Sioux City Co. v. Griffey, 143 U.S. 32 (1892)


U.S. Supreme Court

Sioux City Co. v. Griffey, 143 U.S. 32 (1892)

Sioux City and Iowa Falls Town Lot and Land Company v. Griffey

No. 157

Argued January 15, 18, 1892

Decided February 1, 1892

143 U.S. 32



U.S. Supreme Court

Sioux City Co. v. Griffey, 143 U.S. 32 (1892) Sioux City and Iowa Falls Town Lot and Land Company v. Griffey

No. 157

Argued January 15, 18, 1892

Decided February 1, 1892

143 U.S. 32




The grant of public land to the State of Iowa by the Act of May 15, 1856, 11 Stat. 9, c. 28, "in alternate sections to aid in the construction of certain railroads in that state" was a grant in praesenti, which did not attach until the time of the filing of the map of definite location; although the beneficiary company (under the Iowa statute) may have surveyed and staked out upon the ground a line for its road before the filing.

The plaintiff, claiming under the said grant to the Iowa, brought an action against the defendant to recover a tract, a part of the grant. The defendant claimed under a patent from the United States subsequent to the filing of the map of definite location, but issued on a preemption claim made prior thereto, and filed a cross-bill for quieting his title. Held that it was not open to the plaintiff to contest the bona fides of the preemption settlement.

The Court stated the case as follows:

Page 143 U. S. 33

On May 15, 1856, Congress passed an act granting lands to the State of Iowa to aid in the construction of certain railroads. 11 Stat. 9, c. 28. The grant was a grant in praesenti, and of alternate sections, with the familiar provision:

"But in case it shall appear that the United States have, when the lines or routes of said roads are definitely fixed, sold any sections, or any parts thereof, granted as aforesaid, or that the right of preemption has attached to the same, then it shall be lawful for any agent or agents, to be appointed by the governor of said state, to select, subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, from the lands of the United States nearest to the tiers of sections above specified, so much land, in alternate sections, or parts of sections, as shall be equal to such lands as the United States have sold or otherwise appropriated, or to which the rights of preemption have attached as aforesaid."

By an Act of the General Assembly of Iowa of date July 14, 1856, the Dubuque and Pacific Railway Company was made one of the beneficiaries of this grant. By section 6 it was provided:

"The lines and routes of the several roads above described shall be definitely fixed and located on or before the first day of April next after the passage of this act, and maps or plats showing such lines or routes shall be filed in the office of the Governor of the State of Iowa, and also in the office of the Secretary of the State of Iowa. It shall be the duty of the governor, after affixing his official signature, to file such map in the department having the control of the public lands in Washington, such location to be considered final only so far as to fix the limits and boundary in which said lands may be selected."

The map of the definite location thus provided for was not received by the officers of the state until after September 27, 1856, and was filed at the General Land Office in Washington on October 13, 1856. Prior, however, to the 14th day of July and the passage of the act making it the beneficiary of the congressional grant, the Dubuque and Pacific Railroad Company had commenced the survey of its line and had surveyed and staked out a line upon the surface of the ground along the land in controversy, which, by such survey, was within the limits of the grant. On the 19th of

Page 143 U. S. 34

July, 1856, Griffey entered upon this land, filed his declaratory statement, and on the 5th of September located it with a military bounty land-warrant, and received his certificate of location.

Page 143 U. S. 38

MR. JUSTICE BREWER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The first and principal question is at what time the title of the railroad company attached -- whether at the time the map of definite location was filed in the General Land Office at Washington or when, prior thereto, its line was surveyed and staked out on the surface of the ground. While the question in this precise form has never been before this Court, yet the question as to the time at which the title attaches under grants similar to this has been often presented, and the uniform ruling has been that it attaches at the time of the filing of the map of definite location. Grinnell v. Railroad Co., 103 U. S. 739; Van Wyck v. Knevals, 106 U. S. 360, 106 U. S. 366; Kansas Pacific Railway v. Dunmeyer, 113 U. S. 629, 113 U. S. 634; Waldan v. Knevals, 114 U. S. 373; United States v. Missouri, Kansas &c. Railway, 141 U. S. 358, 141 U. S. 375.

In Van Wyck v. Knevals, where the question arose between Knevals, the grantee of the railroad company, and Van Wyck, who had entered the lands at the local land office after the filing of the map of definite location with the Land Department, but before notice thereof had been received at such local land office, this Court said:

"The route must be considered as 'definitely fixed' when it has ceased to be the subject of change at the volition of the company. Until the map is filed with the Secretary of the Interior, the company is at

Page 143 U. S. 39

liberty to adopt such a route as it may deem best after an examination of the ground has disclosed the feasibility and advantages of different lines. But when a route is adopted by the company, and a map designating it is filed with the Secretary of the Interior and accepted by that officer, the route is established; it is, in the language of the act, 'definitely fixed,' and cannot be the subject of future change so as to affect the grant except upon legislative consent."

And in Pacific Railway Company v. Dunmeyer it is also said:

"We are of opinion that under this grant, as under many other grants containing the same words or words to the same purport, the act which fixes the time of definite location is the act of filing the map or plat of this line in the office of the commissioner of the General Land Office. The necessity of having certainty in the act fixing this time is obvious. Up to that time, the right of the company to no definite section or part of section is fixed. Until then, many rights to the land along which the road finally runs may attach, which will be paramount to that of the company building the road. After this, no such rights can attach, because the right of the company becomes by that act vested. It is important, therefore, that this act fixing these rights shall be one which is open to inspection. At the same time, it is an act to be done by the company. The company makes its own preliminary and final surveys by its own officers. It selects for itself the precise line on which the road is to be built, and it is by law bound to report its action by filing its map with the commissioner, or rather in his office. The line is then fixed. The company cannot alter it so as to affect the rights of any other party."

The reasoning of these opinions is applicable here. The fact that the company has surveyed and staked a line upon the ground does not conclude it. It may survey and stake many, and finally determine the line upon which it will build by a comparison of the cost and advantages of each, and only when, by filing its map, it has communicated to the government knowledge of its selected line is it concluded by its action. Then, so far as the purposes of the land grant are concerned, is its line definitely fixed, and it cannot thereafter,

Page 143 U. S. 40

without the consent of the government, change that line so as to affect titles accruing thereunder. In accordance with these decisions, it must therefore be held that the line was not definitely fixed until the 13th of October, 1856.

Inasmuch as Griffey's preemption right had attached to this land prior to such time, it did not pass to the railroad company under the grant, and it was a matter of no moment to the company what thereafter became of the title. This is settled by the case of Pacific Railway Company v. Dunmeyer, in which it was said:

"It is not conceivable that Congress intended to place these parties as contestants for the land, with the right in each to require proof from the other of complete performance of its obligation. Least of all is it to be supposed that it was intended to raise up, in antagonism to all the actual settlers on the soil, whom it had invited to its occupation, this great corporation, with an interest to defeat their claims, and to come between them and the government as to the performance of their obligations."

And, again:

"Of all the words in the English language, this word 'attached' was probably the best that could have been used. It did not mean mere settlement, residence, or cultivation of the land, but it meant a proceeding in the proper land office, by which the inchoate right to the land was initiated. It meant that by such a proceeding, a right of homestead had fastened to that land which could ripen into a perfect title by future residence and cultivation. With the performance of these conditions the company had nothing to do. The right of the homestead having attached to the land, it was excepted out of the grant as much as if in a deed it had been excluded from the conveyance by metes and bounds."

See also Hastings & Dakota Railroad v. Whitney, 132 U. S. 357, in which was a similar ruling.

The only other question we deem important is this: on July 5, 1871, the State of Iowa issued a patent, under which plaintiff in error claims, and on June 30, 1882, the United States issued a patent to Griffey, which is the basis of defendants' title. The defendants filed, as was authorized under the Iowa statute, a cross-petition, praying to quiet their title,

Page 143 U. S. 41

and the decree entered was one dismissing the plaintiff's bill and quieting defendants' title.

Now it is claimed that Griffey never complied with the preemption laws; that he never made a bona fide settlement; that he secured his preemption rights by false representations and a pretended settlement; that he does not come into a court of equity with clean hands, and is entitled to no relief, and that therefore there was error in entering a decree in favor of the defendants upon the cross-petition. But as we have seen, Griffey did make a settlement, file his declaratory statement, and thus initiate a preemption right. By these means, such preemption right had, in the language of the statute, attached. The land therefore did not pass under the railroad grant. It was no matter of interest to the company what became of the title. The government -- the owner of the land -- was satisfied with what Griffey had done, took from him its land warrant as payment, and patented the land. Into the bona fides of this transaction no one but the government can inquire. As the title was beyond challenge on the part of the railroad company, it had no right to cast a cloud thereupon, and, having done so by accepting a patent from the State of Iowa, under the pretense that the land was a part of the grant made to that state, and having affirmed the validity of the title conveyed by such patent, it does not lie in its mouth, or with those claiming under it, to now object to a decree removing all cloud cast by such patent.

We see no error in the rulings of the Supreme Court of Iowa, and its judgment is