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U.S. Supreme Court

San Francisco City & County v. LeRoy, 138 U.S. 656 (1891)

San Francisco City and County v. LeRoy

No. 878

Submitted January 19, 1981

Decided March 2, 1891

138 U.S. 656


The attorney of the City and County of San Francisco has no authority to relinquish rights reserved for the benefit of the public by the Van Ness Ordinance, the city and county having succeeded to the property and become subject to the liabilities of the city.

The confirmation of the pueblo lands to San Francisco was in trust for the benefit of lot holders under grants from the pueblo, town, or City of San Francisco or other competent authority, and, as to the residue, in trust for the benefit of the inhabitants of the city, and the title of the city rests upon the decree of the court, recognizing its title to the four square leagues and establishing their boundaries, and the confirmatory acts of Congress.

The exercise of this trust, as directed by the Van Ness Ordinance, was authorized both by the legislature of the state and by act of the Congress of the United States.

That ordinance having reserved from the grant all lands then occupied or set apart for public squares, streets, and sites for school houses, city hall, and other buildings belonging to the corporation, a decree in a suit against the city and county to quiet a title derived through the ordinance should except from its operation the lands thus reserved unless the fact that there were no such reservations be proved in the case by the public records of the city and county.

The Swamp Land Act of 1850, 9 Stat. 519, c. 84, was not intended to apply to lands held by the United states, charged with equitable claims of others which the United States were bound by treaty to protect, and consequently does not affect the pueblo lands which were acquired by the pueblo before its passage.

It is doubtful whether there were any lands within the limits of the pueblo which could be considered to be tidelands, but whether there were or not, the duty and the power of the United States under the treaty to protect the claims of the City of San Francisco as successor to the pueblo were superior to any subsequently acquired rights or claims of California over tidelands.

The tidelands which passed to California on its admission were not those occasionally affected by the title, but those over which tidewater flowed so continuously as to prevent their use and occupation.

This was a suit in equity against the City and County of San Francisco, a municipal corporation of California, to quiet

Page 138 U. S. 657

the title of the plaintiffs below, the defendants in error here, to certain real property within the limits of that municipality against the alleged claim of the corporation to an adverse estate therein. The plaintiffs were citizens of France. The defendant, as a corporation of California, must be treated, for purposes of jurisdiction, as a citizen of that state.

The bill alleged that the plaintiffs were seized and possessed in fee simple absolute of certain real property in the City and County of San Francisco, which was particularly described, and that they and their predecessors had been thus seized and possessed for more than ten years; that the defendant set up some claim of title to the property, or to some portion thereof, adversely to the plaintiffs, which claim was without right or justice and unfounded in law or equity, and had assumed to make surveys within the limits of the land, mark out lines of streets, subdivide a portion of the property into lots and make a map thereof, and that it threatened to sell such subdivisions and lots and open such streets, and in divers other ways assumed to exercise acts of ownership over the property, to the slandering and disquieting of plaintiff's title, the depreciation of its market value, and the hindrance and prevention of its sale or use, to the manifest injury, loss, and detriment of the plaintiffs.

They further averred that they deraigned title to all but a small portion of the property by divers mesne conveyances from William J. Shaw, who, on the 28th of March, 1861, commenced a suit in the District Court of the Twelfth Judicial District in and for the said City and County of San Francisco against the defendant herein to quiet his title to the land described in his complaint in that suit; that the claim of the defendant might be determined and the title of the plaintiff therein (the said Shaw) be established and declared valid, and that it might be decided that the defendant had no title, claim and interest in the land; that the said defendant was served with summons and appeared by attorney, and such proceedings were afterwards had in the suit that on the 5th of February, 1862, the court entered its final judgment and decree therein, whereby it adjudged that the claim of the

Page 138 U. S. 658

defendant to the premises was invalid and void, that the title of the plaintiff therein was valid and sufficient as against the defendant and against all persons claiming through or under the defendant, and that all such persons should be forever barred and restrained from asserting any estate or title or interest in the premises or any part thereof; that the said judgment and decree in favor of Mr. Shaw still remained in full force, never having been appealed from, reversed or vacated, and they insisted that by it the defendant was estopped from claiming or pretending to any right, title or interest in the lands therein described.

The plaintiffs therefore prayed that the defendant might answer the bill and set forth whatever right, title or interest it might have in the real property in relation to which the bill was filed, or in any part thereof, to the end that the court might determine upon its validity and that it might be adjudged and decreed that the plaintiffs were the owners of the property and that the defendant had no right, title or interest therein either in law or equity.

The defendant appeared bar its attorney and filed its answer in which it denied upon information and belief the allegations of the bill and averred in like manner that the defendant was and had been for more than ten years last past continuously the owner in fee and possessed of the described premises.

The answer also averred in the same way that the plaintiffs ought not to maintain the suit because neither they nor their predecessor or grantors, or any of them, were seized or possessed of the premises or any part thereof within five years next before the filing of their bill, but, on the contrary, that the defendant had been during all that time in the complete, open and notorious possession of the premises, claiming title to them in good faith and adversely to the whole world.

A general replication to the answer having been filed, proofs were taken, and upon the pleadings and proofs a decree was passed for the plaintiffs, adjudging that the plaintiffs were then, and had been since the 26th of October, 1883, the day on which the bill was filed, the owners and seized in fee simple of the premises described in the complaint, and that

Page 138 U. S. 659

the defendant had no estate, right, title or interest therein or to any part thereof and adjudging that the defendant and all persons claiming under it be forever barred and enjoined from asserting any right or interest in the premises.

From this decree an appeal was taken to this Court by the defendant. Before the decree was entered, one of the plaintiffs, Victor Le Roy, died, and his title and interest in the premises described in the bill of complaint passed to Rene de Tocqueville, who is a citizen of the Republic of France, and by consent of counsel he was substituted in the place of the deceased as a party plaintiff.

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