MENOTTI V. DILLON, 167 U. S. 703 (1897)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Menotti v. Dillon, 167 U.S. 703 (1897)

Menotti v. Dillon

No. 309

Submitted April 28, 1897

Decided May 24, 1897

167 U.S. 703


The land in controversy, being 240 acres situated in California, was settled upon and improved in good faith by H. in 1858, with the intention of taking at the proper time, the necessary steps to acquire the title thereto from the United States by procuring its location in part satisfaction of the grant made by the United States to the State of California of 500,900 acres of land, and then of purchasing the land in question from the state. In June, 1864, H., in proper form, made application to the state, under the act of California approved April 27, 1863, for the sale of certain lands, to locate this land as a "lieu school land location," and to purchase it from the state. This application and offer to purchase were approved by the state's locating agent upon the condition that

"if said location should be made and approved by the United States, it should be for the use and benefit of said applicant upon his complying with all the conditions and provisions of the said Act of April 27, 1863."

Subsequently, February 28, 1865, the state's agent, proceeding under the state law, located this land in lieu of a portion of those which had been lost to the state at the request and for the use of H., by filing an application for the same in the United States land office at San Francisco. This application to purchase was completed, so that, on the 31st day of August, 1865, H. received from the state a certificate of purchase in due form. Menotti, the plaintiff in error, claims under H. At the time the above application was filed in the land office at

Page 167 U. S. 704

San Francisco, the lands in controversy were withdrawn from preemption, private entry, and sale by order of the Land Department for the benefit of a railroad company which had filed its map of general route under the Acts of Congress of July 1, 1862, 12 Stat. 489, c. 120, and July 2, 1864, 13 Stat. 356, c. 216, granting lands to aid in the construction of a railroad and telegraph line from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. By the Act of Congress of July 23, 1866, 14 Stat. 218, c. 219, quieting land titles in California, it was provided that

"in all cases where the California has heretofore made selections of any portion of the public domain in part satisfaction of any grant made to said state by any act of Congress, and has disposed of the same to purchasers in good faith under her laws, the lands so selected shall be, and hereby are, confirmed to said state."

This act excepted from its operation

"lands to which any adverse preemption, homestead or other right has at the date of the passage of this act. been acquired by any settler under the laws of the United States, or to any lands which have been reserved for naval, military or Indian purposes by the United States, or to any mineral land, or to any land held or claimed under any valid Mexican or Spanish grant, or to any land which, at the time of the passage of this act, was included within the limits of any city, town or village, or within the County of San Francisco."

The railroad company filed its map of definite location in 1870. In 1872, the plaintiff in error, claiming under the purchaser from the state, made application to the proper officers of the United States Land Department for a confirmation of the right of said state to said land so selected by said state for his benefit, under the provisions of the above Act of Congress July 23, 1866, and thereupon, and upon due notice to the railroad company and the parties claiming under it, such proceedings were regularly had in said department and such proofs submitted and such a hearing had that, on the 15th day of May, 1874, the Commissioner of the General Land Office, under the direction and with the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, listed over and certified to said state this 240 acres of land "as confirmed to said State of California." In 1875, Menotti received a patent from the state. The railroad company received a patent from the United States in 1872, but this was after the above proceedings under the act of 1866 were initiated.


(1) That the Act of July 1, 1862, as amended by the Act of July 2, 1864, did not grant to the railroad company any lands which had been sold, reserved or disposed of by the United States, nor impair any existing "lawful claim," at the time the line of railroad was "definitely fixed."

(2) The act of 1866 did not except from its operation lands within the exterior lines of the general route of the railroad, and which, for the benefit of the railroad company, had been withdrawn by executive order from preemption, private entry, and sale. The withdrawal order of 1865 did not stand in the way of the passage of the act of 1866, first because the acts of 1862 and 1864 by necessary implication recognized the right of Congress to dispose

Page 167 U. S. 705

of the odd-numbered sections, within certain limits on each side of the road, or any of them at any time prior to the definite location of the line of the railroad; second, both acts reserved to Congress the power to alter, amend or repeal them; third, the filing of the map of general route gave the railroad company no claim to any specific lands within the exterior limits of such route on either side of the road, the rule being that a grant of public lands in aid of the construction of a railroad is, until its route is established, in the nature of a "float," and title does not attach to any specific sections until they are identified by an accepted map of definite location of the line of the road. The railroad company accepted the grant subject to the possibility that Congress might, in its discretion, and prior to the definite location of its line, sell, reserve or dispose of enumerated sections for other purposes than those originally contemplated. Consequently, at the date of the definite location of the railroad in 1870, there was a "lawful claim" upon these lands based on the act of 1866, which confirmed to the state, for the benefit of those who had purchased from it in good faith, lands embraced by its provisions.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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