ROBINSON V. CAMPBELL, 16 U. S. 212 (1818)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Robinson v. Campbell, 16 U.S. 3 Wheat. 212 212 (1818)

Robinson v. Campbell

16 U.S. (3 Wheat.) 212


By the compact of 1802, settling the boundary line between Virginia and Tennessee and the laws made in pursuance thereof, it is declared that all claims and titles to lands derived from Virginia, North Carolina, or Tennessee, which have fallen into the respective states, shall remain as secure to the owners thereof, as if derived from the government within whose boundary they have fallen, and shall not be prejudiced or affected by the establishment of the line. Where the titles both of the plaintiff and defendant in ejectment were derived under grants from Virginia to lands which fell within the limits of Tennessee, it was held that a prior settlement right thereto which would, in equity, give, the party a title, could not be asserted as a sufficient title, in an action of ejectment brought in the Circuit Court of Tennessee.

Although the state courts of Tennessee have decided that under their statutes declaring an elder grant founded on a junior entry to be void, a junior patent, founded on a prior entry, shall prevail at law against a senior patent founded on a junior entry; this doctrine has never been extended beyond cases within the express purview of the statute of Tennessee, and could not apply to the present case of titles deriving all their validity from the laws of Virginia, and confirmed by the compact between the two states.

The general rule is that remedies in respect to real property are to be pursued according to the lex loci rei sitae. The acts of the two states are to be construed as giving the same validity and effect to the titles in the disputed territory as they had or would have in the state by which they were granted, leaving the remedies to enforce such titles to be regulated by the lex fori.

The remedies in the courts of the United States at common law and in equity are to be not according to the practice of state courts, but according to the principles of common law and, equity, as distinguished and defined in that country from which we derive our knowledge of those principles. Consistently with this doctrine it may be admitted that where, by the statutes of a state, a title which would otherwise be deemed merely equitable is recognized as a legal title, or a title which would be valid at law is, under circumstances of an equitable nature, declared void, the right of the parties in such case may be as fully considered in a suit at law, in the courts of the United States, as in any state court.

A conveyance by the plaintiff's lessor during the pendency of an action of ejectment can only operate upon his reversionary interests, and cannot extinguish the prior lease. The existence of such lease is a fiction, but it is upheld for the purposes of justice. If it expire during the pendency of a suit, the plaintiff cannot recover his term at law without procuring it to be enlarged by the court, and can proceed only for antecedent damages.

In the above case, it was held that the statute of limitations of Tennessee was not a good bar to the action, there being no proof that the lands in controversy were always within the original limits of Tennessee, and the statute could not begin to run until it was ascertained by the compact of 1802 that the land fell within the jurisdictional limits of Tennessee.

Page 16 U. S. 213

This was an action of ejectment brought by the defendant in error (the plaintiff's lessor in the court below) against the present plaintiff and S. Martin on 4 February, 1807, in the District Court for the District of East Tennessee, which possessed circuit court powers. The defendant in that court pleaded separately the general issue, as to 400 acres, and disclaimed all right to the residue of the tract specified

Page 16 U. S. 214

in the declaration. A verdict was given for the plaintiff in October term, 1812. From the statement contained in the bill of exceptions taken at the trial of the cause, it appears that the land for which the action was brought, is situated between two lines run in 1779 by Walker and Henderson as the boundary lines of Virginia and North Carolina. The former state claimed jurisdiction to the line run by Walker, and the latter to the line run by Henderson. After the separation of Tennessee from North Carolina, the controversy between Virginia and Tennessee, as to boundary, was settled in 1802, by running a line equidistant from the former lines. The land in dispute fell within the State of Tennessee. Both the litigant parties claimed under grants issued by the State of Virginia, the titles to lands derived from the said state having been protected by the act of Tennessee, passed in 1803 for the settlement of the boundary line.

The plaintiff rested his title on a grant (founded on a Treasury warrant) to John Jones, dated August 1, 1787, for 3,000 acres, 1,500 acres of which were conveyed to the lessor by Jones on 14 April 1788, and proved possession in the defendant when the suit was commenced.

The defendant, to support his title to the said 400 acres, offered in evidence a grant for the same to Joseph Martin dated January 1, 1788, founded on a settlement right and intermediate conveyances to himself. He also offered in evidence that a settlement was made on said land, in 1778, by William Fitzgerald, who assigned his settlement right to the said Joseph

Page 16 U. S. 215

Martin; that a certificate in right of settlement was issued to Martin by the commissioners for adjusting titles to unpatented lands, on which certificate, and on the payment of the composition money, the above grant was issued. This evidence was rejected by the court below. The defendant also offered in evidence a deed of conveyance from the plaintiff's lessor to Arthur L. Campbell dated January 2, 1810, for the land in dispute, but the same was also rejected. He also claimed the benefit of the statute of limitations of the State of Tennessee on the ground that he and those under whom he claims had been in continued and peaceable possession of the 400 acres since the year 1788.

The court decided that the statute did not apply. The cause was then brought before this Court by writ of error.

Page 16 U. S. 218

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