United States v. O'Donnell
303 U.S. 501 (1938)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. O'Donnell, 303 U.S. 501 (1938)

United States v. O'Donnell

No. 487

Argued March 1, 2, 1938

Decided March 28, 1938

303 U.S. 501


In a suit to quiet its title to a part of Mare Island in San Francisco Bay, within the territory acquired from Mexico by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States claimed under a deed to it in 1853 by Bissell and Aspinwall, who derived their title through a grant in 1841 by Alvarado, Mexican Governor of California, to Castro. Respondents claimed under a patent issued by California to Darlington in 1857, purporting to convey the land in question as a part of the swamp or overflowed lands granted to the State

Page 303 U. S. 502

by the Swamp Lands Act of 1850. The Board of Land Commissioners, created by the Mexican Claims Act of 1851, had confirmed the title of Bissell and Aspin all in 1855. On appeal, the District Court had affirmed in 1857, although its decree was unsigned until 1930, when a nunc pro tunc decree was entered. While the proceedings before the Board were pending, Bissell and Aspinwall had conveyed by deed to the United States.


1. This Court accepts a concurrent finding by the District Court and the Circuit Court of Appeals that the lands in question were within the description of the deed to Castro. P. 303 U. S. 508.

2. An adjudication in a mandamus proceeding brought by the respondents, that it was the duty of the Secretary of the Interior, under the Swamp Lands Act and the Act of July 23, 1866, to issue a patent of the lands here involved to California, and the issuance of it, are not decisive of any issue in this suit, and it is open to the United States to show that the lands did not pass under the Swamp Lands Act. P. 303 U. S. 508.

3. The effect of the Swamp Lands Act was to invest the State in praesenti with an inchoate title to those lands falling within the description of the Act, to be perfected as of the date of the Act when the land should be identified and the patent issued. It did not include lands which the Government had not acquired, nor did it free any of them of obligations to which they were subject when it was passed. P. 303 U. S. 509.

4. Swamp lands in California, being a part of the territory annexed by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, were subject to all obligations imposed upon the United States with respect to them under the principles of international law by reason of the annexation, and by treaty obligations. P. 303 U. S. 510.

5. The obligations assumed by the United States in respect of the territory annexed by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo antedated, and were superior to, any rights derived from the United States under the Swamp Lands Act. P. 303 U. S. 511.

6. Claimants under the United States by virtue of statutes disposing of its public lands in California are not "third persons" within the meaning of the Mexican Claims Act, and confirmation under that Act of claims under Mexican grants is conclusive upon all claiming under the United States. P. 303 U. S. 512.

7. Confirmation of titles under the Mexican Claims Act is as effective and conclusive upon patents under the Swamp Lands Act as if made at the date of the Treaty. P. 303 U. S. 513.

Page 303 U. S. 503

8. The decree of the Board of Land Commissioners confirming the title of Bissell and Aspinwall became final and conclusive within the provisions of the Mexican Claims Act, irrespective of the validity of the District Court's decree of affirmance. P. 303 U. S. 513.

9. Proceedings under the Mexican Claims Act were not required to be adversary, and that they were not does not affect the validity of a determination by the Board. P. 303 U. S. 524.

10. The acquisition by the United States of the title of Bissell and Aspinwall, while their claim was pending before the Board of Land Commissioners, did not involve, by reason of the State's interest under the Swamp Lands Act, any breach of equitable duty to California. Pp. 303 U. S. 514 et seq.

11. There is no basis in the record for the conclusion that confirmation of the Bissell and Aspinwall claim by the Board of Land Commissioners was procured or allowed to stand through an fraud, concealment, bad faith, or breach of duty to California by the Government or its officers. P. 303 U. S. 523.

12. The decree of the Board of Land Commissioners stands as a valid administrative determination of the validity of the Castro grant, undisturbed by any subsequent judicial proceedings, and is conclusive upon California and those claiming under her. P. 303 U. S. 524.

91 F.2d 14 reversed.

Certiorari, 302 U.S. 677, to review a decree reversing a decree of the District Court, which had held in favor of the United States in a suit brought by it to quiet title.

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