Kissell v. St. Louis Public Schools
Annotate this Case
59 U.S. 19 (1855)
U.S. Supreme Court
Kissell v. St. Louis Public Schools, 59 U.S. 18 How. 19 19 (1855)
Kissell v. Board of President and
Directors of St. Louis Public Schools
59 U.S. (18 How.) 19
The Act of Congress passed on the 13th of June, 1812, 2 Stats. 748, reserved for the support of schools in the respective towns or villages in Missouri "all town or village lots, out-lots or common field lots included in such surveys," which the principal deputy surveyor was directed in a preceding section to make,
"which are not rightfully owned or claimed by any private individuals or held as commons belonging to such towns or villages, or that the President of the United States may not think proper to reserve for military purposes, provided that the whole quantity of land contained in the lots reserved shall not exceed one twentieth part of the whole lands included in the general survey of such town or village."
The Act of 26 May, 1824, 4 Stat. 65, directed the individual claimants to present their claims within a specified time, after which the Surveyor General was to designate and set apart the lots for the support of schools.
The Act of 27 January, 1831, 4 Stat. 435, relinquished the title of the United States in the above lots to the inhabitants of the towns, and also in the lots reserved for the support of schools, to be disposed of or regulated as the legislature of the state might direct.
In 1833, the legislature incorporated a board of commissioners of the St. Louis public schools, and in 1843 the surveyor returned a plat in conformity with the above laws.
The title to the lots thus indicated by the surveyor as school lots enured to the benefit of the school commissioners. Until the survey, the title was like other imperfect titles in Louisiana, waiting for the public authority to designate the particular land to which the title should attach.
The certificate of the surveyor is record evidence of title, and the question is not open whether or not these lots were out-lots or common-field lots, or other lots descried in the statute. The title is good until some person can show a better.
Such a better title was not found in an entry under the preemption laws of April 12, 1814, and 29th of April, 1816. The land in question was within the limits of the Town of St. Louis, and was also reserved from sale. For both reasons, it was not subject to preemption.
The ignorance of the preemptioner that the land was reserved does not prevent the entry from being void.
This case was an ejectment, brought by the board of school commissioners, to recover from Kissell the following lot in St. Louis County, namely, beginning on the west side of a street running parallel with and next east of Carondelet Avenue, called Lawrence Street or Short Street, at a point 120 feet south of the intersection of said street with Wood Street; thence westwardly in a line parallel with Wood Street 120 feet to an alley; thence southwardly along the said alley 90 feet; thence easterly in a line parallel with Wood Street 120 feet, and thence to the place of beginning.
The suit was brought in the St. Louis Circuit Court (state court), where there was a judgment for the plaintiffs. Kissell carried it to the supreme court, where the judgment was affirmed, and a writ of error brought the case up to this Court.
The school commissioners claimed title under the three acts of Congress mentioned in the headnote of the case, and the survey made in 1843, a copy of which was produced in court. Kissell claimed under an entry of fractional section 26 made by Robert Duncan on the 2d of May, 1836, by virtue of a preemption right.
Without a copy of the map, it is difficult to convey to those members of the profession who are not familiar with Missouri land cases a clear idea of the nature of this case. It may be proper, however, to mention that it contained numerous long and narrow parallelograms which, it was contended, were the only lots referred to by the statutes as out-lots &c., whilst the pieces of land designated by the surveyor as school lands were in detached pieces, scattered about in various places.