As subsection 1 of § 63, Rev.Stat., was repealed by the Act of
March 3, 1875, 18 Stat. 470, and as the purpose of the Act of March
3, 1887, 24 Stat. 556, as corrected by the Act of August 13, 1888,
25 Stat. 433, was to limit the jurisdiction of the circuit courts,
a petition for removal of an action brought by a state in its own
courts against an alien was properly denied.
In an action to recover real estate, part of a grant from a
former sovereign, defenses based on adverse possession, estoppel,
construction of state statutes, and the effect of judgments of the
state court in other actions, neither the validity nor the
construction of any treaty of the United States or the validity of
the grant being challenged, do not present federal questions which
give this Court jurisdiction to review the judgment on writ of
The facts are stated in the opinion.
Page 202 U. S. 506
MR. JUSTICE BREWER delivered the opinion of the Court.
On July 5, 1901, the State of Texas, under the authority of an
act of its legislature, filed its petition in the District Court of
Travis County against Thomas O'Conor, to recover possession of a
tract of over 19,000 acres, situated in Webb County.
The defendant appeared and filed a petition for removal to the
circuit court of the United States on the ground that he was an
alien, domiciled in the Republic of Mexico. The removal
Page 202 U. S. 507
was claimed under subsection 1 of § 639, Revised Statutes, but,
as said by Mr. Chief Justice Waite, delivering the opinion of the
Court in Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company v. Bates,
119 U. S. 464
119 U. S.
"Subsections 1 and 2 of § 639 were repealed by the act of 1875;
Hyde v. Ruble, 104 U. S. 407
; King v.
Cornell, 106 U. S. 395
; Holland v.
Chambers, 110 U. S. 59
; Ayers v.
Watson, 113 U. S. 594
Further, in Fisk v. Henarie, 142 U.
, 142 U. S. 466
it was held that the purpose of the Act of March 3, 1887 (24 Stat.
552, c. 373), as corrected by the Act of August 13, 1888, 25 Stat.
433, c. 866, was to restrict the jurisdiction of the circuit
courts, and it was said (p. 142 U. S.
"The repealing clause in the act of 1887 does not specifically
refer to these prior acts, but declares that 'all laws and parts of
laws in conflict with the provisions of this act be, and the same
are hereby, repealed.' The provisions relating to the subject
matter under consideration are, however, so comprehensive, as well
as so variant from those of the former acts, that we think the
intention to substitute the one for the other is necessarily to be
inferred, and must prevail."
See also Smith v. Lyon, 133 U.
; Shaw v. Quincy Mining Company,
145 U. S. 444
Martin v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, 151 U.
; Tennessee v. Union & Planters'
Bank, 152 U. S. 454
Hanrick v. Hanrick, 153 U. S. 192
Mexican National Railroad v. Davidson, 157 U.
; Missouri Pacific Railway v. Fitzgerald,
160 U. S. 556
Wabash Western Railway v. Brow, 164 U.
It is clear from these authorities that the petition for
removal, which, as will appear, presented the only definite federal
question, was rightfully denied.
Thereupon the defendant filed an answer containing several
defenses -- a claim of title under and by virtue of a grant made in
the year 1767, by the government of Spain to Joaquin Galan; a
decree of the district court of Webb county on March 13, 1872, in a
suit for confirmation of title, wherein Daniel Ruggles, claiming to
be the owner of the grant to
Page 202 U. S. 508
Galan, was plaintiff and the State of Texas defendant,
prosecuted under and by virtue of an Act of the Legislature of
Texas approved February 11, 1860; a confirmation of this decree by
an Act of the Legislature of Texas of April 4, 1881; title by
adverse possession under claim of right and title for a period of
more than ninety-six years; title by estoppel, in that the State of
Texas was estopped by long acquiescence from questioning the decree
of the District Court of Webb County of March 13, 1872; title under
and by virtue of a decree of the District Court of Webb County,
Texas, rendered on January 8, 1862, and a claim of outstanding
title in the settlers of the Town of Palafox, or their heirs or
assigns, as shown by the recitals in the last-mentioned decree.
The case was tried by the court without a jury, which rendered a
judgment in favor of the state. From this judgment the defendant
prosecuted an appeal to the state court of civil appeals, which
reversed the judgment of the trial court and ordered a judgment for
the defendant. This judgment was taken to the supreme court of the
state, which reversed the judgment of the court of civil appeals
and, sustaining the decision of the trial court, entered a judgment
in favor of the state.
It is obvious that most of the questions raised by the defenses
are of a purely local nature, involving no federal right. Some
explanation may, however, be proper in reference to the decrees of
the Webb County District Court. The record is somewhat obscure, but
we take the facts to be as stated in the opinions of the court of
civil appeals and the supreme court. Under the law of 1860, Daniel
Ruggles instituted two suits in the District Court of Webb County
for confirmation of title to separate tracts of land, one
designated as the Palafox and the other as the Balconcitas tract.
One suit came to trial on January 8, 1862, and resulted in a decree
in favor of Ruggles and a confirmation of his title to a large
tract of land. In 1869, a motion was filed by him seeking a
construction and modification of this decree of January 8, 1862,
but it was
Page 202 U. S. 509
overruled. In 1871, the other suit was dismissed for want of
jurisdiction. The same year, he made a motion to redocket the two
cases, which was granted, and at the same time he filed a petition
in which he sought to have the decree of 1862 set aside and a
confirmation of title of both the tracts, but, on March 9, 1872,
these motions were refused. On March 12, 1872, he filed in the same
court another petition seeking to set aside the decree of January
8, 1862. This motion was sustained. On March 13, 1872, Ruggles
filed an amended petition in which he sought confirmation of title
to both tracts, and upon this a decree was the same day entered in
favor of Ruggles. The land which was covered by the decree of 1862
was patented to Ruggles, and the state has not since questioned the
validity of the decree or Ruggles' title. The land in controversy
here is located entirely in that portion of the grant which the
court, in its decree of 1862, declined to confirm in favor of
Ruggles, but is included in that which purports to have been
confirmed by the decree of March 13, 1872. The suits originally
brought by Ruggles were authorized by special statute, to-wit, the
act of the legislature passed February 11, 1860. That act expired
by its own limitations in 1865, and, as the supreme court of the
state held, the district court had thereafter no power to set aside
the decree of January 8, 1862, or to enter the decree of March 13,
1872. The construction of the state statute and the power which it
gave to the District Court of Webb County, and the length of time
for the exercise of that power, are matters arising under state
law, and the decision of the supreme court of the state is
conclusive upon us and presents no question arising under the
federal Constitution. So the alleged confirmation of the decree of
March 13, 1872, by an act of the legislature of 1881 is also a
question arising in the construction of a state statute. The
supreme court held that it applied only to those decrees which were
rendered while the Webb County District Court had authority under
the special statute, and did not apply to those which that court
assumed to render thereafter.
Page 202 U. S. 510
So far as any defense is based upon the grant made by the
government of Spain in the year 1767, it involves no question of a
federal nature. Neither the validity nor construction of any treaty
of the United States nor the validity of the grant was challenged.
Indeed, it may be observed that, during the progress of the case in
the several state courts, no appeal was made to the federal
Constitution, or to any acts of Congress save the one providing for
the removal of cases from state to federal courts.
It is apparent that the only federal question which was
presented, to-wit, the right of removal, was correctly decided, and
therefore the judgment of the district court is