Greer v. Mezes,
65 U.S. 268 (1860)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Greer v. Mezes, 65 U.S. 24 How. 268 268 (1860)

Greer v. Mezes

65 U.S. (24 How.) 268


Where the plaintiffs in ejectment showed a legal title to land in California under a patent from the United States and a survey under their authority, it was proper in the court below to refuse to admit testimony offered by the defendants to show that the survey was incorrect, the defendants claiming under a merely equitable title.

Where the defendants pleaded severally the general issue, it was proper for the court below to instruct the jury to bring in a general verdict against all those who had not shown that they were in possession of separate parcels.

The mode of proceeding by petition does not alter the law of ejectment under the old system of pleading.

Page 65 U. S. 269

It was an action of ejectment brought, by way of petition, by the defendants in error against Greer and twenty-nine other persons. The plaintiffs below represented the interests of Arguello, whose title was confirmed by this Court in 59 U. S. 18 How. 539, to that portion of the land described in the petition, bounded as follows, viz., on the south by the Arroyo or Creek of San Francisquito, on the north by the Creek San Mateo, on the east by the estuary or waters of the Bay of San Francisco, and on the west by the eastern borders of the valley known as Canada de Raymundo, said land being of the extent of four leagues in length and one in breadth, be the same more or less.

A survey of this land was made by John C. Hays, United States Surveyor General for California, who returned the field notes with a map to the Commissioner of the General Land Office on the 19th of December, 1856. This survey and map included 35,240 acres.

A patent was issued on the 2d of October, 1857, which followed the field notes, and granted the land as follows:

To Maria de la Solidad Ortega de Arguello, one equal undivided half.

To Jose Ramon Arguello, one equal undivided fourth part.

To Luis Antonio Arguello, one equal undivided tenth part.

To S. M. Mezes, three equal undivided twentieth parts thereof, but with the stipulation that in virtue of the fifteenth section of 3 March, 1851, the confirmation of this said claim and this patent shall not affect the rights of third persons.

At July Term, 1858, of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Districts of California, in and for the Northern District, this ejectment was brought, at first in the name of Mezes alone, the bill having been filed on March 16, 1858. Pleas were put in to the jurisdiction upon the ground that Mezes was not an alien nor a subject of the Queen of Spain, as he had alleged. Afterwards, in October, 1858, an amended bill was filed, making parties of those persons who are named as defendants in

Page 65 U. S. 270

error in the caption of this report, Luis Antonio Arguello having conveyed his interest to Mezes.

In November, 1858, the cause came on for trial. The principal points in that court and in this arose upon the rulings of the court upon the admission of evidence, under the following circumstances:

John Greer, the principal defendant, had married Maria Louisa, the widow of John Coppinger, and in behalf of his wife and of Manuela Coppinger, an infant child of John, had petitioned for the confirmation of a grant alleged to have been made to John Coppinger by Alvarado on 3d of August, 1840, containing twenty-seven square miles of territory.

On 23 November, 1853, the board of commissioners decided that the claim was valid and decreed that it should be confirmed.

On the 8th of January, 1855, Mr. Cushing, Attorney General, filed a notice that the United States would appeal to the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of California.

On the 14th January, 1856, the district judge, Ogden Hoffman, decreed that said decision be and the same is hereby affirmed. And it is further ordered, adjudged, and decreed, that the claim of the appellees be confirmed to the tract of land known as "Canada de Raymundo," being the same now occupied by the said appellees, and bounded and described as follows, viz., bordering to the west on the Sierra Morena, to the east on the rancho de las Pulgas, to the south on the rancho of Maximo Martinez, and to the north on the Great Lagune. Reference for further description to be had to a map, which is made a part of document marked C, and filed in this case.

In November, 1856, in consequence of a notice by the Attorney General that no appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States would be taken, judge Hoffman decreed that the claimants have leave to proceed under the decree of that court heretofore rendered in their favor as on final decree.

What other steps were taken by Greer, the record did not show. As his title stood at the time of the trial, it appeared to be an equitable title only, the decision of the board of commissioners

Page 65 U. S. 271

not passing the legal title, and there having been no subsequent survey and patent.

Upon the trial below, the plaintiffs made out their title by the patent and map, and proved that some of the defendants were residing upon the land.

The defendants then offered to prove that the grant to Coppinger, and the confirmation thereof, embraced all the land in controversy in this suit, and that all the defendants at the time of the institution of this suit were in possession of such portions of the premises as were occupied by them under the grant to Coppinger, and deriving title therefrom.

The defendants further offered to prove that the survey and patent given in evidence by the plaintiffs were erroneous in respect to the location of the western line of the Las Pulgas ranch, and that if said line was properly located, according to the grant to Luis Arguello's heirs, or according to the decree of the Supreme Court of the United States confirming said claim, it would not embrace any of the land occupied by the defendants, or either of them.

The defendants further offered to prove that the western line of the Las Pulgas ranch, as established by the patent and survey given in evidence by the plaintiffs, does not stop at the eastern borders of the Canada de Raymundo, but embraces a large portion of the level valley land of the said canada, occupied and held by the defendants, or some of them, under the grant to Coppinger.

All of which proof, both oral and documentary, was objected to by the plaintiffs, and ruled out by the court as incompetent, to which ruling the defendants duly excepted at the time.

The statement of this case has occupied so much room that but little space is left for the arguments of counsel in this Court.

Page 65 U. S. 273

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