1. Owners of a registered title to land in the Canal Zone who
are in possession and have maintained it for the period of
extraordinary prescription (Civ.Code, Art. 2531) cannot be
disseized and deprived of the property by the mere registration of
what purports to be a conveyance by a stranger to the title and
subsequent lapse of the ten-year period of ordinary
2. Reasons for following local decisions in Porto Rico, with its
own peculiar system of law, do not apply in the same degree to the
Panama Code in its present application to the Canal Zone. P.
263 U. S.
3. A decision of the circuit court of appeals reversing a decree
of the Court of the Canal Zone held
on second appeal to the former court or on review of
its final decision here. P. 263 U. S.
4. Failure of the court to order notice to unknown claimants in
a suit over title to land will not avail a plaintiff who fails to
establish any title or interest in himself. P. 263 U. S.
Appeal from a decree from the circuit court of appeals affirming
a decree recovered by the defendant, here appellee, in a suit
brought by the appellants in the United States Court for the Canal
Zone to confirm their title to a tract of land and, later, to the
money for which it was expropriated by the United States.
Page 263 U. S. 400
MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is a suit by the heirs and representatives of Domingo Diaz
against Patterson alleging their possession of an estate known as
Lo de Caceres in the Canal Zone and an adverse claim set up by
Patterson. It prays that the petitioners may be confirmed in their
title and, by an amendment, that all parties claiming any interest
in the land may be summoned to appear in this case, and that the
petitioners may be declared entitled to a fund deposited in the
registry of the court, since this suit was begun, upon
expropriation of the land by the United States. At the first trial,
the petitioners obtained a decree, but, as material questions of
fact had not been decided by the Judge, the decree was reversed by
the circuit court of appeals. Patterson v. Diaz,
899. At the second trial, there was a careful finding of facts and
a decree for the defendant Patterson, which was affirmed by the
circuit court of appeals, 281 F. 394. The petitioners appealed to
this Court, and contend that they have been denied rights conferred
upon them by the laws of the Canal Zone.
The trial Court and the circuit court of appeals have found that
the defendant has established recorded title to the land by an
unbroken chain from the original grant from the Spanish Crown in
1695, and also that he and his predecessors have held open,
uninterrupted, and notorious possession of the same since 1790.
These findings we shall not disturb. The facts relied upon by the
petitioners are that there was a sale in 1832, afterwards set
aside, purporting to convey the land; that the heir of the grantee
made a simulated sale to herself, and that this
Page 263 U. S. 401
fictitious title was recorded in 1895, although none of the
grantees ever was in possession at any time, or brought any action
until 1917, in which year the present suit was begun. The ground of
this extraordinary claim is found in Art. 2526 of the Civil Code of
"The acquisitive prescription of real property or of real rights
constituted therein does not obtain against a recorded title except
by virtue of another recorded title, nor shall it begin to run but
from the date of the record of the second."
The petitioners contend that the effect of this article is that
the mere recording of what purports to be a conveyance by a
stranger to the title who is and remains out of possession will
give to the grantee a good title by what is called the ordinary
prescription of ten years, Art. 2529, notwithstanding the
requirement of regular uninterrupted possession for that result in
Art. 2528. It is argued that constructive possession follows the
record, and is enough, and it is supposed that this transaction
will defeat the previous registered possession and title by
ordinary prescription although, by Art. 789, that possession does
not cease until the record is cancelled by consent, or by a
transfer from the registered possessor, or by a judicial decree. It
is supposed also to destroy a title complete by the extraordinary
prescription of thirty years to which "no title whatsoever is
necessary." Article 2531.
The effect attributed to Art. 2526 depends in part upon its
operation after the Canal Zone was taken over by the United States,
as the ten years had not run when the Zone was transferred. It
would be extreme to construe the article as meaning something
different now from what it would have meant before the transfer.
Taking it simply as a law of the United States, we should see no
reason for attributing to it the unjust operation contended for. It
is not necessary to consider what such a registration might do in
the way of interrupting a prescription
Page 263 U. S. 402
not yet complete, but we see no sufficient ground for converting
it into a disseizing when the previous owners maintain their
possession undisturbed under a registered title in favor of which
prescription already has run. If we recur to the origin of the law,
we do not believe that a different view would be taken in Panama.
But the considerations that have been urged for following local
decisions in places like Porto Rico having their own peculiar
system do not apply in the same degree to a code that, in its
present application, governs a predominantly American population
and derives its force from Congress and the President. Panama
R. Co. v. Bosse, 249 U. S. 41
opinion of the circuit court of appeals on the first appeal was not
or conclusive here, as the defendant seems to
suppose, Remington v. Central Pacific R. Co., 198 U. S.
, 198 U. S.
-100; Messinger v. Anderson, 225 U.
, 225 U. S. 444
but we are of opinion that, upon the question before us, it was
The petitioners attempt to fortify their case by the absence of
an order calling upon the rest of the world to come in and assert
whatever claim anyone may have to the fund in the registry of the
Court. The purpose of the suit was to remove Patterson's claim to
the land. He alone was made a party. It does not concern the
petitioners, after their failure to establish either possession or
title, whether some third person has a better title than Patterson
or what precautions the Court shall take before giving him the fund
that has taken the place of the land.
The record is at once defective and unduly prolix, and this and
other considerations perhaps might have warranted a dismissal of
the appeal. But, as both parties desired a decision upon the merits
and as the costs will fall upon the appellants, we have thought it
better to indicate our opinion that the reasons for the appeal are
untenable, and that the decree should be affirmed.