Phillips v. Mound City Land & Water Ass'n,
124 U.S. 605 (1888)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Phillips v. Mound City Land & Water Ass'n, 124 U.S. 605 (1888)

Phillips v. Mound City Land and Water Association

Submitted January 6, 1888

Decided February 13, 1888

124 U.S. 605


An adjudication by the highest court of a state that certain proceedings before a Mexican tribunal prior to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo were insufficient to effect a partition of a tract of land before that time granted by the Mexican Government to three persons who were partners, which grant was confirmed by the commissioners appointed under the provisions of the Act of March 3, 1851, 9 Stat. 631, "to ascertain and settle the private land claims in the State of California," presents no federal question which is subject to review here.

This suit was brought for a partition of two adjacent tracts of land in the County of Los Angeles, known respectively as "Rancho San Jose" and "San Jose Addition." The facts are these:

In 1837, the Mexican government granted to Ygnacio Palomares and Ricardo Vejar the rancho known as "San Jose." Afterwards, these grantees formed a partnership with Luis Arenas, and the Mexican government granted to the three

Page 124 U. S. 606

the rancho known as "San Jose Addition," which adjoined the other. Arenas also in some way acquired an undivided one-third interest in "San Jose," and then conveyed whatever right he had in the two grants to Henry Dalton.

After this had been done, it is claimed that a partition was made under the authority of an appropriate Mexican tribunal by which the share of each of three owners in common was set off to him in severalty, and possession taken accordingly. This all occurred before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which was proclaimed July 4, 1848. 9 Stat. 922.

On the 29th of September, 1852, Ygnacio Palomares presented his claim to the commissioners appointed under the Act of March 3, 1851, 9 Stat. 631, c. 41, to an undivided one-third part of the two ranchos, and asked its confirmation. Henry Dalton on the same day presented his claim on account of the two grants and asked for the confirmation of the specific tracts allotted to him in the alleged partition. On the 9th of October, Vejar presented his claim and asked a similar confirmation to that prayed by Dalton. The commissioners confirmed the claims in accordance with the requests of Dalton and Vejar, so as to give each claimant the lands which had been set off to him in severalty by the partition. From these orders of the commissioners appeals were taken by the United States, under the provisions of the statute, to the district court, where decrees were rendered by which it was ordered and adjudged "that said decision of said board of commissioners be, and the same hereby is, affirmed," and the title of the appellees adjudged to be good and valid, each to one equal undivided third part of the two tracts, which were then described by metes and bounds.

In accordance with these several decrees of confirmation, patents were issued by the United States, that for "San Jose" being "unto Henry Dalton, Ygnacio Palomares, and Ricardo Vejar, and to their heirs," for "the tract of land known by the name of "San Jose," embraced and described in the foregoing survey" (being that set out in the decree), "but with the stipulation that in virtue of the fifteenth section of the said act" -- that of March 3, 1851 --

"neither the confirmation of this said

Page 124 U. S. 607

claim nor this patent shall affect the interest of third persons, to have and to hold the said tract known by the name of 'San Jose,' with the appurtenances, unto the said Henry Dalton, Ygnacio Palomares, and Ricardo Vejar, and to their heirs and assigns, forever, with the stipulation aforesaid."

The patent for "San Jose Addition" was in all respects the same, except as to the description of the land.

At the hearing of the present suit, it was contended that the patents thus issued inured to the benefit of the several grantees according to their respective interests as set off to them in severalty in the alleged partition made under Mexican authority before the treaty, but the supreme court of the state decided that no such partition had in fact been made by any judgment of a competent Mexican tribunal, and that both the ranchos were "held and owned by the Mound City Land and Water Association, Louis Phillips, and Lugardo A. de Palomares," who had succeeded to the title of the original patentees, "as tenants in common, each owning an undivided third of said ranchos." It was then ordered that partition be made among the owners,

"allotting to each one in severalty one-third of the area of the two ranchos, quantity and quality considered, and so locating the said allotments as to give to each of the said persons the benefit of any improvements he may have placed on any part of said premises, so far as the same may be done without injury to the co-tenants, and so as to include in said allotment to said Phillips"

certain specified parcels, which it was found he had sold, "so far as the same may be done without injury to the co-tenants."

To reverse that decree this writ of error was brought, the object of the plaintiffs in error being to defeat a new partition on the ground that the alleged Mexican partition was valid and binding on the present parties, and that they now hold in severalty what was then set off to their respective grantors, and not as tenants in common of the whole tract.

The case was submitted at the present term on printed arguments under Rule 20, but at a former term a motion was made by the defendants in error to dismiss for want of jurisdiction because no federal question is involved. That motion was

Page 124 U. S. 608

continued for hearing with the case on its merits, and is now to be considered.

Page 124 U. S. 609

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