Cotton v. United States,
52 U.S. 229 (1850)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Cotton v. United States, 52 U.S. 11 How. 229 229 (1850)

Cotton v. United States

52 U.S. (11 How.) 229


The United States has a right to bring an action of trespass quare clausum fregit against a person for cutting and carrying away trees from the public lands.

This was an action of trespass quare clausum fregit brought by the United States for cutting trees upon the public lands, commenced in the Superior Court of West Florida in 1844, to which the defendant pleaded not guilty on 26 March, 1845. The cause remained pending in said court until 15 January 1848, when, in pursuance of the Act of 22 February, 1847, ch. 17, § 8, it was transferred to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida and was ordered to stand for trial at the ensuing March term.

At that term, the defendant appeared, and on leave filed a

Page 52 U. S. 230

demurrer to the declaration, which, after argument, was overruled and the cause set down for trial on the plea of not guilty.

The cause having come on, the defendant requested the court to charge the jury --

1st. That the only remedy for the United States for cutting pine timber on the public lands was by indictment.

2d. That the United States has no common law remedy for private wrongs.

3d. That the right of the United States to bring this action must be derived either from an act of Congress or from the law of some state in which the contract was made by which it acquired the property on which this trespass is alleged to have been committed.

4th. These lands were acquired by treaty from Spain, and that the United States has no common law remedy for trespass committed thereon. And that, Congress not having authorized the exercise of this remedy, the plaintiff ought not to recover any damages.

Which charge the court refused to give, whereupon the defendant excepted.

The jury found the defendant guilty of the trespass and assessed the damages of the United States at $362.50, for which amount, and $122.22 costs, judgment was entered up. A motion in arrest of judgment was overruled.

The Supreme Court having, at the last term, decided that it had jurisdiction in cases like this under the Act of 27 February, 1847, without reference to the amount in controversy, the case now came before the Court on the points raised by the bill of exceptions. 50 U. S. 9 How. 579.

Page 52 U. S. 231

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