IOWA RAILROAD LAND CO. V. BLUMER, 206 U. S. 482 (1907)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Iowa Railroad Land Co. v. Blumer, 206 U.S. 482 (1907)

Iowa Railroad Land Co. v. Blumer

No. 207

Argued February 26, 27, 1907

Decided May 27, 1907

206 U.S. 482


Under the Act of Congress of May 15, 1856, 11 Stat. 9, and the Act of the Legislature of Iowa of July 14, 1856, the grant to the Dubuque & Pacific Railroad Co. was in praesenti, and the title passed from the United States and vested in the Iowa when the map of definite location was lodged in the General Land Office, and the right of the company then attached. Iowa Falls Land Co. v. Griffey, 143 U. S. 32.

Where a grant is in praesenti and nothing remains to be done for the administration of the grant in the Land Office, and the conditions have been complied with and the grant fully earned, the company has such a title, notwithstanding the want of final certificate and the issue of the patent, as will enable it to maintain ejectment against one wrongfully on the lands, and prescription will run in favor of one in adverse possession under color of title. Deseret Salt Co. v. Tarpey, 142 U. S. 421; Toltec Ranch Co. v. Cook, 191 U. S. 532.

Although one who in good faith enters and occupies lands within the place limits of a railway grant in praesenti may not obtain any adverse title against the government if, as in this case, his possession is open, notorious, continuous and adverse, it may, if the railway company fails to assert its rights, ripen into full title as against the latter notwithstanding the entry in the Land Office was cancelled without notice as having been improperly made and allowed.

Page 206 U. S. 483

This is a writ of error to the Supreme Court of the State of Iowa, seeking reversal of its judgment affirming the decree of the District Court of Woodbury County, quieting the land title of Claude F. Blumer, defendant in error, as against the Iowa Railroad Land Company, plaintiff in error. 129 Ia. 32. The record discloses that Blumer brought his action by a petition in equity under the Iowa Code, claiming to be owner in fee simple of forty acres of land in Woodbury County, Iowa, being the N.E. 1/4 of the N.E. 1/4 of Section 1, Township 89 North, Range 46 West, containing about forty acres; averring that the plaintiff and his immediate grantor had been in open, notorious, continuous, and adverse possession for more than ten years under a claim of title, and that the plaintiff was then in the possession of the same, and that defendant made some claim to the said estate, and prayed that he be quieted in his title, and that defendant be estopped from setting up any claim adverse to his own.

Defendant answered and set up general denials, and that the defendant was the owner of the premises by virtue of an Act of Congress of May 15, 1856, making a grant of lands to the State of Iowa in alternate sections in aid of the construction of certain railways in that state, whereby the lands were granted to the State of Iowa in trust for the railway companies; that the act and trust were duly accepted by the State of Iowa, by act of its legislature, approved July 14, 1856; that thereafter, by the Act of April 7, 1868, of the same state legislature, the Iowa Falls & Sioux City Railroad Company was designated to construct and complete the portion of the railroad west of Iowa Falls, and the state granted, on conditions contained in said act, the unearned portions of said lands west of Iowa Falls to the said Iowa Falls & Sioux City Railroad Company, and that all the terms of the act had been complied with, and that the same were rightfully subject to the certification and conveyance to the said railway company, which was the grantor of the defendant.

A reply and amendment were filed, and also a supplemental

Page 206 U. S. 484

answer setting forth that the lands, on the twenty-fourth of January, 1903, since the former answer in the case, had been duly certified to the State of Iowa in trust for the Iowa Falls & Sioux City Railroad Company, and had been subsequently patented to the railroad company by the governor of the state on February 2, 1903, and that all the rights and title of the railway company had been succeeded to by the defendant, the Iowa Railroad Land Company, and prayed to be quieted in its title as against the plaintiff. By an amended reply, the plaintiff reiterated that for more than ten years prior to the commencement of the suit, plaintiff and his immediate grantor had been in open, notorious, continuous, and adverse possession of the premises under a claim of right and color of title, and that plaintiff was then in possession of the same.

The lands in question are within the place limits of the grant to the State of Iowa by the Act of May 15, 1856. 11 Stat. c. 28. By the act of the Legislature of Iowa, passed July 14, 1856, the lands were granted to the Dubuque & Pacific Railroad Company. The map of definite location of the line of the road was filed in the office of the Commissioner of the General Land Office of the United States on October 11, 1856, and accepted on October 13, 1856.

The Legislature of Iowa, on April 7, 1868, passed a statute (Iowa Laws 1868, c. 124, pp. 164-167) designating the Iowa Falls & Sioux City Railroad Company (grantor of the plaintiff in error) to construct and complete the uncompleted portion of the road west of Iowa Falls. Sec. 1 of the act legalized and confirmed the contract between the Dubuque & Sioux City Railroad Company and the Iowa Falls & Sioux City Railroad Company

"transferring so much of the Dubuque & Sioux City [successor of the Dubuque & Pacific] Railroad as remains to be constructed, together with the franchises, right of way, depot grounds, and other appurtenances of said road to be completed, also transferring all right and title of the said Dubuque & Sioux City Railroad Company to so much of the lands granted by Congress to aid

Page 206 U. S. 485

in the construction of said road as shall appertain to, or be legally applicable to the construction of, the uncompleted part of the Dubuque & Sioux City Railroad, as aforesaid, except as to the lands hereinafter granted to the Dubuque, Bellevue & Sabula Railroad Company."

Sec. 4 of that act provides

"that so much of land grant as is applicable to the uncompleted portion of the road aforesaid, west of Iowa Falls . . . is hereby conferred upon the said Iowa Falls & Sioux City Railroad Company, subject to the terms and conditions of the act of Congress granting the said lands, dated the fifteenth day of May, A.D. 1856, and the act amendatory thereto and the act of Congress passed the present session"

(subject to certain conditions as to the time and manner of construction).

The railroad company complied with this act as to the completion of the road, having done so by January 1, 1872, also complying with the act of Congress of March 2, 1868 (15 Stat. 38, c. 16), requiring the completion of the road by that date. The tract of land in controversy was again selected and designated by the Iowa Falls & Sioux City Railroad Company, on June 19, 1884, and on April 24, 1885, as lands to which the company was entitled under said land grants, and said last-named selection was accepted by the register and receiver, and certified to the Commissioner of the General Land Office at Washington, May 13, 1885.

In December, 1858, the lands were listed for the benefit of the Dubuque & Pacific (since Iowa Falls & Sioux City) grant under the Act of May 15, 1856, but afterwards, on February 21, 1859, the tract was included in a selection of the State of Iowa under the swamp land grant. Under the order of the Secretary of the Interior, the lands were stricken from the certified list with a view of determining the claim of the state under the swamp land grant, which claim was finally rejected on February 16, 1878.

The lands were certified pending the suit, January 20, 1903, and on February 2, 1903, the lands were patented by the

Page 206 U. S. 486

Governor of Iowa to the Iowa Falls & Sioux City Railroad Company.

On October 2, 1883, John Carraher (predecessor in title of the defendant in error) made application to the local land office at Des Moines, Iowa, to enter the lands under the Timber Culture Act, 20 Stat. 113, c. 190. His application was rejected, and Carraher appealed. The rejection was because of conflict with the railroad grant. On December 3, 1883, the Commissioner affirmed this action. Carraher appealed to the Secretary of the Interior. Afterwards, June 17, 1891, the Secretary approved the decisions and rejected the claim of Carraher. Pending his appeal, on May 31, 1888, Carraher made another timber culture entry (No. 607). When the Secretary's decision of June 17, 1891, finally rejecting the first application of Carraher, was promulgated by the Commissioner (July 11, 1891), it was also directed that the second timber culture entry (of May 31, 1888) be cancelled on the ground that it had been allowed without authority.

The delay in certifying the lands after the final decision against Carraher is thus accounted for by Mr. Samuel S. Burdett, at one time Commissioner of the General Land Office, and attorney for the plaintiff in error from June, 1888.

"On July 15, 1891, my firm advised the Iowa Railroad Land Company of the Commissioner's action of July 11, 1891, in which the Carraher entry had been cancelled, and received in reply the letter thereto attached and marked 'Exhibit B' from P. E. Hall, president, dated July 28, 1891, in which he asked that we 'take such steps as will result in the tract in question being certified to the state for our benefit.'"

"Thereafter, by personal application by myself and other members of my firm, effort was made to secure the due certification of the land under the grant, resulting in a promise from the proper officials of the General Land Office, given on or about October 1, 1891, that the tract would be included in a patent which was then about to be prepared. . . ."

"The duty of certifying the tract rested with the proper

Page 206 U. S. 487

officials of the General Land Office, and was in fact a mere clerical duty. No rule required the filing of an application in writing for the certification of lands embraced in a pending selection, and the practice of my firm in such matters was to urge, by personal request, the proper officials of the General Land Office to take up such lists and prepare the necessary certificate for the action of the Commissioner and Secretary. This was what was done with respect to the tract in question here, and our requests in the matter resulted in the promise that the land would be included in a patent, such as set out in my firm's letter of that date, to P. E. Hall, president, Exhibit 'C.' In the multitude of business transacted by my firm in the years succeeding the action referred to, it is impossible for me to recollect the details of this particular matter, nor do I recollect the circumstances under which the promise referred to in said letter was given, but that it was made to me or to some member of my firm, as a result of urgent requests for proper action, is certain, or the said letter of my firm, of October 1, 1891, Exhibit 'C,' would not have been written. It was the practice of my firm, in all matters in our hands, from time to time to call them up by personal application, with a view to securing action. When the certification finally issued, on January 22, 1903, it was in response to a personal and urgent request from my firm."

"I know of no delay whatever caused by either the Iowa Railroad Land Company or its predecessors in interest, or by any of its agents or attorneys, and certainly none by myself or my firm in securing the final issuance of title by the United States to the tract of land in question. The delay in certifying the said land, after the Secretary's action of June 17, 1891, was wholly due to the want of action by the General Land Office, the company and its agents having performed every duty in timely manner required by the rules of the Department."

"The first cause of delay in final certification of said tract under the aforesaid railroad grant of May 15, 1856, was the selection by the State of Iowa, under the swamp land grant

Page 206 U. S. 488

of 1850, which was filed February 21, 1859, and embraced said tract, which selection was not finally disposed of by the Land Department until 1878."

"The next cause of delay was the appeal of John Carraher from the decision of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, dated December 3, 1883, to make entry of said tract under the provision of the timber culture law. Delay was next caused by the loss of Carraher's application papers in the General Land Office, which is mentioned in the letter of the Commissioner to Mr. Van Deventer, dated September 6, 1887, Doc. No. 1, of this deposition, and that of the Commissioner to Geo. W. Wakefield, Esq., Doc. No. 4, of this deposition. The next cause of delay appears to have grown out of the contention made in behalf of Carraher in support of his appeal, that the railroad grant had been fully satisfied, and that this tract was not needed to fill up the quota of lands due under the grant. This made necessary the adjustment of the grant which took place on April 9, 1891, as already detailed."

"Thereafter, the Secretary disposed of Carraher's appeal on June 17, 1891. The delay in certifying the land under grant which subsequently ensued occurred in the General Land Office. As to the causes of this last delay, I have no certain knowledge, but I can state it as a fact that between the date of the Secretary's final decision on the Carraher application, down to a very recent date, the railroad division of the General Land Office has been overburdened with work consequent upon the duty of adjusting all of the railroad land grants made by Congress in aid of railroads, which was cast upon the Land Department by the provisions of the Act of March 3, 1887, 24 Stat. 556. For the most of the time during that period, the force of clerks in that division was insufficient to promptly perform the necessary labor attendant upon such adjustments and the conveyance of lands under the grants. The delay in certifying the tract in question may have been due to these conditions. "

Page 206 U. S. 491

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