Henshaw v. Bissell
85 U.S. 255 (1873)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Henshaw v. Bissell, 85 U.S. 18 Wall. 255 255 (1873)

Henshaw v. Bissell

85 U.S. (18 Wall.) 255

ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT

FOR THE DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

Syllabus

1. In an action of ejectment where both parties claim the premises in controversy under patents of the United States issued upon a confirmation of grants of land in California made by the former Mexican government, both of which patents cover the premises, the inquiry of the court must extend to the character of the original grants, and the controversy can only be settled by determining which of these two gave the better right to the premises.

2. In determining such controversy, a grant of land identified by specific boundaries or having such descriptive features as to render its identification a mattes of absolute certainty gives a better right to the premises than a floating grant although such floating grant be first surveyed and patented.

3. Semble that as between two floating grants of quantity within the same general tract which is sufficiently large to satisfy both, where neither grantee had received official delivery of possession under the former government and where, as a consequence, there was no measurement or severance of the claim of either front the public domain, the party whose claim is first surveyed and patented will hold the better right to the land covered by his patent, and that the other party will be compelled to have his claim located outside of that patent.

4. The present case distinguished from cases in this Court and in the Supreme Court of California in which imperfect or equitable claims or interests arising since the acquisition of the country were set up against the legal title held under patents.

5. A survey under a grant approved by the district court of the United States under the Act of June 14, 1860, is conclusive as against adverse claimants under floating grants.

6. Whilst proceedings are pending before the tribunals of the United States for the confirmation of claims to land under grants of the former Mexican government, the statute of limitations of California does not run against the right of the claimants to the land subsequently confirmed to them. That statute only begins to run against the title perfected under the legislation of Congress from the date of its consummation.

7. For the application of the doctrine of equitable estoppel such as will prevent a party from asserting his legal rights to property, there must be some intended deception in the conduct or declarations of the party to be estopped or such gross negligence on his part as to amount to constructive fraud. Accordingly, when a claimant under a Mexican grant located his claim on land different front that which was finally surveyed and patented to him, and announced to others that his claim covered the land thus selected, but the government interfered and located the claim elsewhere, held that he was not estopped from asserting a right to the premises surveyed and patented to him.

Page 85 U. S. 256

Bissell brought ejectment in the court below against Henshaw and others to recover one league square of land situated in the County of Butte in the State of California. The action was commenced May 15, 1857, and was tried by the court without a jury by stipulation of the parties. The material facts of the case were as follows:

On the 24th of March, 1852, one Larkin, pursuant to the provisions of the Act of Congress of March 3, 1851, entitled "An act to ascertain and settle private land claims in the State of California," filed a petition with the board of land commissioners created under the act praying a confirmation of a claim made by him to a tract of land containing four square leagues of land, situated in the County of Butte, in the State of California, his claim being founded on a Mexican grant made by Governor Micheltorena to Charles William Flugge on the 21st day of February, A.D. 1844, upon his petition bearing date on the 22d of December, A.D. 1843. Flugge, in his petition, described the land solicited as

"situated on the western side of Feather River, and stretching along ('sobre') the said river from 39

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