Serrano v. United States
72 U.S. 451 (1866)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Serrano v. United States, 72 U.S. 5 Wall. 451 451 (1866)

Serrano v. United States

72 U.S. (5 Wall.) 451

Syllabus

Long-continued and undisturbed possession of land in California, whilst that country belonged to Spain or Mexico, under a simple permission to occupy it from a priest of an adjoining mission or a local military commander, did not create an equitable claim to the land against either of the governments of those countries, nor is a claim based upon such possession entitled to confirmation by the tribunals of the United States under the Act of Congress of March 3d, 1851.

This was a proceeding, under the Act of March 3, 1851, for the confirmation of a claim to a tract of land in California known as the rancho of "Temescal," of four square leagues in extent. The petition to the board of land commissioners asked for the confirmation on two grounds:

1st. By virtue of an alleged grant of the premises by the authorities of the King of Spain to Leandro Serrano, the testator of the claimants, and

2d. By virtue of long-continued and uninterrupted possession of the premises.

The proof negatived the existence of a grant, but showed that Serrano had received the written permission of the priest of the mission of San Luis Rey (to which mission the land originally belonged), or of the military commander of San Diego, to occupy the premises, and that under such permission he took possession of them, and occupied them, or a portion of them, from about 1818 or 1819 until his death, which occurred in 1852.

The present claim was presented by his executrix (the widow) and his executor.

The deceased Serrano, made some improvements on the premises, consisting principally of two or three adobe houses, and he had a vineyard and fruit orchard. He had also several acres under cultivation, and was the owner of cattle, horses, and sheep in large numbers which roamed over and grazed on the hills and in the valleys surrounding his residence to the extent of the four leagues claimed by him.

Page 72 U. S. 452

His possession was continuous and undisputed until the cession of the country to the United States.

The land commission rejected the claim, but the district court, on appeal, reversed the action of the board, and by its decree adjudged the claim valid, and confirmed it to the extent of four leagues. From this decree the United States appealed to this Court.

Page 72 U. S. 459

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