United States v. Sepulveda
Annotate this Case
68 U.S. 104 (1863)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Sepulveda, 68 U.S. 1 Wall. 104 104 (1863)
United States v. Sepulveda
68 U.S. (1 Wall.) 104
1. Previous to the Act of Congress of June 14, 1860, the District Courts of the United States for California had no jurisdiction to supervise and correct the action of the Surveyor-General of California in surveying claims under Mexican grants confirmed by the decree of the Board of Commissioners created by the Act of March 3, 1851. They possessed no control over the execution of the decrees of the board.
2. Where Mexican grants were by metes and bounds, or where proceedings before Mexican authorities, such as took place upon a juridical delivery of possession, had established the boundaries, or where, from any other source pending the proceedings for a confirmation, the boundaries were indicated, it was proper for the board to declare them in its decree.
3. Where a survey, made by the Surveyor-General of California, of a confirmed claim under a Mexican grant, previous to the Act of June 14, 1869, does not conform the decree of the Board of Commissioners, the remedy must be sought from the Commissioner of the General Land Office before the patent issues, and not in the district court.
By Acts of Congress, of March 3, 1851, [Footnote 1] and of August 31, 1852, [Footnote 2] the District Courts of the United States for California, were authorized, on appeal from the Board of Land Commissioners -- which body was empowered to settle any claim to land in California that any person might set up by virtue of any right or title derived from the Spanish or Mexican government -- "to decide upon the validity of the said claim." One of the statutes [Footnote 3] proceeded to enact for
"all claims finally confirmed by the said commissioners, a patent shall issue to the claimant upon his presenting to the land office an authentic certificate of such confirmation, and a plat or survey of the said land duly approved by the Surveyor General of California, whose duty,"
the act goes on to say, "it shall be to cause all private claims which shall be finally confirmed, to be accurately surveyed and to furnish plats of the same." By a third act -- the Act of June 14, 1860 [Footnote 4] -- new powers were given to the District Courts of California, and they now received authority to order into court "any survey" of private claims, and to decide on it.
But this act did not in any express terms, perhaps in no terms at all, extend to surveys made prior to its passage, except they happened to be
"surveys previously made and approved by the Surveyor General, which had been at the passage of the act returned into the district court, or in relation to which proceedings were then pending for the purpose of contesting or reforming the same,"
a class of surveys within which the present one did not come.
In 1852, Sepulveda and others presented their claim to the board of commissioners for confirmation of a grant which had been made to them under the Mexican government. In 1853, the board adjudged the claim to be valid, and entered a decree for its confirmation. The case having been removed by appeal to the district court, the attorney-general gave notice that the appeal would not be prosecuted; and upon motion of the district attorney, in pursuance of such notice, the court ordered that the appeal be dismissed, and that the claimants have leave to proceed upon the decree of the commissioners as upon a final decree. The land, the claim to which was thus confirmed, was now surveyed by direction of the Surveyor General of the United States for California (as one of the statutes already mentioned directs that in such case it may be), and in 1859 the survey was approved by him. In 1860, the district court, upon the suggestion of the district attorney that the survey did not conform to the final decree, ordered the Surveyor General to return into court (as the statute of 1860 plainly gave the court authority to do by a certain class of surveys) a plat of this survey. The court, on hearing, held that there was error in part of the survey, and decreed that certain corrections should be made by a new survey. From this decree the case was now brought here by appeal, the principal question raised by the appeal being, of course, the right of the district court, under the Act of June 14, 1860, to order the correction of a survey made prior to the passage of the act.