1. Where a construction of a state statute affecting title to
real estate has been repeatedly determined by decisions of the
state courts and thus established as a rule of property in the
state, the federal courts will follow those decisions without
inquiring into the justice and sufficiency of the rule as an
original proposition. P. 268 U. S.
2. Petitioners claimed title to land in Mississippi under a
patent issued to a corporation under an act of the state
legislature incorporating it and providing that the corporation
should, within 60 days after the passage of the act, file with the
Secretary of State a bond in a specified amount "with two or more
good securities," and that, upon approval and filing of the bond,
patents should be issued, upon demand of the company, signed by the
Governor and countersigned by the Secretary of State. The state
supreme court having repeatedly decided that a patent so issued was
void because the bond filed and approved was executed by
individuals only, and not by the corporation, and was therefore not
a compliance with the statute, held
that the rule thus
established should be followed in a case arising in the federal
court. P. 268 U. S.
296 F. 442 affirmed.
Page 268 U. S. 459
Certiorari to a decree of the circuit court of appeals which
affirmed a decree rendered by the district court for the
respondents in consolidated suits to quiet title brought by the
MR. JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioners, complainants below, filed four bills in equity in
the United States District Court for the Southern District of
Mississippi against four different defendants to remove cloud on
title of four plots of land separately described in the several
bills. The suits thus brought were consolidated and tried by the
district court as one upon an agreed statement of facts and
documentary evidence, and a decree was rendered adjudging that the
title to the lands in question was in defendants and denying the
prayer of the bill. On appeal to the circuit court of appeals, the
decree was affirmed. 296 F. 442.
The lands in question were acquired by the State of Mississippi
from the United States under Act of Congress approved September 28,
1850. Petitioner's title depends upon the validity of a patent
issued June 27, 1871, by the State of Mississippi to the Pearl
River Improvement & Navigation Company, a corporation from
which petitioners derived their title by mesne conveyances. The
title set up by the defendants was acquired by mesne conveyances
under a second patent describing the same lands, issued by the
State of Mississippi to Mitchell December 7, 1883. The Mississippi
Legislature, by Act approved April 8, 1871, incorporated the Pearl
River Improvement & Navigation Company and provided that that
Page 268 U. S. 460
should, "within sixty days after the passage of this Act, file
in the office of the Secretary of State a bond in the sum of
$50,000, with two or more good securities," and that, upon the
approval and filing of the bond,
"the said Secretary of State shall from time to time as demanded
by said company make out a patent or patents which shall be signed
by the Governor and countersigned by the Secretary of State, which
patents shall vest the fee simple in said lands in this
Within 60 days, the company filed a bond, executed by four
individuals only, in the sum specified, and conditioned on the
performance by the company of all duties imposed on it by the Act
of April 8, 1871. The bond was approved by the Governor, and the
patent of June 27, 1871, describing the lands referred to in that
statute, including the lands involved in this litigation, was
issued, signed by the Governor, and countersigned by the Secretary
The validity of petitioner's title depends upon the
determination of the question whether the bond filed by the company
was a compliance with the provisions of the statute so as to render
operative the patent issued by the officials of the state to the
company as a valid conveyance of the fee of the lands in question.
Whether or not the bond was a compliance with the statute and the
legal effect of the patent, so far as other lands embraced within
its description are concerned, are points which have been several
times passed upon by the state courts of Mississippi and once
before the present litigation, were considered by the United States
Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
In Hardy v. Hartman,
65 Miss. 504, which was an action
of ejectment, the court, although referring to the fact that it did
not appear from the record that any patent signed by the Governor
and countersigned by the Secretary of State was ever issued to the
company for the land in question, nevertheless rested its decision
Page 268 U. S. 461
holding that the Act of April 8, 1871, required, as a condition
precedent to the validity of any patent issued pursuant to it, that
the company should file in the office of the Secretary of State its
own bond in the amount specified; that, by filing a bond executed
by individuals, it had not complied with the condition, and the
patent was accordingly void.
In Southern Pine Co. v. Hall,
105 F. 84,, decided in
1900, suit was brought, as in the present case, to quiet the title
of a plaintiff claiming under the company. In that case, the
Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the true
meaning of the statute, confirmed by the contemporary construction
of it on the part of the Governor and the Secretary of State by
their action in issuing the patent, was that the company should
file a bond in the specified amount insuring an indemnity to the
state in that amount. Having complied with the requirements of the
statute by filing the approved bond of four solvent individuals,
residents of the state, the patent issued to the company by the
State of Mississippi was held to be valid and to pass a fee to the
In Becker v. Columbia Bank,
112 Miss. 819, decided in
1917, which was also a suit to quiet title of lands claimed under
the patent of 1871, the Supreme Court of Mississippi reaffirmed the
principle of its decision in Hardy v. Hartman, supra,
saying that that "decision established a rule of property which
should not now be disturbed," and that the failure to comply with
the requirements of the statute as interpreted in Hardy v.
rendered the purported patent to the company
void and that the patentee took no title under it.
In Edward Hines Yellow Pine Trustees v. State ex rel.
134 Miss. 533, the Supreme Court of Mississippi again
affirmed, and adopted the view laid down in Hardy v. Hartman,
saying at p. 534:
"We are not here concerned with the correctness of the decision
in Hardy v. Hartman, supra,
and the rule there
Page 268 U. S. 462
applied, whether correct or not, to titles derived through
patents issued to the Pearl River Improvement & Navigation
Company has become a rule of property, and will not be now departed
The validity of titles derived under the same patent to the
company appears to have been upheld in the case of Hines et
al., Trustees v. Martin
by the Supreme Court of Mississippi,
decided without opinion February 4, 1924, 00 So. 825.
In all these cases, the question ruled upon was whether the bond
filed by the company complied with the requirements of the statute
and whether the filing of a bond satisfying those requirements was
a condition precedent to the execution of the patent and the
vesting of title in the patentee. An answer to these questions
involved an interpretation of the state statute and the application
of it, as interpreted, as a rule of property determinative of
rights in titles to land within the state. Both the meaning of
statutes of a state and the rules of the unwritten law of a state
affecting property within the state are peculiarly questions of
local law, to be ascertained and established by the state courts.
For that reason federal courts ordinarily hold themselves bound by
the interpretation of state statutes by the state courts.
Walker v. State Harbor
17 Wall. 648; Barrett v.
Holmes, 102 U. S. 651
Geekie v. Kirby Carpenter Co., 106 U.
, 106 U. S. 385
McArthur v. Scott, 113 U. S. 340
Schley v. Pullman Car Co., 120 U.
, 120 U. S. 580
Bucher v. Cheshire R. Co., 125 U.
; Ridings v. Johnson, 128 U.
, 128 U. S. 224
Heath v. Wallace, 138 U. S. 573
Bauserman v. Blunt, 147 U. S. 647
Balkam v. Woodstock Iron Co., 154 U.
; American Land Co. v. Zeiss,
219 U. S. 47
Quong Ham Wah Co. v. Industrial Accident Commission,
255 U. S. 445
North Laramie Land Co. v. Hoffman, ante,
p. 268 U. S. 276
follow rules of property declared by state courts. Jackson ex
dem. St. John v. Chew,
Page 268 U. S. 463
12 Wheat. 153; Suydam v.
24 How. 427; Williams
13 Wall. 306; League v.
Egery et al.,
24 How. 264; Smith Purifier v.
McGroarty, 136 U. S. 237
Warburton v. Wright, 176 U. S. 484
When questions affected by the interpretation of a state statute
or a local rule of property arise in a federal court, that court
has the same authority and duty to decide them as it has to decide
any other questions which arise in a cause, and where state
decisions are in conflict or do not clearly establish what the
local law is, the federal court may exercise an independent
judgment and determine the law of the case. See Pease v.
18 How. 595, 59 U. S. 598
Burgess v. Seligman, 107 U. S. 20
Barber v. Pittsburgh, etc., Railway, 166 U. S.
, 166 U. S. 99
Kuhn v. Fairmont Coal Co., 215 U.
. This Court has refused to follow a rule
established only by single state decision rendered after the rights
involved in the case in the federal court accrued, Kuhn v.
Fairmont Coal Co., supra,
or a single decision when not
satisfied that it is conclusive evidence of the state law,
Barber v. Pittsburgh, Ft. Wayne & Chicago Railway Co.,
166 U. S. 83
166 U. S. 99
Burgess v. Seligman, supra,
this Court refused to follow
decisions of the state court conflicting with a previous decision
of the United States Circuit Court, in that case, with respect to
the interpretation of a state statute, fixing the liability of
stockholders of a corporation organized under the laws of the state
as applied to a stockholder who was a nonresident of the state and
who acquired his interest in the stock outside of the state. But
where the rule is one affecting title to real estate within the
state and has been repeatedly determined by decisions of state
courts so that it is established as the law of the state, there has
been no departure from the rule that the federal courts will follow
the decisions of the state courts. Jackson ex dem. St. John v.
Chew, supra; 31 U. S. Neal,
6 Pet. 291; Suydam
Page 268 U. S. 464
24 How. 427; Walker v.
State Harbor Commission,
17 Wall. 648; Barrett
v. Holmes, 102 U. S. 651
this is the rule even though the state rule is not approved.
Walker v. State Harbor Commissioner, supra; Bucher v. Cheshire
Railway Co., 125 U. S. 555
Balkam v. Woodstock Iron Co., 154 U.
. To avoid the uncertainty and injustice which
"the discordant elements of a substantial right which is
protected in one set of courts and denied in the other, with no
superior to decide which is right"
(Brine v. Insurance Co., 96 U. S.
), this Court has not hesitated, when there has been
a conflict of decision between it and the state courts affecting a
rule of property within the state, to overrule its own decisions
and to follow the state decisions once it has become evident that
they have established a "rule of property" as the settled law of
the state. Green v. Lessee of
6 Pet. 291; Suydam v. Williamson, supra;
Fairfield v. County of Gallatin, 100 U. S.
; Robert v. Lewis, 153 U.
, 153 U. S. 376
and see Bauserman v. Blunt, supra,
overruling a decision
of the circuit court antedating a conflicting decision of the state
court. We are therefore constrained in the present case to accept
the view of the state courts as announced by them without
inquiring, as an original proposition, into the justice and
sufficiency of the rule which we follow.
In the argument before this Court, petitioners relied upon the
effect of chapter 114 of the Laws of Mississippi of 1873 as
validating his title. This was a private Act of the Legislature of
Mississippi which relieved the Pearl River Improvement &
Navigation Company from some of its obligations under the Act of
April 8, 1871, upon certain payments to be made by it to the state
treasury, and provided that
"All acts, deeds and proceedings whatever of the Pearl River
Improvement and Navigation Company be and the same are hereby
legalized, ratified, and confirmed.
Page 268 U. S. 465
This appears to be the first occasion in the course of this
litigation on which the existence of this statute, and the claim of
right under it by the petitioner, have been brought to the
attention of the court, although it appears to have been before the
state court, but not commented on, in Becker v. Columbia Bank,
and Hines Yellow Pine Trustee v. Martin,
It is not referred to in the record here. By the agreed
statement of facts, the Act of April 8, 1871, and the patent issued
to the company are the only suggested source of title in the
petitioners. No reference is made to the Act of 1873 in the
assignments of error. The record gives no information as to the
existing situation at the time it was passed, as to what lands had
been conveyed by the company, or what lands retained. We are left
uninformed as to whether the company made the payments stipulated
for in the statute. This Court is a court of review, and it will
not consider questions not raised or disclosed by the record
brought to it for a review and which were not considered by the
courts below. McClellan v. Carland, 217 U. S.
, 217 U. S. 283
etc., Ltd. v. Tax Commission, 266 U. S.
, 266 U. S. 285
. And see Davis
v. Currie, 266 U. S. 182
, and United
States Fidelity & Guaranty Co. v. Woolridge, ante,
268 U. S. 234
In these circumstances, the petitioners cannot be heard to claim
anything in these cases under the Act of 1873, and beyond this, we
decide nothing in respect to it.
Judgment of the circuit court of appeals is