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U.S. Supreme Court

Sampeyreac v. United States, 32 U.S. 7 Pet. 222 222 (1833)

Sampeyreac v. United States

32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 222


Construction of the Act of Congress passed 5 May, 1830, entitled

"An act for the further extending the powers of the judges of the Superior Court of the Territory of Arkansas, under the Act of 26 May, 1824, and for other purposes."

Under the provisions of an Act of Congress passed on 26 May, 1824, proceedings were instituted in the Superior Court of the Territory of Arkansas, by which a confirmation was claimed of a grant of land alleged to have been made to the petitioner, Sampeyreac, by the Spanish government, prior to the cession of Louisiana to the United States by the Treaty of April 3, 1803. This claim was opposed by the district attorney of the United States, and the court after hearing evidence, decreed that the petitioner recover the land from the United

states. Afterwards, the, district attorney of the United States, proceeding on the authority of the Act of 8 May, 1830, filed a bill of review, founded on the allegation that the original decree was obtained by fraud and surprise, that the documents produced in support of the claim of Sampeyreac were forged, and that

the witnesses who had been examined to sustain the same were perjured. At a subsequent term, Stewart was allowed to become a defendant to the bill of review, and filed an answer, in which the fraud and forgery are denied, and in which he asserts that if the same were committed, he is ignorant thereof, and asserts that he is a bona fide purchaser of the land for a valuable consideration, from one John J. Bowie, who conveyed to him the claim of Sampeyreac by deed, dated about 22 October, 1828. On a final hearing, the court being satisfied of the forgery, perjury, and fraud, reversed the original decree. Held that these proceedings were legal, and were authorized by the act of 5 May, 1830.

Almost every law providing a new remedy affects and operates upon causes of action existing at the time the law is passed. The law of 1830 is in no respect the exercise of judicial powers; it only organizes a tribunal with the powers to entertain judicial proceedings. The act, in terms, applies to bills filed, or to be filed. Such retrospective effect is no unusual course in laws providing new remedies.

The act of 1830 does not require that all the technical rules in the ordinary course of chancery proceedings on a bill of review shall be pursued in proceedings instituted under the law.

In the case of Polk's Lessee v. Wendell, 5 Wheat. 308, it is said by this Court that, on general principles, it is incontestable that a grantee can convey no more than he possesses. Hence those who come in under a void grant can acquire nothing.

Page 32 U. S. 223

The appellant, Sampeyreac, under the Act of Congress of 26 May, 1824, entitled

"An act enabling the claimants to lands within the limits of the State of Missouri, and Territory of Arkansas, to institute proceedings to try the validity of their claims,"

exhibited the bill against the United States, which was filed in the clerk's office of the Superior Court in the Territory of Arkansas, in chancery sitting, on 21 November, 1827, stating that, being an inhabitant of Louisiana, he did, on 6 October, 1789, address a letter to the governor of the then Spanish province of Louisiana, asking for ten arpens of land in front, with the usual depth, on Strawberry River, within the District of Arkansas, to be granted to him in full property, and that the said governor did, on 11 October, 1789, make an order of survey upon said petition, which the appellant alleged, was such a claim as might have been perfected into a complete title, under and in conformity to the laws, usages and customs of the government of Spain, under which the same originated, had not the sovereignty of the country been transferred to the United States, and was therefore provided for by the Treaty between the United States and the French republic made 30 April, 1803. The bill prayed that this claim might be confirmed according to the provisions of the act of Congress before mentioned.

Upon this petition, the clerk of the court issued a subpoena against the district attorney of the United States, which was executed on 24 November, 1827. To this bill, the district attorney of the United States filed an answer, at the December term of said court, 1827, denying, generally the facts and allegations in said bill, and alleging that Sampeyreac was a fictitious person, or was a foreigner, and then dead. On 19 December, 1827, the district attorney of the United States moved to postpone the final adjudication of the case until the following term, for the following reasons:

1. The petition and subpoena in this case were served on the United States within one month of the present term of this Court, but more than fifteen days allowed by law, and in consequence of this short notice, the United States attorney has not answered this bill until the present term.


Page 32 U. S. 224

Has not had a sufficient length of time to take counter-depositions, if counterevidence does exist.

3. There are many more cases pending in this Court on the same principles, and similarly situated in all respects, and the attorney for the United States asks this continuance for the purpose of procuring such evidence as may exist on the part of the government.

The court proceeded to hear the cause, and upon the deposition of one John Heberard, entered on that day a decree against the United States in favor of said Sampeyreac for four hundred arpens of land.

On 14 February, 1828, a deed, purporting to be a deed executed by Sampeyreac, transferring his claim to the clerk's certificate of the existence of this decree, and of all his right, title, and interest in said decree, to John J. Bowie, was proved and admitted to record on the 22 day of October, 1828, in the office of the Circuit Court of Hempstead County, in the Territory of Arkansas, and which title was transferred by Bowie to Joseph Stewart, in December, 1828, by virtue of which transfer the said Stewart filed with the register of the land office at Little Rock, an application for the N.E. 17, 11 S., 26 W., and E. 1/2, S.E. 17, 11 S., 26 W., and W. 1/2 N.E. 13, 11 S., 27 W. which application was admitted by the register, on 13 December, 1828.

At the April term, 1830 of the court, the United States attorney, upon leave granted, filed a bill charging that the decree entered by the court, at the December term, 1827, in the case of Sampeyreac, was obtained by fraud and surprise, and alleging that the court erred in proceeding to the trial of said cause at the said December term without having set said cause for hearing and without affording the United States time to prove the injustice of the claim. The bill charged that the original petition to Governor Mero and the order of survey were forgeries which fact had come to the knowledge of the attorney since the decree was made; that Sampeyreac was a fictitious person, or, if he ever did exist, was dead; that Heberard and the other witnesses committed perjury in this case; and that the petition and order of survey were made since 1789; and that record evidence had been discovered since the

Page 32 U. S. 225

decree which would be produced upon the hearing to prove the forgery.

Sampeyreac was proceeded against as an absent defendant, after the return of the subpoena, that "he was not to be found in the Territory of Arkansas," and a decree pro confesso was entered as to him on 28 October, 1830. Before this decree was entered, Joseph Stewart was permitted to file his answer and was made a defendant in this case, which was excepted to on the part of the United States, and a bill of exceptions was signed by the court on 28 October, 1830.

It was not charged or contended that Stewart purchased with a knowledge of the forgery either of the original grant or of the transfer from Sampeyreac to Bowie.

The final decree reversing and annulling the decree entered in favor of Sampeyreac at December term, 1827, was delivered by the court February 7, 1831. From this decree this appeal was taken by Joseph Stewart for himself and Sampeyreac.

Page 32 U. S. 234

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