Duluth & Iron Range R. Co. v. Roy,
173 U.S. 587 (1899)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Duluth & Iron Range R. Co. v. Roy, 173 U.S. 587 (1899)

Duluth and Iron Range Railroad Company v. Roy

No. 221

Submitted March 10, 1899

Decided April 8, 1899

173 U.S. 587


When a patent of public lands is obtained by inadvertence and mistake, to the injury of a person who had previously initiated the steps required by law to obtain possession and ownership of such land, the courts, in a proper proceeding, will divest or control the title thereby acquired, either by compelling a conveyance to such person or by quieting his title.

The claimant against the patent must so far bring himself within the laws as to entitle him, if not obstructed or prevented, to complete his claim.

Ard v. Brandon, 156 U. S. 537, is decisive of this case.

This is an action to quiet title to the N.W. 1/4 of section No. 3, in township No. 61 N., of range No. 15 W. of the fourth P.M., State of Minnesota.

It was brought in the District Court of the Eleventh Judicial District of the state against the plaintiff in error and one John Megins. One Moses D. Kenyon was afterwards made a party.

The pleadings consisted of the complaint, separate answers of the defendants, and replies of the plaintiff (defendant in error), which respectively set up the titles, interests, and claims of the parties. As there is no point made on them, they are omitted.

The case was tried by the court without a jury, and full findings of fact made, and judgment rendered in favor of the plaintiff (defendant in error) adjudging and decreeing him to be the equitable owner of the lands in controversy and that the defendants

"and all persons claiming by or through or under them be, and they are hereby, forever barred and precluded from having or claiming any right, title, lien, or interest in or to the said lands, or any part thereof, adverse to the plaintiff and parties claiming under him."

From this judgment, an appeal was taken to the supreme court, by which it was affirmed. 72 N.W. 794.

To the judgment of affirmance this writ of error is directed.

Page 173 U. S. 588

The findings of the court established the following:

The lands were patented to the State of Minnesota by the United States as swamp and overflowed lands, and the plaintiff in error is the grantee of the state. The defendant in error claims under the homestead laws. At the time of the passage of the act of 1860, under which the patent was issued, the lands were not swamp, wet, or overflowed or unfit for cultivation, but were, and now are, "high, dry, and fit for cultivation" except four or five acres in the northwest corner. In May, 1883, the defendant in error, then being qualified to do so, settled upon the lands with the bona fide intention of acquiring the same under the laws of the United States, established his residence thereon, and has ever since continued to be in the actual, exclusive, and notorious possession, maintaining his home there and cultivating and improving the same. When defendant in error commenced his residence on the lands, the plat of the survey of the township in which they were located had not been filed, but was filed subsequently, and after it was filed, to-wit, on the second of July, 1883, he went to the land office with the intention of entering the lands under the homestead laws and made a request to do so, but the land officers informed him that there was a mistake in the survey, and that in all probability a new survey would be ordered; that numerous protests had been made against the survey which were sufficient to raise the question of its accuracy; that it was unnecessary for him to protest or file on the land, and advised him to wait until such protests were determined.

He was a foreigner, did not know the English language, nor was he familiar with the laws, rules, and regulations relating to the disposition of the public lands, and relied upon the representations of the officers, and acted upon their advice.

On the 5th of August, 1884, he discovered that the state was claiming the lands as swamp lands. Thereupon he duly made application to enter the same under the homestead laws, and tendered the fees to the local land officer. No adverse claim other than that of the state had arisen or was made to said lands, but his offer of entry was rejected on the ground

Page 173 U. S. 589

that the same had inured to the state under the Act of March 12, 1860, and that his application to enter the lands had not been made within three months after the filing of the township plat in the land office.

On the 6th of August, 1884, he duly filed contest, duly appealed from the rejection of his claim, which appeal and the affidavits attached were transmitted to the Commissioner of the General Land Office, and were by him received and filed September 1, 1884.

On the 23d of January, 1885, and while the appeal and contest were pending, the lands, through mistake and inadvertence, were patented to the State of Minnesota. The defendants took conveyance of the lands with notice of the right, claim, and interest of the plaintiff (defendant in error).

The assignments of error attack the conclusions of the state courts as erroneous, and specify as reasons: (a) that the legal title to the lands was in plaintiff in error, and that there was no finding that there was a mistake of law or fraud on the part of the general land office of the United States or of any officers of the United States; (b) the finding that the patent to the State of Minnesota was issued through a mistake or inadvertence does not constitute a ground for adjudging defendant in error the equitable owner of the lands; (c) the defendant in error is not the real party in interest, and never had the legal or equitable title to the land, the United States being the only party which could attack the patent to the State of Minnesota or invoke the action of the courts to determine its validity.

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