original claimant is here said to have been Stephen Rene. No survey or location of the land was made under this certificate.

In 1819, Congress passed an Act, 3 Stat. 528, confirming this claim amongst many others, and on the 8th of June, 1820, the register and receiver gave to Cousin the following certificate:

"[Certificate of Confirmation]"

"Commissioner's Report, Letter B, Certificate No. 178"

"LAND OFFICE, ST. HELENA"

"In pursuance of the Act of Congress passed the 3d of March, 1819, entitled 'An act for adjusting the claims to land, and establishing land offices for the district east of the island of New Orleans,' we certify that claim No. 255, in the report of the commissioner marked B, claimed by Francis Cousin, original claimant, Stephen Rene, is confirmed as a donation, and entitled to a patent for one thousand arpens, situated in St. Tammany and claimed under an order of survey dated 10 September, 1798."

"Given under our hands, this 8th day of June, 1820."

"Attest: [Signed] CHARLES S. COSBY, Register"

"F. HERAULT, Clerk"

"FULWER SKIPWITH, Receiver"

It will be observed that the name of the original claimant is here mentioned as Stephen Rene, and there is no mode of survey pointed out, the original order of survey not being produced.

In 1822, Congress passed an Act, 3 Stat. 707, giving to the registers and receivers power to direct the location and manner of surveying the claims to land confirmed by the act of 1819.

On the 21st of September, 1826, the register and receiver gave to Cousin the following order of survey:

"[Order of Survey]"

"LAND OFFICE, ST. HELENA"

"Francis Cousin, Certificate No. 178"

"Dated June 8, 1820"

"ST. TAMMANY, Sept. 21, 1826"

"Francis Cousin claims a tract of one thousand arpens of land, situate in the Parish of St. Tammany, as purchaser from his father, Francis Cousin, deceased, who bought it from Louis Blanc, who bought it from the original owner, Gabriel Bertrand, and in virtue of certificate No. 178, dated 8 June, 1820, and signed Charles S. Cosby, register, and Fulwer Skipwith,

Page 60 U. S. 205

receiver, in which certificate it is alleged by this claimant that it is erroneously set forth that Stephen Rene was the original claimant, it appearing that this tract of land is fronting on Bayou la Liberte, bounded below by the tract of land of Mr. Girod, and above by a tract of land belonging to claimant."

"It is ordered that this claim be located and surveyed with a front extending on said bayou, from the land of said Girod to that of claimant above, and from these points on the bayou to run back for quantity."

"Given under our hands, this 21st day of September, 1826."

"[Signed] SAMUEL J. RANNELLS, Register"

"WILL KINCHEN, Receiver"

The difference between this certificate and the other as respects the derivation of title will be manifest upon comparing the two.

Upon this subject, the Supreme Court of Louisiana made the following remarks:

"The counsel for plaintiff also objects to the certificate of 8 June, 1820, on account of the vagueness of description of the land donated. We consider this objection to be well founded. The description is, 'One thousand arpens, situated in St. Tammany.' It is plainly impossible to locate land by such a description as this. And when such is the case, the grant can produce no effect. 16 Pet. United States v. Miranda; 10 How. Villalobos v. U.S.; 15 Pet. United States v. Delestine; 11 How.; Lecompte v. U.S.; 5 Ann. Ledoux v. Black."

"It is proper here to mention that the order of survey of 10th September, 1798, mentioned in the certificate, is not produced, although formally called for by the opposite party. Had such an order of survey ever been given in evidence before the commissioner of land claims, it would have been recorded in the archives of the land office. See acts of Congress of 1812 and 1819, above quoted."

"But no such record appears."

"It was probably a consciousness of this defect in his title which induced the defendant's ancestor to procure from Rannells and Kinchen, the successors of Cosby and Skipwith in the office of register and receiver of the land office at St. Helena, the order of location and survey of the 21st September, 1826, which the defendants offer in evidence."

"This paper sets out by declaring that the first certificate had erroneously stated the origin of defendant's title, gives another and totally different origin to the same as the correct one and orders a survey to be made, and the defendant's donation to be located on the Bayou Liberte, between the lands

Page 60 U. S. 206

of certain proprietors named. The survey of Vanzandt was made in conformity to this order."

"We view the amended certificate of the 21st September, 1826, and the survey under it, as nullities. For the certificate of Cosby and Skipwith followed strictly the report of the commissioner of land claims, confirmed by the Act of Congress of 3 March, 1819. Therefore, in correcting that certificate, Rannells and Kinchen took upon themselves to correct the report of the commissioner of land claims and to make the act of Congress apply to a claim which was not mentioned in that report, and which was consequently never before Congress."

"The supreme court of this state, in the case of Newport v. Cooper, 10 La., decided that the register and receiver of the land office at St. Helena were without power, by law, to reverse and annul a certificate granted by their predecessors. By parity of reasoning, are they without power to make amendments in such a certificate which falsify the act of Congress on which the first certificate was based? If the claimant could not locate the land claimed by him under his claim as presented to the commissioner of land claims and reported to Congress, that was a misfortune which the land officers at St. Helena had no power to remedy by fabricating for him a new claim seven years after the action of Congress upon the report."

Under the order of September 21, 1826, Vanzandt made a survey in 1845, which was one of the evidences of Cousin's title.

The history of the case in the state courts of Louisiana is given in the opinion of this Court.

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