MCNEE V. DONAHUE, 142 U. S. 587 (1892)

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U.S. Supreme Court

McNee v. Donahue, 142 U.S. 587 (1892)

McNee v. Donahue

No. 121

Argued and submitted December 14, 1891

Decided January 11, 1892

142 U.S. 587


In ejectment, plaintiff claimed title to certain parcels of land by purchase from the State of California under its selection of lands as part of the Agricultural College grant from Congress of July 2, 1862, 12 Stat. 503, c. 130, certification thereof by the United States Land Department thereunder, and subsequent patent from the state to him. Defendant claimed legal title by a prior purchase from the state under prior state selections, [1] by purchase and location of state land warrants issued by the state under the grant of 500,000 acres made to it by section eight of Act of September 4, 1841, 5 Stat. 453, c. 16, and [2] by purchase of indemnity land, selected in lieu of school sections sixteen and thirty-six, granted by the act of Congress of March 3, 1853, 10 Stat. 244, c. 145, and lost by inclusion within Mexican grants subsequently confirmed, further claiming that both selections were confirmed by the first section of the Act of Congress of July 23, 1866, 14 Stat. 218, c. 219, passed before the selection, certification and patenting under which plaintiff claims.


(1) That the first section of the Act of July 23, 1866, must be construed in connection with section two of that act, and, as thus construed, it did not confirm the selections under the 500,000 acre grant, those selections not having been made of lands previously surveyed by authority of the United States, but said section, thus construed, did confirm the lands selected in lieu of the school sections taken by the Mexican grants, such selected lands having been previously surveyed by authority of the United states and notice of such selection having been given to the register of the local land office, and the lands having been sold to a bona fide purchaser in good faith under the laws of the state.

(2) That confirmation to the state of its title enured to the benefit of its grantee without any further action by the Land Department or by the state.

A legislative confirmation of a claim to land with defined boundaries, or capable of identification, perfects the title of the claimant to the tract, and a subsequent patent is only documentary evidence of that title.

No title to lands under the Agricultural College grant of 1862, under which plaintiff claims, vested in the state until their selection and listing to the state, which was subsequent to the time at which the title of the United States passed to the defendant.

No trust was created by such grant which prevented land subject to selection thereunder from being taken under prior selections in satisfaction

Page 142 U. S. 588

of other grants. No trust could arise against the state thereunder until its receipt of all or a portion of the proceeds arising from the sale of the property, and no disposition of such proceeds could affect the title acquired by other parties from the sale of such lands thereunder.

Defendant having, after his general denial of the allegations of the complaint, for a further separate answer and defense, set up his claim of title to demanded premises by cross-complaint and prayed affirmative relief thereon by cancellation of the state's patent to the plaintiff, or by charging him as trustee of the title and compelling him to convey the premises to the defendant, such a mode of setting up an equitable defense to an action for the possession of land being allowable under the system of civil procedure prevailing in California, the judgment of the Supreme Court of that state, declaring such trust and directing such conveyance, is affirmed.

The Court stated the case as follows:

This is an action for the possession of certain parcels of land in the County of Santa Clara, California, embracing 106 acres and a fraction of an acre, and constituting, according to the United States survey, lots 1 and 2 of section 26, township 6 south, range 1 west, Mt. Diablo meridian. It was brought in the superior court of that county. The plaintiff, in his complaint, alleges ownership of the lands, and right of possession, on the 16th of June, 1882, and ever afterwards; the wrongful and unlawful entry thereon, on that day, by the defendant, and his exclusion of the plaintiff therefrom, to the latter's damage of $5,000, and that the value of their use and occupation is $2,000 a year. He therefore prays judgment for their possession, for the damages sustained, and for the value of their use and occupation until final judgment.

The defendant, in his answer, denies the material allegations of the complaint, and then, as a separate defense, by way of a cross-complaint, sets up various matters upon which he claims to have acquired the equitable title of the premises, and prays that a patent of the state for them to the plaintiff, and upon which he relies for a recovery in this case, may be adjudged null and void, or that he hold the legal title under it in trust for the defendant, and be decreed to convey the premises to him.

The plaintiff answered the cross-complaint, and the case was tried by the court without the intervention of a jury. After finding the facts, it held as a conclusion of law that the defendant was entitled to a judgment, that the plaintiff take nothing by his action, that the defendant was entitled at the commencement of the action, and was still entitled, to the possession of the premises, and was their equitable owner, and that the plaintiff holds the legal title, under a patent by the State of California, bearing date June 18, 1882, in trust for the defendant, and should execute and deliver a conveyance of the premises to him. Judgment in conformity with this conclusion was accordingly entered. On appeal to the supreme court of the state, it was affirmed, and the case is brought to this Court on writ of error by the plaintiff.

Page 142 U. S. 589

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