BONNER V. UNITED STATES, 76 U. S. 156 (1869)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Bonner v. United States, 76 U.S. 9 Wall. 156 156 (1869)

Bonner v. United States

76 U.S. (9 Wall.) 156


The United States cannot be sued in the Court of Claims upon equitable considerations merely. Hence, the holder of a military bounty land warrant can have no legal right through that court, against the United States, for compensation on the allegation that the government has wrongfully appropriated to other uses the lands ceded for his benefit.

The State of Virginia, during the Revolutionary war, promised bounty lands to her troops on Continental establishment, and at an early day set apart for their benefit a tract of country within the limits of the present State of Kentucky which it was supposed at the time would be sufficient for the purpose. Recognizing, however, that this reservation might prove insufficient to satisfy the claims of these troops, Virginia, in ceding, March 1, 1784, to the United States the territory beyond the Ohio River, reserved all the lands lying between the Scioto and Little Miami Rivers to supply any deficiency of lands in the Kentucky district. It was very

Page 76 U. S. 157

soon manifest that the apprehended deficiency existed, and the second reservation therefore became operative. In order to ascertain the limits of this reservation, it was necessary to find the sources of these two rivers and to run the line between them. The execution of this object was the occasion of much difficulty and the cause of frequent legislation by Congress. Two lines were run by different surveyors, one by Ludlow and the other by Roberts. It is unnecessary here to trace the history of these lines or to show which is scientifically correct. It is enough to say the Congress, in 1818, [Footnote 1] established Ludlow's line as the true boundary and excluded entries upon the west side of it.

In this state of things, Wallace, being the owner and holder of unsatisfied military bounty land warrants, issued by the State of Virginia for the services of her troops on the Continental establishment in the war of the Revolution, located them, in 1838 and 1839, on lands which he asserted to be within the district reserved by Virginia to satisfy warrants of this class, in her deed of cession to the United States of March 1, 1784. The entries were, however, made on the west side of Ludlow's line. That lime therefore excluded the land on which Wallace located his entries, though Roberts's line included them.

The lands on which the attempt was thus made to locate these warrants had long before that time been disposed of to other parties, and the government declined to recognize the validity of Wallace's proceedings, and refused to issue patents to him. Wallace accordingly filed a petition in the Court of Claims, a court which, by the act constituting it, [Footnote 2] has power to hear and determine claims against the United States founded upon any law of Congress or regulation of an executive department or upon any contract with it, express or implied. His claim was that as the government had wrongfully appropriated the lands on which the warrants were laid, and as he could not get the lands themselves, he should be paid the amount of money received into the Treasury from their

Page 76 U. S. 158

sale, with interest, or in lieu thereof have land scrip issued to him, the petitioner stating that he would be satisfied with this "or with such other mode, if any there be, as will be equitable and just."

Wallace dying soon after, his executor and devisee, one Bonner, took his place upon the record. He insisted in the Court of Claims that there was no power in Congress to establish Ludlow's line as the true boundary, since Virginia had not assented to this action on its part and since it was demonstrable that this line did not include all the lands between the two rivers.

The Court of Claims, however, took a different view of the obligations of the government, and decided adversely to the claim on its merits.

The case being now here for review.

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