Lanfear v. Hunley
Annotate this Case
71 U.S. 204 (1866)
U.S. Supreme Court
Lanfear v. Hunley, 71 U.S. 4 Wall. 204 204 (1866)
Lanfear v. Hunley
71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 204
1. The Act of Congress of August 16, 1856, confirming claims in favor of Ambrose Lanfear, confirmed to him whatever he was entitled to by virtue of the original grant referred to in it, conceding that to have been valid. It neither enlarged nor diminished what the grant gave. It extinguished all claim on the part of the United States to the land covered by the surveys, but as regards adverse claimants, it determined nothing, and concluded no one.
2. The twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act does not warrant the review of an adjudication upon a mere question of boundary; the fact that the land to which the boundary relates is held by a title derived from an act of Congress does not change the result. If the title be admitted as recognized by the act, its location upon the land is a subject wholly within the cognizance of the state tribunals, and it is not within the power of this Court to reverse their action. In such cases, its authority is limited to errors relating to the title.
Lanfear brought suit against Hunley in a state district court of Louisiana to recover the possession of certain land occupied and claimed by Hunley as his own. The plaintiff relied on a title derived from a Spanish grant in early times to Paul Toups and subsequently confirmed, as he alleged, by acts of Congress in 1807, 1814, 1820, and with greater particularity by an Act of August 18, 1856, to the children of Toups and to a certain Daspit St. Amand through whom he claimed. Toups' petition was made in 1795, and was for
"A grant of land on the place called 'Les Coteaux de France,' at a distance of about eleven leagues from the capital and about three and a half leagues from the river on the other bank, reaching to a bayou named Crocodile, which runs parallel with the river, and the said land to be taken from the crossing of said bayou as far as the large swamp on the other side of Bayou des Cannes -- the whole forming a strip of land about sixteen or eighteen arpents wide and about two leagues and a half long -- bounded on one side by floating prairies and on the other by lakes and marshes."
The land was granted as prayed for. But there having been, as the plaintiff alleged, several bayous in that neighborhood named in former times Bayou Crocodile, though with one exception no longer now so named, the question as to the line to which the land extended -- a question of boundary alone -- became a disputed one.
The first act of Congress, that of 1807, relied on as confirming the claim as set up by Lanfear, the plaintiff, was a
general act authorizing commissioners to pass on claims to lands granted prior to 1803, limiting such grant to 2,000 acres, and leaving locations to be determined. Nor was there anything of a particular kind in the act of 1814 or that of 1820. In 1854, Hawke, a deputy surveyor of the United States, made a survey of the land granted to Toups and confirmed to his children, and so surveyed it as to cover the lands of the defendant, now in dispute, and on the 18th August, 1856, Congress, referring specifically to the survey as made by Hawke, declared the same "confirmed" in favor of Lanfear. The act contained these provisos:
"Provided that such confirmation shall only be construed into a relinquishment of title on the part of the United States, and shall not affect the rights of any third persons claiming title, either under adverse title or as preemptor; and provided further that any person or persons who are now settled on said lands or any portion of the lands embraced in the said surveys shall be entitled to have and maintain an action to test the validity of said surveys, and the extent of the said claims of the children of Paul Toups and of Daspit St. Amand, numbers 74 and 529, and to have the same determined judicially, in the same manner as though the land on which they are settled had been surveyed as public land, and they had been permitted to enter the same by way of preemption, it being the true intent and meaning of this act that no person who would be now entitled to a right of preemption to any part of said land if the same were the property of the United States shall be deprived of the same unless it is judicially decided that the surveys were made in conformity with the legal rights of said Ambrose Lanfear under the said confirmation."
The state court in which the suit was brought decided against the plaintiff, and the Supreme Court of Louisiana having confirmed that judgment, the case came here for reexamination under the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act, which provides that a final judgment in the highest court of a state where is drawn in question the validity of a treaty or statute of, or an authority exercised under the United States, and the decision is against that validity, or
where is drawn in question the construction of any statute of the United States and the decision is against the right specially set up or claimed by either party under such statute may be reexamined in this Court, enacting further however that no other error shall be assigned or regarded as ground of reversal than such as immediately respects the before-mentioned questions of validity or construction.