CHAIRES V. UNITED STATES, 44 U. S. 611 (1845)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Chaires v. United States, 44 U.S. 3 How. 611 611 (1845)

Chaires v. United States

44 U.S. (3 How.) 611




Where this Court has affirmed the title to lands in Florida and referred in its decree to a particular survey, it would not be proper for the court below to open the case for a rehearing for the purpose of adopting another survey.

The court below can only execute the mandate of this Court. It has no authority to disturb the decree, and can only settle what remains to be done.

This was an appeal from the Superior Court of East Florida and a sequel to the case reported in 35 U. S. 10 Pet. 308.

The appellants filed in the court below the following petition:

"To the Honorable Isaac H. Bronson, Judge of the Superior Court in and for the Eastern District of Florida."

"The petition of Joseph Chaires of the said territory, executor of the last will and testament of Benjamin Chaires, late of the same territory but now deceased, Peter Miranda, and Gad Humphreys, respectfully showeth: "

"That the said Benjamin Chaires, Peter Miranda, and Gad Humphreys, heretofore, to-wit, on 11 May, which was in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twenty-nine, filed their petition in the office of the clerk of this Honorable Court in terms of an act of Congress of the United States, entitled an act supplementary to the several acts providing for the settlement and confirmation of private land claims in Florida, approved on 23 May in the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty-eight, praying for the confirmation of certain claims to lands therein specified, and founded on a title made and granted by his Excellency Don Jose Coppinger, lieutenant-colonel of the royal armies of Spain, Civil and Military Governor of the Territory of Florida, then subject and belonging to his Catholic Majesty, the King of Spain, and chief of the Royal Exchequer of the City of St. Augustine, Florida, to Jose de la Maza Arredondo."

"That the attorney of the United States in and for said district duly appeared and answered the said petition, and thereupon such proceedings were had in the said court that afterwards, on 24 November in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-four, a decree was rendered therein in favor of the petitioners, and the said court did thereupon order, adjudge, and decree that the claim of the said petitioner was valid and that, in accordance with the laws and customs of Spain and under and by virtue of the treaty of amity, settlement, and limits between the United States and Spain, ratified by the President of the United States on 22 February, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-one, and under and by virtue of the laws of nations and of the United States, the said claim was thereby confirmed, adjudged,

Page 44 U. S. 612

and decreed, unto the said claimant to the extent, for the number of acres, and at the place specified in the grant for the said land, to Jose de la Maza Arredondo, and as in the certificate and plat of the same, made by Andres Burgevin dated 14 September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and nineteen, and fully in the said cause is set forth, that is to say:"

"A piece of land which contains 20,000 acres situated on both margins of a creek, known as Alligator Creek, said land commencing a little above the head of said creek and embracing an Indian town, distant about eighty miles from the port of Buena Vista and about forty miles to the northwest of Payne's Town, its first line running north twenty degrees west, three hundred and fifty-seven chains, begins at a pine marked X, and ends at another marked A; the second line running south seventy degrees west, five hundred and sixty chains, and ending at a stake; the third line running south twenty degrees east, three hundred and fifty-seven chains, and ending at a pine marked II; and the fourth line running north seventy degrees east, five hundred and sixty chains."

"That an appeal was taken from the decree, so rendered in this Honorable Court, to the Supreme Court of the United States by the attorney of the said United States in and for the said territory, and such proceedings were thereupon had in the said Supreme Court; that afterwards, on the ___ day of _____, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-six, the decree of this Honorable Court was affirmed, and thereupon the mandate of the said Supreme Court was awarded directing the same to be carried into effect."

"And your petitioner further shows to your honor that upon application to the proper officer of the United States to carry the said decree into effect by admeasuring to your petitioner the lands specified in the grant, it appears that there is error in rendering the said decree and that the same requires to be reformed in this --"

"That in and by the decree of this Honorable Court hereinbefore alleged and affirmed, in manner hereinbefore set forth by the Supreme Court, your petitioner's claim was confirmed, adjudged, and decreed to be valid 'to the extent, for the number of acres, and at the place as in the grant to the said land to Jose de la Maza Arredondo,' but it is added in the said decree,"

"and as in the certificate and plat of survey of the same, made by Don Andres Burgevin, and dated 14 September, one thousand eight hundred and nineteen, and filed herein, is set forth, to-wit,"

"&c., and the said decree thereafter proceeds to recite the metes and bounds as specified and set forth in the survey made by the said Don Andres Burgevin."

"That the land granted to Jose de la Maza Arredondo, and, in the decree before referred to, confirmed and adjudged to your petitioner is described in the royal grant or title to property, also before

Page 44 U. S. 613

herein referred to, consist of 20,000 acres of land, with title of absolute property, of those known as Alachua, about eighty miles distant from this city (of St. Augustine) at a place known as 'Big Hammock,' about twenty miles from the River Lawanee westward, about sixty miles from St. Johns."

While the land specified in the survey of Don Andres Burgevin is described as follows:

"20,000 acres of land, situated on both margins of a creek known as Alligator Creek. Said land commences a little above the head of said creek, and embraces an Indian town, distant about eighty miles from the post at Buena Vista, and about forty to the northwest of Payne's Town,"


"That the land specified in the said survey does not conform to or correspond with the land described in the said grant, and that the Surveyor General of the United States has therefore been unable to execute the decree of this Honorable Court, affirmed as aforesaid by the Supreme Court of the United States, and to admeasure to your petitioner the land adjudged to him by the said decree."

"That forasmuch as the land specified in the said grant to Jose de la Maza Arredondo is, by the decree aforesaid, adjudged to your petitioner, 'to the extent, for the number of acres, and at the place, as in the grant for said land,' your petitioner is entitled to have the same admeasured to him according to the terms of the said grant, and the description therein contained, and that if the said survey of Don Andres Burgevin conflicts with the said grant, the said survey must yield to and be controlled by the terms of the grant."

"Your petitioner further shows to your honor that the said land was duly surveyed and admeasured, and a plat thereof made and returned to this Honorable Court, and given in evidence in said cause, by Joshua A. Coffee, a competent and qualified surveyor, but that the same was omitted in the transcript of the record sent to the Supreme Court of the United States, although the fact of its having been given in evidence appears in the said transcript, a copy of which said survey is hereunto annexed."

"Your petitioner further shows to your honor, that the surveyor general of the United States hath refused to execute the said decree by admeasuring for your petitioner the land thereby confirmed and adjudged to him, and that, upon application to the Commissioner of the General Land Office, he hath in like manner refused so to do until the said decree shall have been reformed by the competent authority."

"Wherefore your petitioner prays this Honorable Court, the premises aforesaid being considered and due proof thereof being made, that the said decree may be reformed, and to that end that a rehearing of the said cause in this behalf may be granted; that the title of your petitioner to the 20,000 acres of land, specified in the grant to Jose de la Maza Arredondo may be adjudged to your petitioner according to the terms and specifications of the said grant,

Page 44 U. S. 614

and the survey of the said Joshua A. Coffee, a copy whereof is hereunto filed, or according to a survey to be made under the order of this Court by the Surveyor General of the Territory of Florida in conformity to the description of the said land in the said grant specified and set forth, to be returned into the registry of this Honorable Court, and that he may have such other and further relief as in the wisdom of this Honorable Court shall seem meet and right in the premises; and your petitioner,"


In June, 1844, the court, after hearing an argument, decided that the petition for rehearing could not be entertained and ordered it to be dismissed.

From this decree the petitioners appealed to this Court.

Page 44 U. S. 618

MR. JUSTICE CATRON delivered the opinion of the Court.

On the facts presented, one consideration is whether the petition was dismissed for a proper reason. The petition was moved on by the claimant's counsel and resisted on the ground that it had not been filed within the time allowed by law, and the rules of the court, and it is insisted it was dismissed for this reason, which is insufficient, as the bar of five years cannot be interposed under the circumstances. If this had been the reason given, it would be immaterial if the order was proper for other reasons. The 32d section of the Judiciary Act prescribes the duty of this Court in such cases, and directs it to proceed and give judgment according to the right of the cause, and matter in law, without regard to any imperfections in the judgment.

But we do not apprehend any imperfection to exist; the court says "It is considered that a petition for a rehearing cannot now be entertained by this Court in this cause." And why not? In 1829 a proceeding was instituted in the Superior Court of East Florida by the claimants for the confirmation of a claim for 20,000 acres of land granted to Arredondo. In 1830, that court declared the title valid on the face of the title papers; this fact existing, the next presented for ascertainment was the sufficiency of the description as to the general locality of the land granted. But the duties of the

Page 44 U. S. 619

court did not end here; by the 2d section of the act of 1824, it was not only given full power and authority to hear and determine all questions arising in the cause relative to the validity of the title and the descriptive identity of location on the face of the title, but thirdly to settle the precise boundaries of the land on the ground, founding its decree on an existing survey, if a proper one was produced, and if not, to let the party proceed according to the 6th section of the act. On the face of the title, no material difficulty seems to have arisen, but to identify the land called for was most difficult, and probably impossible: if the grant had been unaided by a survey, it cannot well be perceived how it could have escaped from the principles on which were rejected the claims of Forbes, Buyck, and Joseph Delespine, found in 15 Pet., and of Miranda, in 16 Pet. To avoid doing so, the land was decreed by metes and line marks, founded on a survey (purporting to have been made for the land granted) by Don Andres Burgevin on 14 September, 1819.

This survey, it is contended, is for land lying in a different locality from that referred to in the grant, and being so, it is urged that according to the rulings of this Court, no survey could be made for any other land than that granted after 24 January, 1818, as this would in effect be a new grant, which the treaty prohibited after that date, according to the cases of Clarke and Huertas in 8 and 9 Pet., and that of Forbes, 15 Pet. 182, and there being no equivalent provided in the grant to except the case from these principles, the survey could not legally be the basis of a decree.

This may have been true and the decree for the land contained in Burgevin's survey erroneous, but the question is whether the court below had any power to correct it. If it had not, then no petition for such purpose could be heard either on the part of the United States or the claimants in that court.

From the decree made in 1830 an appeal was prosecuted by the United States to this Court; the claimants rested content, and prosecuted no cross-appeal. 35 U. S. 10 Pet. 308. On a hearing, the decree below was affirmed for the specific land and the cause remanded for further proceedings, to the end that a patent might issue, pursuant to the 6th section of the act of 1824, which declares it shall be for the land "specified in the decree," and prohibits a survey for any other land unless that decreed has been disposed of, when a change is authorized by the 11th section, but as no other appropriation of the land set forth in the decree is alleged to exist, this circumstance is out of the present case.

The claimants not being willing to take the land in Burgevin's survey, assumed the right to have a resurvey made, or to have adopted that made by Joshua A. Coffee on their behalf in 1834, which they allege is at the place called for in the grant, and this on the ground that the decree of 1830 is inconsistent, it being in confirmation of the land granted and also of Burgevin's survey,

Page 44 U. S. 620

the places not being the same. This change was refused at the land office here for the reason that the decree excluded such a change until it was altered by the proper judicial authority. For this purpose, the petition for a rehearing was filed, seeking to have the decree of 1830 reformed, and that part of it establishing locality and boundaries set aside or disregarded and the land located elsewhere. This the Superior Court of East Florida had no power to do on the facts set forth by the petition, because the decree of this Court, made in affirmance of that made below, is conclusive on the inferior court, and it has no authority to disturb it by the mode proposed, but can only execute our mandate and settle so much as remains to be done. For the principle, governing in like cases, we refer to the Ex parte application of Sibbald and the rules there laid down, 37 U. S. 12 Pet. 489, 37 U. S. 490, to which nothing need be added, as they are altogether adverse to the present proceeding, and show that the petition was properly


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