White v. Cannon
73 U.S. 443

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U.S. Supreme Court

White v. Cannon, 73 U.S. 6 Wall. 443 443 (1867)

White v. Cannon

73 U.S. (6 Wall.) 443

Syllabus

1. A patent of the United States relinquishing to the patentee their right to certain land, but providing that it shall in no manner affect the rights of third persons nor preclude a judicial decision between private claimants for the same land -- this reservation being inserted in accordance with a statute which authorized the patent to issue -- allows a judicial inquiry into the merits of opposing claims to the land.

2. The ordinance of secession passed by the State of Louisiana on the 26th of January, 1861, was a nullity, and did not affect the previous jurisdiction of the supreme court of that state or its relation to the appellate power of the

Cannon, holding an imperfect claim to a tract of land in that part of Louisiana which, in times when the sovereignty of the region was disputed between Spain and the United States, was called the "neutral territory," brought a petitory suit, under the civil law of Louisiana, against White, the possessor of a legal title under a patent of the United States.

The facts were these: by statutes of 1823 and 1824, [Footnote 1] Congress provided for the examination of titles to lands in the district where this one lay. Persons having claims to lands situated in that district were authorized to present the evidence of their claims to the register and receiver of the local land office.

These officers were required to receive and record the evidence and to transmit to the Secretary of the Treasury, who then had charge of the land department of the government, a complete record of all the claims thus presented, with the evidence appertaining to each claim, and an abstract of the whole number of claims, dividing them into four classes; the third class consisting of claims founded upon habitation, occupation or cultivation previous to the 22d of February, 1819. The act of 1823 provided that nothing contained in it should be considered as a pledge by the United States to confirm any claim reported by the register and receiver.

Page 73 U. S. 444

Under these acts, one Dyson, as assignee of Edward McLaughlin, presented to the register and receiver of the land office a claim, by virtue of habitation, occupation, and cultivation, to a tract of land lying within the so-called "neutral territory," containing 640 acres, and proved by the testimony of two witnesses the habitation and cultivation of the tract by McLaughlin previous to February 22, 1819. In their report to the Secretary of the Treasury, made on the 1st of November, 1824, the register and receiver recommended that this claim, together with many other claims, which were included in the third class, should be confirmed, and by the Act of Congress of the 24th of March, 1828, [Footnote 2] the claims thus recommended were confirmed, excepting a certain number, among which were the claims of Dyson, including the one above mentioned. These excepted claims, said the act, "are suspended until it is ascertained whether they are situated within the limits of the lands claimed by the Caddoe Indians." It was subsequently ascertained that the claim was not situated within the limits of the lands claimed by these Indians. [Footnote 3]

Dyson, and parties claiming under him, were in continued and undisturbed possession of the premises for many years. The petitioner derived whatever estate he had through various mesne conveyances from him.

The title of the defendant arose in this wise: in February, 1835, Congress passed "an act for the final adjustment of claims to lands in the State of Louisiana," [Footnote 4] which authorized any persons having claims to land in that state, that had been recognized by previous laws as valid, but which had not been confirmed, to present them to the register and receiver of the local land office, within two years from the passage of the act, together with testimony in support of the same, and required those officers to record in a book kept for that purpose the notice of every claim thus preferred,

Page 73 U. S. 445

together with the evidence in its support. It also authorized them to receive evidence for other individuals who might resist the confirmation of a claim on their own behalf or that of the United States. And it provided that those officers should, at or before the commencement of each session of Congress, make a report to the Secretary of the Treasury of the claims presented before them, together with the testimony, accompanied by their opinion of the validity of each claim, and that the report should be laid before Congress by the Secretary, together with the opinion of the commissioner of the general land office touching the validity of the respective claims. Under this act, John McLaughlin, son of Edward McLaughlin, presented to the register and receiver a claim for the same tract of 640 acres which had been claimed by his father, and produced the testimony of two witnesses by which he proved the habitation and cultivation of the land by him previous to the 22d of February, 1819. The testimony produced appeared to have been taken in 1834, for some reason not disclosed by the record, perhaps, as suggested by counsel, in anticipation of the passage of the act or some act of a similar kind. In 1840, the register and receiver reported this claim and recommended its confirmation. The report was laid before Congress, and the claim was confirmed by the seventh section of the Act of July 6, 1842. [Footnote 5] The act provided, however, that the confirmation should operate only as a relinquishment of the right of the United States, and should not affect the rights of third parties nor preclude a judicial decision between private claimants for the same land.

In September, 1844, a patent was issued to John McLaughlin pursuant to this act of confirmation, but with the same reservation as contained in the act itself. In June, 1848, he transferred his interest to the defendant, who, two years before he purchased, knew that persons holding under Dyson -- the presentation of whose claim as assignee of Edward McLaughlin was well known in the vicinity of the land -- were in possession of it.

Page 73 U. S. 446

The petitioner prayed a judgment decreeing that he was the rightful and legal owner of the land, and that he recover the same with damages and mesne profits specified.

It was shown conclusively that John McLaughlin never occupied or cultivated the land claimed by him previous to February 22, 1819, or at any other time, and that the testimony presented by him to the receiver and register was false. In May, 1843, before the patent issued, he made an affidavit, and placed it on record in the land office of the district, that he never had at any time previous to the 22d of February, 1819, resided upon the tract, but that it was within his knowledge that his father, Edward McLaughlin, had resided upon it and cultivated it on that day and for several years previous, and that his father had transferred his claim by sale to Leonard Dyson, who, as his assignee, made entry of the same. The residence upon and cultivation of the land claimed by the father was also abundantly established by other testimony.

The District Court of Louisiana gave judgment for the defendant. On appeal, the supreme court of that state reversed the judgment and decreed that the plaintiff be recognized as owner, and have possession, and have judgment for $3,833 33/100, and that the defendant pay at the rate of $3 per acre on 480 acres from April 30, 1859, and that the plaintiff elect, within thirty days after the judgment should become final, whether he would keep the improvements erected on the land on paying for the same $5,250 to the defendant, and on his so electing or making default, execution to issue on this part of the judgment against the plaintiff; but on his refusal to retain the said improvements, the defendant to be permitted to remove the same within a reasonable time.

This judgment was rendered on the 31st of January, 1861. A convention of the State of Louisiana had passed an ordinance of secession, purporting to make the state from the federal Union, on the 26th day of the same month.

This case was now here under the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act.

Page 73 U. S. 447

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