Moffat v. United States
Annotate this Case
112 U.S. 24 (1884)
U.S. Supreme Court
Moffat v. United States, 112 U.S. 24 (1884)
Moffat v. United States
Submitted October 16, 1884
Decided October 27, 1884
112 U.S. 24
The presumption of the regularity of all proceedings prior to the issue of a patent for public lands which is made against collateral attacks by third parties, does not exist in proceedings where the United States assail the patent for fraud in their officers in its issue and seek its cancellation.
The United States do not guarantee the integrity of their officers, nor the validity of the acts of such, and are not bound by their misconduct or fraud.
A land patent issued to a fictitious person conveys no title which can be transferred to a person subsequently purchasing in good faith from a supposed owner.
The procuring of the issue of a patent at the Land Office by means of false documents which purport to show official proceedings and acts by subordinate officers which are fictitious, is a fraud upon the jurisdiction of the Land Office, and not a mere presentation of doubtful and disputed testimony.
These were suits to cancel two patents of the United States for land in Colorado, bearing date on the 4th of October, 1873, and purporting to be issued, one to a person by the name of
Philip Quinlan, and the other to a person by the name of Eli Turner, upon proof of settlement and improvement by them under the preemption laws. Their cancellation is sought on the ground that the patentees named were fictitious parties; that no settlement or improvement on the lands was ever made; that the documents alleging settlement and improvement were fabricated by the register and the receiver of the land office of the district, embracing the land covered by the patents, to defraud the government of the property.
The two suits present substantially the same facts, differing only as to the parties concerned in the proceedings, and the land patented, and were considered together by the court.
The bill in the first case alleges substantially as follows:
That the register and the receiver of public moneys of the land office at Pueblo, in Colorado, conspiring to defraud the government of a patent for the land upon the pretext that the same was due to some person, who had performed the duties required of him by the acts of Congress in that behalf, had written out, in the form prescribed by law, a declaratory statement in the fictitious name of Philip Quinlan, representing that he had declared his intention to claim the land as a preemptioner, and also an affidavit, purporting to be signed by him and sworn to before the register, stating that he had made a settlement upon the land, and improved it in good faith, in order to appropriate it to his exclusive use and benefit, and not for the purpose of sale or speculation; that he had not, directly or indirectly, made an agreement with any person or in any manner whereby the title he might acquire would inure in whole or in part to the benefit of anyone except himself; that they had also prepared an affidavit, purporting to be signed and sworn to before the register by two other fictitious persons, named Michael Quinlan and Orring R. Peasley, in which it was stated, among other things, that the supposed Philip Quinlan was a single man, over the age of twenty-one years, a citizen of the United States, and an inhabitant of the land; that no other person resided thereon entitled to the right of preemption; that he had made a settlement thereon on the 1st of May, 1872, had built a house and made other improvements,
and had lived in the house and made it his exclusive home from the 15th of May, 1872, to that date, May 8, 1873, and had plowed, fenced, and cultivated eighteen acres of the same. The bill also alleges that at this time the receiver was the owner of a certain amount of agricultural college scrip issued by the State of Florida; and, for the purpose of locating the land with it in the name of the said Quinlan, the register and the receiver had inserted in a black endorsement his fictitious name and residence, and in that name had located the scrip on the land, and also that they had done divers other acts to cause the plaintiff to believe that the supposed Philip Quinlan was a real person, who had actually appeared before them and made the statements and proof required by law and the regulations of the land office to entitle him to the preemption of the land, and had sworn to such proof before the register; that they had prepared duplicate certificates in the form prescribed by law, setting forth that the said supposed person, represented by said fictitious name, had located the agricultural college scrip, and made due proof of his right to preempt said land and receive a patent therefor, and forward one of them to the General Land Office at Washington, and requested a patent for the land to be issued in the name of the said supposed person; that in June, 1873, an agent of the defendant, David H. Moffat, Jr., appeared before the officers of the said General Land Office and presented to them the other duplicate certificate, and also requested them to issue the patent desired, and transmit the same to him (the agent), and that said officers, confiding in the honesty and integrity of the receiver and the register, and believing the statements contained in the supposed proof forwarded to them, had issued the patent and transmitted it to said agent. The bill further alleges that no person by the name of Quinlan had ever settled upon the land, or appeared and presented himself before the register and the receiver at any time, or made any declaratory statement or proof of preemption, either as a preemptor or witness, and charges that said papers were made by the register and the receiver for the purpose of fraudulently depriving the United States of their title to the land, and vesting the
same in the defendant Moffat; that said Moffat now has the patent and claims to hold the legal title by virtue of certain mesne conveyances -- namely one executed on the 23d day of May, 1873, in the name of said supposed Philip Quinlan to a fictitious person by the name of Henry H. Perry, and a conveyance by said fictitious person, dated the 23d day of June, 1873, to himself, that the deeds from said supposed parties and the patent have been placed on record in the office of the recorder of the county in Colorado, where the land is situated, and constitute a cloud upon the title of complainant; that on the 15th of September, 1883, said Moffat executed a deed conveying an undivided half of the property covered by the patent to Robert E. Carr, as trustee, and that the deed is on record. And the bill charges that the said Moffat was well aware at the time he received the conveyances and the said patent of the fraudulent means by which the patent was obtained; that no valuable consideration passed from Carr to him, and that Carr also was fully informed that the supposed preemption and proceedings were false and fraudulent. The plaintiff therefore prays that the patent may be set aside and declared void, and delivered up to be cancelled, and that the deeds from Quinlan to Perry, and from Perry to Moffat, and from Moffat to Carr, may also be adjudged void.
In the second case, the bill, as finally amended, alleges a similar conspiracy to defraud the government of a patent for another tract of land in the name of another fictitious person upon proofs by other supposititious persons, the pretended preemptor being Eli Turner, and the pretended witnesses to prove compliance with the preemption law being Simeon D. Porter and Anson Beck. The bill also alleges a conveyance from the pretended Eli Turner to a fictitious person, by the name of Thomas Harris, in June, 1873, and a conveyance from Harris to the defendant Moffat in the same month, and that such proceedings were had that on the fourth of October, 1873, a patent was issued for the land in the name of Eli Turner. And the bill charges that Moffat was cognizant of the false and fraudulent character of the alleged preemption of Turner, and of the proofs offered in its support, and prays, as in the first case,
that the patent be set aside and cancelled, and the deeds of the supposed Turner and Harris be adjudged void.
The defendants answered the bills in both cases, denying their material allegations, and the charges of conspiracy and fraud, to which answers replications were filed. The testimony taken fully established the truth of the allegations and charges, except as to the knowledge by Moffat and Carr of the alleged frauds, and the circuit court decreed the cancellation of the patents and the mesne conveyances purporting to pass the title from the pretended patentees to Moffat, and from him to Carr. From these decrees the defendants have appealed, and seek a reversal on four grounds, which are substantially as follows:
First, that the evidence that the patentees were fictitious parties was insufficient to overcome the presumption arising from the patents themselves, and the certificates of the register and the receiver;
Second, that as the frauds alleged were committed by public officers, the receiver and the register, the government was bound by their acts, and the court erred in not giving effect to the patents and conveyances, so as to protect the defendants claiming under them;
Third, that Moffat and Carr were innocent purchasers for value, and, as such, were protected against the consequences of the alleged fraudulent methods by which the patents were issued; and
Fourth, that no offer was made in the bill in either case to return the scrip received by the government for the land.
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