United States v. California & Oregon Land Co.,
148 U.S. 31 (1893)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. California & Oregon Land Co., 148 U.S. 31 (1893)

United States v. California and Oregon Land Company

No. 1073

Argued January 10-11, 1893

Decided March 6, 1893

148 U.S. 31


The former decision in this case, 140 U. S. 140 U.S. 599, imported that the pleas were sufficient in law, and remanded the case only for an inquiry as to their truthfulness.

A defendant in equity may let the facts averred in the bill go unchallenged and set up some special matter by plea sufficient to defeat the recovery, and in such case, no fact is in issue at the hearing but the matter so specially pleaded.

In these suits, those defendants who were not the original wrongdoers had the right to set up any special matter of defense which constituted a defense as to them, and then the inquiry was limited to such matter as between them and the government.

The essential elements which go to make a bona fide purchaser of real estate are (1) a valuable consideration, (2) an absence of notice of fraud or defect, (3) presence of good faith.

It is again decided that when a statute of the United States delegates to a tribunal or officer full jurisdiction over a subject in which the United States are interested, his or its determination within the limit of his authority is conclusive in the absence of fraud.

A person holding under a quitclaim deed may be a bona fide purchaser. Oliver v. Piatt, 3 How. 333; Van Rensselaer v. Kearney, 11 How. 297; May v. Le Claire, 11 Wall. 217; Villa v. Rodriguez, 12 Wall. 323; Dickerson v. Colgrove, 100 U. S. 578; Baker v. Humphrey, 101 U. S. 494, and Hanrick v. Patrick, 119 U. S. 156, questioned on this point.

A deed by which the grantor aliens, releases, grants, bargains, sells, and conveys the granted estate to the grantee, his heirs and assigns, to have and to hold the same and all the right, title and interest of the grantor therein is a deed of bargain and sale, and will convey an after-acquired title.

On July 2, 1864, Congress passed an act granting lands to the State of Oregon to aid in the construction of a military road from Eugene City to the eastern boundary of the State. 13 Stat. 355, c. 213. A proviso to the first and granting section was

"That the lands hereby granted shall be exclusively

Page 148 U. S. 32

applied in the construction of said road, and shall be disposed of only as the work progresses, and the same shall be applied to no other purpose whatever."

The third and fourth sections read:

"SEC. 3. And be it further enacted that said road shall be constructed with such width, graduation, and bridges as to permit of its regular use as a wagon road, and in such other special manner as the State of Oregon may prescribe."

"SEC. 4. And be it further enacted that the lands hereby granted to said state shall be disposed of only in the following manner, that is to say that a quantity of land, not exceeding thirty sections, for said road may be sold, and when the governor of said state shall certify to the Secretary of the Interior that any ten continuous miles of said road are completed, then another quantity of land hereby granted, not to exceed thirty sections, may be sold, and so from time to time until said road is completed, and if said road is not completed within five years, no further sales shall be made, and the land remaining unsold shall revert to the United States."

On October 24, 1864, the Legislature of Oregon, in its turn, granted these lands to the Oregon Central Military Road Company for the purpose of aiding it in constructing the road. Laws of Oregon, 1864, p. 36. On June 18, 1874, Congress enacted:

"Chap. 305. An act to authorize the issuance of patents for lands granted to the State of Oregon in certain cases."

"Whereas, certain lands have heretofore, by acts of Congress, been granted to the State of Oregon to aid in the construction of certain military wagon roads in said state, and there exists no law providing for the issuing of formal patents for said lands, therefore,"

"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that in all cases when the roads in aid of the construction of which said lands were granted are shown by the certificate of the Governor of the State of Oregon, as in said acts provided, to have been constructed and completed, patents for said lands shall issue in due form to the State of Oregon as fast as the

Page 148 U. S. 33

same shall, under said grants, be selected and certified unless the State of Oregon shall be public act have transferred its interests in said lands to any corporation or corporations, in which case the patents shall issue from the General Land Office to such corporation or corporations upon their payment of the necessary expenses thereof: provided, that this shall not be construed to revive any land grant already expired, nor to create any new rights of any kind except to provide for issuing patents for lands to which the state is already entitled."

18 Stat. 80.

On March 2, 1889, Congress passed an act, 25 Stat. 850, c.377, entitled "An act providing in certain cases for the forfeiture of wagon road grants in the State of Oregon," which commenced with this recital:

"Whereas, the United States have heretofore made various grants of public lands to aid in the construction of different wagon roads in the State of Oregon, and upon the condition that such roads should be completed within prescribed times, and whereas, said grants were transferred by said state to sundry corporations, who were authorized by the state to construct such wagon roads and to receive therefor the grants of lands thus made, and whereas, the Department of the Interior certified portions of said lands to the State of Oregon upon the theory that said roads had been completed as required by the granting acts of Congress, and upon the certificate of the governor of the State of Oregon as to such completion, and whereas, the Legislature of the State of Oregon has memorialized Congress and therein alleged that certain of said wagon roads, in whole or in part, were not so completed, and that to the extent of the lands coterminous with unconstructed portions the certifications thereof by the Department of the Interior were unauthorized and illegal, therefore, . . . and directed the Attorney General of the United States within six months to institute suits in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Oregon against all firms, persons, or corporations claiming to own or have an interest in lands

Page 148 U. S. 34

granted to the State of Oregon by certain enumerated acts of Congress -- among others, the act above referred to, of July 2, 1864 -- to determine the questions of the reasonable and proper completion of said roads in accordance with the terms of the granting acts, either in whole or in part, the legal effect of the several certificates of the governors of the State of Oregon of the completion of said roads, and the right of resumption of such granted lands by the United States, and to obtain judgments, which the court is hereby authorized to render, declaring forfeited to the United States all of such lands as are coterminous with the part or parts of either of said wagon roads which were not constructed in accordance with the requirements of the granting acts, and setting aside patents which have issued for any such lands, saving and preserving the rights of all bona fide purchasers of either of said grants, or of any portion of said grants, for a valuable consideration if any such there be. Said suit or suits shall be tried and adjudicated in like manner and by the same principles and rules of jurisprudence as other suits in equity are therein tried, with right to writ of error or appeal by either or any party as in other cases."

In pursuance of this act, on August 30, 1889, a bill was filed in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Oregon against the Oregon Central Military Road Company, the California and Oregon Land Company, and certain named individuals. The bill, it may be said in a general way, charged that the road was not in fact constructed; that certificates of construction were fraudulently obtained from the governors of the state; that, in pursuance of such false certifications, a large number of tracts had been certified or patented to the State of Oregon for the benefit of the Oregon Central Military Road Company; that thereafter these lands were conveyed to certain of the individuals named as defendants, and by them finally to the California and Oregon Land Company; and, further, that these parties received the deeds with full knowledge of the fact that the road was not constructed as required by the act, and that the certificates were false, and fraudulently obtained. To this bill, on October 24, 1889, the

Page 148 U. S. 35

California and Oregon Land Company filed two pleas and an answer in support thereof. The case was set down for hearing on the pleas, and on February 18, 1896, they were sustained, and the bill dismissed. From such decree of dismissal the United States appealed to this Court. On May 25, 1891, the decision of the circuit court was reversed, 140 U.S. 140 U. S. 599, and the case remanded for further proceedings. The opinion of this Court was announced by Mr. Justice Blatchford, and in that opinion will be found a full history of all the matters affecting the litigation up to that time. The conclusion reached was that the circuit court erred in not permitting the United States to reply to the pleas and in dismissing the bill absolutely. After the mandate had been filed in the circuit court, issue was joined on the pleas, testimony taken, and on December 7, 1891, a decree was again entered sustaining the second plea and dismissing the bill of complaint, as to the defendant, the California and Oregon Land Company. From this decree an appeal was taken to the circuit court of appeals, by which court, on March 10, 1892, that decree was affirmed, 51 F. 629, and from this decree of affirmance the United States appeal to this Court.

Page 148 U. S. 37

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