Carondelet v. St. Louis,
66 U.S. 179 (1861)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Carondelet v. St. Louis, 66 U.S. 1 Black 179 179 (1861)

Carondelet v. St. Louis

66 U.S. (1 Black) 179


1. Where suit is brought in a state court by a town claiming part of its common under the act of Congress passed in 1812, and the defense is that there was a survey in pursuance of the federal statute which estops the plaintiff to set up his claim, this Court has jurisdiction to reexamine the case and reverse or affirm the judgment.

2. The true construction of the act of 1812 is that it granted to the inhabitants of the towns and villages therein named, and to Carondelet among others, their lands used in common for pasturage, but reserved the authority to define the limits of those common lands by a survey.

3. A survey made by a Spanish officer under instructions from the Spanish lieutenant governor, previous to 1800, which proceeded no further than the running and marking of the northern line of the common and did not ascertain the southern or western lines, amounted to nothing.

4. Until a survey was made on the west and south, the villagers had no title on which they could sue, because their grant attached to no land, nor could a court of equity establish a boundary.

5. If no legal or binding survey was made of the Carondelet common after the act of 1812, then the title remains to this day what it was at the passage of the act -- a vague claim for six thousand acres, without boundaries and incapable of being judicially maintained.

6. But if a survey of all the lines was made in 1817 by a deputy surveyor of the United States under instructions from the Surveyor General, which was traced and remarked by another deputy in 1834, this was a binding survey, though it did not follow the northern line made by the Spanish officer.

7. It being established in the court below as matter of fact that such survey was made and approved in 1817 and 1834 and that the corporation of Carondelet had in various modes recognized, accepted, and held under it, the state court was right in rejecting the claim of the town for lands lying outside of it.

This proceeding was commenced by the City of Carondelet against the City of Saint Louis in the Saint Louis Land Court

Page 66 U. S. 180

by a petition in which the plaintiff Carondelet set forth that it was a Spanish town for more than thirty years prior to December 20, 1803, the date when that country was ceded to the United States, and the inhabitants of the town for several years before and after 1803 used and possessed a certain tract of land adjoining the town as commons; that between the years 1796 and 1800, the northern line of the Carondelet common was surveyed and marked by Don Antonio Soulard, the Spanish surveyor for the province of Upper Louisiana, pursuant to an order of the governor, which was published at the church door of Saint Louis; that this line commenced on the bluff bank of the Mississippi at the Sugar Loaf Mound, four miles south of St. Louis and two miles north of Carondelet, and running thence westwardly; that the line was distinctly marked; that the land south of it continued to be used as commons by the inhabitants of Carondelet until December 20, 1803, and was claimed by them as such until June 13, 1812, on which day it was confirmed to them as their absolute property by an act of Congress. The petition complains that Saint Louis, in fraud of the rights of Carondelet, procured in 1831 a survey to be made of the common lands of the former city, whose southern line is nearly a mile south of the Sugar Loaf Mound, whereas it should have followed the line established by the survey of Soulard and the respective possessions of the parties in Spanish times. The petition further avers that Saint Louis is in the actual possession of the land covered by the two surveys, and prays judgment that the survey of 1831, so far as it interferes with the claim of Carondelet, be set aside and the plaintiff be put in possession.

A verdict and judgment were rendered in the Land court in favor of the defendant, and the cause was removed by writ of error to the Supreme court of Missouri, where it was reversed and the record remitted, with an order for a venire facias de novo. On the second trial, the verdict and judgment were again in favor of the defendant, and another writ of error was taken to the supreme court of the state, where the judgment was affirmed. A very full report of the case as it stood in the state court will be found in 29 Mo. 527.

Page 66 U. S. 181

The Act of Congress of June 13, 1812, confirmed to the inhabitants of certain towns and villages (among others, Saint Louis and Carondelet) "the rights, titles, and claims to town or village lots, out-lots, common-field lots, and commons in, adjoining or belonging" to them, which were "inhabited, cultivated, or possessed" prior to December 20, 1803, "according to their several right or rights in common thereto." The same act made it the duty of an officer to run an out-boundary line so as to include the commons of each village. In 1816, Congress provided for a survey of all claims confirmed by previous acts. Another act, similar in its tenor and object, is dated in 1824, and in 1831 the United States relinquished all their interest in these common lands to the inhabitants of the respective towns and villages, to be held by them in full property and for their own use, according to the laws of Missouri.

Saint Louis was incorporated in 1809, and Carondelet in 1832, both by the county court. The limits of Saint Louis were described as extending southward to Sugar Loaf Mound. The bounds given to Carondelet extended 2,640 yards on the Mississippi and west to Fourth Street, but did not include the north common, or the fields, or the south commons.

In 1816, or 1817, a survey was made by Elias Rector, a deputy surveyor, under instructions from his superior, apparently in pursuance of the law passed in 1816. In 1834, Joseph C. Brown, another deputy, under similar instructions, retraced and marked the survey of Rector. Brown's work was approved by the Surveyor General. His survey ascertained and marked all the lines of the common land appurtenant to Carondelet, and found its contents to be 9,905 acres, or about 11,642 arpents. The authorities of Carondelet were present at the making of this survey by agents specially appointed for that purpose. They procured a copy of it and directed it to be framed for the benefit of the town. In 1839, they ordered all the commons north of the River des Peres to be leased. The lots on the extreme north were made fractional by Brown's line, and they were leased as fractions. A plot of these subdivisions, filed by themselves in the recorder's office, calls for the Saint Louis common on the north. In several suits between

Page 66 U. S. 182

the town and other parties, Carondelet gave Brown's survey in evidence as the basis of her title. When an attempt was made in the War Department of the United States to annul the survey, Carondelet protested and petitioned Congress to confirm their right according to the survey. The City of Saint Louis in the meantime (1836) proceeded to subdivide her common lands into lots down to the line of Brown's survey and sold them, but not without a formal notice from a committee appointed by Carondelet that the lands were claimed by the latter corporation. This suit was brought in 1855.

The Supreme Court of Missouri held that the evidence given in the Land court proved the acceptance of Brown's survey by the authorities of Carondelet; that it could not be accepted in part and rejected in part, and that such acceptance estopped Carondelet from claiming any land outside of the survey.

Page 66 U. S. 187

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