Shaffer v. Scudday
THIS case was brought up from the Supreme Court of Louisiana by a writ of error issued under the 25th section of the judiciary act.
The case is fully stated in the opinion of the court.
It was argued by Mr. Benjamin for the plaintiff in error, and Mr. Taylor for the defendant.
Upon the question of jurisdiction, Mr. Benjamin's point was as follows:
The Supreme Court of Louisiana decided, by a decree reversing the judgment of the District Court, that the Secretary of the Interior had no authority to make the decision revoking Scudday's location, and held his title superior to Shaffer's, who claimed under an entry made on the authority of the Secretary's decision.
The case is therefore before the court under that clause of the 25th section of the judiciary act which empowers it to take appellate jurisdiction from the highest State courts, where 'is drawn in question the validity of an authority exercised under the United States, and the decision is against the validity,' and is fully within the principles decided in Chouteau v. Eckhart, 2 Howard, 344.
The sole question in the cause, then, is, whether the Secretary had authority to decide, and did rightly decide, that Scudday's location was null, and must be revoked.
This is hardly an open question in this court.
The 8th section of the act of 1841, under which Scudday claims, directs the locations to be made on 'any public and, except such as is or may be reserved from sale by any law of Congress.'
This court has decided in the cases above cited, and particularly in that in 15 Howard, that the act of 1841 vested no present title in the State of Louisiana, but was a mere authority to enter lands in the same manner as individuals could enter them; and that the entry under a location made by virtue of a State warrant, and backed by a State patent, did not confer the fee in the land, which is only divested by a patent issued by the United States.
Now, although the Secretary of the Interior approved the location, he did so under the mistaken supposition that the land was 'public land,' whereas, in point of fact, Congress had already conveyed title to it by the grant in the swamp-land law of 1849.
Before any patent was issued by the United States, therefore, Scudday's entry was revoked under the authority which has been universally conceded to exist in the offices of the Land Office, since the decision of this court, made thirty years ago, and never subsequently called in question. Chotard v. Pope, 12 Wheaton, 587.
The case may be summed up in few words, as follows:
1st. Shaffer claims title under a grant made by statute of the United States, vesting the fee in him as fully as a patent would, if issued directly to him. Strother v. Lucas, 12 Peters, 454; Chouteau v. Eckhart, 2 Howard, 344.
2d. Scudday claims under an inchoate title from the United States, not only still incomplete, but which it is impossible ever to render complete, and his title has been erroneously preferred by the Supreme Court of Louisiana, only because he holds a patent from the State.
But no State authority can confer a right in land sufficient to eject a patentee under the United States. Bagnell v. Broderich, 13 Peters, 436.
Mr. Taylor objected to the jurisdiction of this court, upon the following ground:
1. By reference to the decision of the Supreme Court of Louisiana, it will be seen that the question raised as to the construction of the act of 1849 was not decided by the court. The court expressly said that they did 'not consider it necessary to decide that question.' 'The construction of the act of 1849, by the Secretary of the Interior, may be strictly correct, and yet it does not follow that the location of a warrant, under the internal-improvement law of 1841, which had been approved by the proper department of the Government, and for which a patent had been subsequently issued by the State, could be revoked, so as to destroy the title conferred by the patent. The question would have been different, if, after the passage by Congress of the act of 1849, the United States had granted the land away from the State of Louisiana. Such was not the case; and as both the acts of 1834 and of 1849 were grants of land to the State, we cannot go behind the patent which the State has granted.' From this it is clear that there was no decision against the validity of a treaty or statute of, or an authority exercised under, the United States, &c., &c., in the highest court of Louisiana; and that inasmuch as no error can be assigned or regarded as a ground of reversal, other 'than such as apears on the face of the record, and immediately respects the questions of validity or construction,' &c., therefore, there was no right to a writ of error in this case, and that the case must be dismissed for want of jurisdiction. 1 Statutes at Large, p. 85, sec. 25; Almonester v. Kenton, 9 Howard, 1.
Mr. Chief Justice TANEY delivered the opinion of the court.
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