Steinbach v. Stewart
78 U.S. 566

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U.S. Supreme Court

Steinbach v. Stewart, 78 U.S. 11 Wall. 566 566 (1870)

Steinbach v. Stewart

78 U.S. (11 Wall.) 566

Syllabus

1. A decree of the district court of the United States confirming a claim to land under a Mexican grant in California contained a proviso that the confirmation to the claimant should be without prejudice to the rights of the legal representatives of the original grantee, or whoever might be entitled to the land under him, and should enure to the benefit of any person or persons who might own or be entitled to the land by any title, either at law or in equity, derived from the original grantee by deed, devise, descent, or otherwise. On appeal to the supreme court, the decree, so far as it confirmed the original grant, was affirmed. Held that this language of the supreme court did not annul the proviso to the decree, but left it in full force, and that the decree accordingly gave to parties holding under the original grantee or the confirmee the same benefits which it gave to them in the perfection of their title.

2. In August, 1846, the confirmee, V., executed an instrument and delivered it to one H. wherein he uses these words, after certifying that he had purchased the tract of land designated of the original grantee: "I grant and transfer all the right which I have in the land mentioned to H., who shall make such use thereof as may be most convenient to him." Held that the instrument, construed by the Mexican law, in force in California

Page 78 U. S. 567

at the time of its execution, was a conveyance of all V.'s title, and not a mere license to H. to occupy the land.

3. In a deed of land from H. to D., the premises were described as

"one mile square of land, English measure, containing six hundred and forty acres, situated, lying and being in the district of Sonoma and being part and parcel of all that certain tract of land called Agua Caliente, formerly taken up by Lazaro Pefa, by a grant from the government."

When this deed was offered in evidence, it was shown that the grantee, D., at the time of his purchase from his grantor, H., took possession of the tract thus conveyed and occupied it, and that all the subsequent grantees under him, of whom there were several, at the date of their respective conveyances took possession of the same tract and remained in the open and notorious possession of the same until they parted with their respective interests. Held that the deed, accompanied by this evidence of identification and occupation of the land, was properly admitted.

4. The statements of a grantor of land, made after he has conveyed the land to others, are inadmissible to invalidate his deed.

This was an action of ejectment for a tract of land situated in the State of California. Issues having been joined, the case was called on for trial before a jury, and evidence was introduced by the respective parties. After all the evidence on both sides was concluded, the attorneys of the parties who had appeared in the action stipulated that the jury should be discharged, and that the issues be tried and determined by the court. The jury were accordingly discharged, and the facts established were substantially as follows: on the 14th day of October, 1839, one Lazaro Pena presented a petition to the Commandant General of the Department of California for a grant of land situated in the present County of Sonoma, in that state, known by the name of Agua Caliente, of which land Pena had been years previously in the possession; and the commandant gave to him a provisional concession of the land until he should petition the government for the proper title. Afterwards, on the 13th day of October, 1840, Pena obtained a grant of the land from Alvarado, then Governor of the Department of California, and on the 8th day of October, 1845, this grant was approved by the departmental assembly. Pending the

Page 78 U. S. 568

proceedings to obtain the grant the petitioner, Pena sold and conveyed all his interest in the land to one M. G. Vallejo. Subsequently, March 2, 1853, Vallejo presented a petition to the board of land commissioners, created under the act of March 3, 1851, for a confirmation of his claim under the grant. By the board his claim was rejected, but afterwards, on appeal, the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of California confirmed his claim. The decree of confirmation was entered on the 13th July, 1859, and was accompanied by the following proviso:

"Provided that this confirmation of the above land to the said M. G. Vallejo shall be without prejudice to the rights of the legal representatives of Lazaro Pena, the original grantee, or whoever may be entitled to said lands under him, and said confirmation to said Vallejo shall enure to the benefit of any person or persons who may own or be entitled to said land by any title, either at law or in equity, derived from the original grantee by deed, devise, descent, or otherwise."

Afterwards, on appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, this decree was affirmed insofar as it confirmed the original grant. The tract thus confirmed embraced the premises in controversy.

On the 17th of January, 1863, Vallejo, for the consideration of $3,000, sold and conveyed his interest in the entire tract to the plaintiff Steinbach, and the deed was duly recorded under the laws of California in the recorder's office of the county. On the 5th of February, 1864, Vallejo executed for the like consideration a second deed of the same premises, which was also duly recorded in the same office.

Four of the defendants -- namely, G. W. Whitman, Martha C. Watriss, C. V. Stewart, and J. B. Warfield, claimed each a portion of these premises under Vallejo, through an instrument executed by him to one Andres Hoeppener, on the 12th of August, 1846. The original was in Spanish, and was endorsed on the espediente of Pena. The following is a correct translation of the document:

"The undersigned certifies that he legitimately and formally

Page 78 U. S. 569

purchased from the citizen Lazaro Pena the tract of land of the 'Agua Caliente,' to which the preceding approval of the departmental assembly of Alta California has reference. I grant and transfer all the right which I have in the land mentioned to Don Andres Hoeppener, who shall make such use thereof as may be most convenient to him. And for the necessary purposes and uses I give this at Sonoma, this 12th day of August, 1846."

"M. G. VALLEJO"

"Witness:"

"A. A. HENDERSON"

"J. P. LEESE"

It was at the time admitted that Pena had previously executed a deed of the tract to Vallejo bearing date December 4, 1839, and that at the time the deed from Vallejo to Hoeppener was executed, Hoeppener received full possession of the premises from Vallejo, and continued thereafter in the possession until the land was sold by him.

The counsel for plaintiff objected to the reception of this document in evidence on the ground that the same did not convey any estate from Vallejo to Hoeppener, but was a mere license to occupy which terminated and was extinguished when Hoeppener asserted title to or attempted to convey the lands, which objection was overruled by the court and the evidence admitted, to which ruling an exception was duly taken.

The counsel for the defendants then, on the part of the defendant Whitman, offered in evidence a deed from Hoeppener to Carlos Glein dated December 1, 1847, together with various mesne conveyances by which the title acquired by said Glein had passed to and vested in said Whitman. In the deed from Hoeppener to Glein, the land intended to be conveyed is described as follows:

"All that certain tract and parcel of land containing three hundred acres, more or less, being a portion of the rancho named Agua Caliente, as transferred to the said Andres Hoeppener by M. G. Vallejo; the said three hundred acres being more particularly bounded and described as follows, to-wit: on the west side by Sonoma Creek, on the east side by the Napa

Page 78 U. S. 570

Hills, on the north by Yeltan's farm, and on the south by the land of Ernest Rufus."

The defendants' counsel then proved on the part of the defendant Whitman that Glein, at the time of his purchase from Hoeppener, took possession of the tract thus conveyed (and which is the same tract held and possessed by Whitman), and that said Glein, together with all his successive grantees, including Whitman, at the date of their respective conveyances, paid a valuable consideration therefor and took possession of the tract and remained in the open and notorious possession of the same until they parted with their interests therein, but that Whitman had never parted with his interest therein, and that, at the date of the conveyance from Vallejo to Steinbach of his interest in the Agua Caliente rancho, he (Whitman) was in the open and notorious possession of the tract, claiming to own the same.

The plaintiff's counsel objected to the admission of this deed in evidence because it did not import to convey the title to any particular tract of land, that it created no legal estate, and was therefore incompetent evidence to prove any issue made in this action, and was irrelevant and immaterial.

The court overruled the objection and admitted the evidence, to which ruling of the court exception was duly taken.

The counsel for the defendants then, on behalf of the defendant Watriss, offered a deed from Hoeppener to J. J. Dopken dated November 14, 1846, together with various mesne conveyances by which the title acquired by the said Dopken had passed to and vested in the said Watriss. In the deed from Hoeppener to Dopken, the land intended to be conveyed is described as follows:

"One mile square of land, English measure, containing 640 acres, situated, lying, and being in the district of Sonoma, and being part and parcel of all that certain tract of land called Agua Caliente, formerly taken up by Lazaro Pena by a grant from the government and lately purchased from the said Lazaro Pena by M. G. Vallejo, and granted by the said M. G. Vallejo

Page 78 U. S. 571

unto the aforesaid Andrew Hoeppener, together with all and singular the advantages, profits, privileges, and appurtenances whatsoever, right, title, and interest of the said Hoeppener, of, in, and to the same, belonging or in any way pertaining."

The defendants' counsel then proved on the part of the defendant Martha C. Watriss that Dopken, at the time of his purchase from Hoeppener, took possession of the tract thus conveyed (and which is the same tract held and possessed by the said Martha and described in her answer) and that Dopken, together with all his successive grantees, including the said Martha, at the date of their respective conveyances, took possession of said tract and remained in the open and notorious possession of the same until they parted with their interests therein, but that Martha had never parted with her interest therein, and that at the date of the conveyances from M. G. Vallejo to Steinbach of his interest in the Agua Caliente rancho, the said Martha was in the open and notorious possession of the tract, claiming to own the same.

To the admission of which deed the counsel for the plaintiff objected that the said deed, by reason of the indefiniteness of the said description, was insufficient to convey title or to create any legal estate, and that it was therefore irrelevant, immaterial, and inadmissible; which objection the court overruled and admitted the deed in evidence, in connection with the testimony as to the occupation of the particular premises, to which ruling an exception was duly taken.

After the defendants had closed their testimony, the plaintiff's counsel offered to prove, by statements made by Hoeppener in 1848, that Hoeppener and Vallejo agreed that Hoeppener should teach Vallejo's family music, for which Vallejo was to convey him the rancho; that in the meanwhile, Hoeppener was to occupy it; that neither Hoeppener nor Vallejo intended or considered the said instrument as a conveyance, or more than a license to occupy; that Hoeppener did not perform his agreement, but, after part performance, abandoned it, and admitted that he had no claim to the land. All which took place in the year 1847-1848.

Page 78 U. S. 572

The court refused to receive any testimony as to statements of Hoeppener subsequent to the date of his conveyances to others and excluded the testimony, to which ruling of the court an exception was duly taken.

The plaintiff also proved that he paid to Vallejo for the two deeds received from him, as above mentioned, a valuable consideration at the time, and that he made the purchase of the land and received the deeds without knowledge or notice actual or constructive of any other conveyances of the premises or of any interest therein by Vallejo except as given by the actual, open, and notorious possession and occupation of the defendants, G. W. Whitman, Martha C. Watriss, J. B. Warfield, and C. V. Stewart, as above stated.

He also proved that, previous to the year 1857, Hoeppener, above mentioned, died intestate and without issue, leaving a widow, Anna Hoeppener, who was his sole heir; that on the 17th of May, 1858, the said Anna, by a deed executed and delivered, for a valuable consideration sold and conveyed to J. L. Green the tract of land known as Agua Caliente, and which deed was recorded on the 10th of July, 1863, in the proper recorder's office; and that Green, on the 2d day of January, 1864, by a deed duly executed and delivered, for a valuable consideration sold and conveyed the same property to the plaintiff, and that the deed was also properly recorded on the 22d day of October, 1864.

The court gave judgment in favor of the four defendants above named for the land which they severally had purchased and occupied and in favor of the plaintiff against all the other defendants except those against whom the action had been dismissed. From this judgment the case was brought here on writ of error sued out by the plaintiff.

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