United States v. Union Pacific R. Co.,
353 U.S. 112 (1957)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Union Pacific R. Co., 353 U.S. 112 (1957)

United States v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

No. 97

Argued January 23, 1957

Decided April 8, 1957

353 U.S. 112


By § 2 of the Act of July 1, 1862, 12 Stat. 489, the United States granted to a railroad company "the right of way through the public lands . . . for the construction of said railroad and telegraph line." By § 3, it granted to the railroad company every alternate section of "public land" on each side of the railroad, and provided that "all mineral lands shall be excepted from the operation of this act."

Held: the grant by § 2 of the "right of way" through the public lands did not convey to the railroad company the title to oil and gas deposits underlying the right of way, and the railroad company may not remove or dispose of such deposits. Pp. 353 U. S. 113-120.

(a) On the face of the Act, it would seem that the use of the words "right of way" describes a lesser interest than the grant of "public land." P. 353 U. S. 114.

(b) The right of way was granted "for the construction of said railroad and telegraph line," and that purpose is not fulfilled when the right of way is used for other purposes. P. 353 U. S. 114.

(c) Whatever rights may have been included in the grant of a "right of way," mineral rights were excepted by reason of the proviso in § 3 excepting "mineral lands," which extends to the entire Act. Pp. 353 U. S. 114-115.

(d) The reservation of the mineral resources of these public lands for the United States was in keeping with the policy of the times. Pp. 353 U. S. 115-116.

(e) To hold that, when Congress granted only a "right of way" and reserved "all mineral lands," it nonetheless endowed the railroad company with untold riches underlying the railroad would run counter to the established rules that land grants are construed favorably to the Government, that nothing passes except what is conveyed in clear language, and that any doubts are resolved in favor of the Government, not against it. P. 353 U. S. 116.

(f) That the administrative system by which the exception of "mineral lands" was administered in relation to the lands granted by § 3 is inappropriate to the right of way granted by § 2 does not

Page 353 U. S. 113

make the exception of "mineral lands" in § 3 inapplicable to the right of way granted by § 2. Pp. 353 U. S. 116-118.

(g) Northern Pacific R. Co. v. Townsend, 190 U. S. 267; Clairmont v. United States, 225 U. S. 551; and Great Northern R. Co. v. United States, 315 U. S. 262 distinguished. Pp. 353 U. S. 118-119.

230 F.2d 690 reversed.

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