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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. San Jacinto Tin Co., 125 U.S. 273 (1888)

United States v. San Jacinto Tin Company

No. 887

Argued January 26-27, 30, 1888

Decided March 19, 1888

125 U.S. 273


A suit may be brought by the United States in any court of competent jurisdiction to set aside, cancel, or annul a patent for land issued in its name on the ground that it was obtained by fraud or mistake.

The initiation and control of such a suit lies with the Attorney General as the head of one of the Executive Departments.

But the right to bring such a suit exists only when the government has an interest in the remedy sought by reason of its interest in the land, or the fraud has been practiced on the government and operates to its prejudice, or it is under obligation to some individual to make his title good by setting aside the fraudulent patent, or the duty of the government to the public requires such action.

When it is apparent that the only purpose of bringing the suit is to benefit one of two claimants to the land, and the government has no interest in the matter, the suit must fail.

In the case before us, the alleged fraud for which it is sought to annul the patent is in the survey of a confirmed Mexican grant, on which the patent was issued, and it is charged that at the time the survey was made, the Commissioner of the General Land Office, the Surveyor General for California, the chef clerk of the latter's office, and the deputy who made the survey, were interested in the ownership of the grant, and by fraud made a false location of the land to make it contain valuable ores of tin not within its limits if fairly surveyed.

Of all the officers here charged, only Conway, the chief clerk, had any real interest in the claim, and he notified the Surveyor General of his interest and refused to have anything to do with the survey; it is nowhere shown that he in any manner influenced the location of the survey, and it is denied under oath by all who took part in making it.

The fact is much relied on that some of these officers, after the patent was issued, took shares in a joint stock corporation organized to work the

Page 125 U. S. 274

mine, but there is no proof that the shares were a voluntary gift, or were for services rendered in locating the survey, and the fairness of the purchase of these shares after the patent issued is sustained by affirmative testimony.

The fact that this survey was contested at every step by interested parties, and was returned to the surveyor's office for correction, was twice before that office and twice before the Commissioner in Washington, and finally decided after six months' consideration by the Secretary of the Interior, confirming the decision of the Land Office, affords very strong evidence of the correctness and honesty of the survey.

In the Maxwell Land Grant Case, 121 U. S. 325, we expressed ourselves fully in regard to the testimony necessary to enable a court of chancery to set aside such a solemn instrument as a patent of the United States. It was there said

"that when in a court of equity it is proposed to set aside, to annul, or to correct a written instrument for fraud or mistake in the execution of the instrument itself, the testimony on which this is done must be clear, unequivocal, and convincing, and that it cannot be done upon a bare preponderance of evidence which leaves the issue in doubt."

There is no such convincing evidence of fraud in the present case.

Bill in equity to set aside a patent of public land. Decree dismissing the bill, from which complainant appealed. The case is stated in the opinion of the Court.

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