West v. Standard Oil Co.,
278 U.S. 200 (1929)

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U.S. Supreme Court

West v. Standard Oil Co., 278 U.S. 200 (1929)

West v. Standard Oil Company

No. 71

Argued October 24, 25, 1928

Decided January 2, 1929

278 U.S. 200


1. Authority of the Secretary of the Interior to determine whether land claimed under a school land grant to a state was known to be mineral when the survey was approved may be exercised by him directly without preliminary resort to a hearing before the local land officers. P. 278 U. S. 213.

2. Land comprised in a section numbered 36 was deeded by the State of California as part of her school land grant, her title depending under the granting act of Congress upon the mineral character of the land not having been known at the time when the survey was approved. For the purpose of determining this question purely in the interest of the United States, no claim under the federal laws having been advanced by any third party, the Land Department ordered a hearing before the local land

Page 278 U. S. 201

officer. Subsequently, a Secretary of the Interior, at the instance of those claiming under the state, himself gave a hearing, and, without specifying reasons, directed that the proceedings before the local officers be dismissed.


(1) That, assuming the Secretary had power to decide the question of known mineral character conclusively, and thus end the jurisdiction of the Department over the land, the making of this finding of fact cannot be implied in support of his order, the case being unlike that of a judgment, or an administrative act passing title, such as a patent. Pp. 278 U. S. 213-214.

(2) To ascertain whether such finding was actually made, matters leading up to the order may be examined, such as the brief of counsel filed with the Secretary, the notice of the hearing, and the stenographer's transcript of the proceedings. P. 278 U. S. 214.

(3) The function of the Secretary was to determine the question of fact whether the mineral character of the land was known when the survey was approved, to the end that, in such case, the interests of the United States might be protected, through legal proceedings if necessary. It was not his duty to adjudicate generally upon the rights of the state or her grantees, and a decision by him arrived at without deciding this question of fact, and which upheld their claim because, in his opinion, other facts not questioned had operated as a matter of law to estop the government from disputing their title, was beyond his authority. Pp. 278 U. S. 218-220.

(4) The action of the Secretary having been based upon such unauthorized grounds, his successor was not thereby precluded from reopening the original inquiry. P. 278 U. S. 220.

57 App.D.C. 329, 23 F.2d 750, reversed.

Certiorari, 276 U.S. 613, to a decree of the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia which affirmed a decree of the Supreme Court of the District enjoining the Secretary of the Interior from continuing proceedings in a local land office brought for the purpose of ascertaining whether certain land in California comprised in a school section was known to be mineral when the survey of the section was approved.

Page 278 U. S. 207

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