United States v. Gomez (70 U.S. 752)

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United States Supreme Court

70 U.S. 752

United States  v.  Gomez

So far as the title involved in the claim of Gomez was concerned, the case could embrace nothing, of course, but the question, whether title was shown or not; whether the claim was well founded, or the reverse of it?

As respected this matter of the claim. The petition of the claimant to the governor was for a place described as Panoche Grande, of the extent of three square leagues. Appended to it was the customary informe; but there was no concession or grant, nor sufficient evidence of the issue of a title. It was asserted, but not proved, that the claimant had obtained the map in the record from the proper officer. One witness only, of several examined, alleged that he had ever seen the grant, and no possession was shown. A neighbor of Gomez, who had lived for twenty years in the vicinity of the land claimed, and had known Gomez and his father before him, had never heard, as it appeared afterwards, of Gomez having any land thereabouts. The commissioners rejected the claim. Whether the District Court, on appeal, if it had examined the case and been acting advisedly, would have done the same, can only be inferred. It did not, however, examine the case, nor act advisedly. The person who had been the counsel of Gomez, one Ord, having become the representative at law of the United States as the district attorney for that part of California, entered into a bargain with Gomez to allow a reversal, by the District Court, of the decree of the board, and a consequent confirmation of the claim, on condition of receiving himself a portion of the land; which afterwards he did receive. By such an abuse and betrayal of his official trust, as the reporter understood the case, the decree above mentioned was obtained. So far as Gomez was concerned, therefore, whatever title he had derived no validity from the decree.

The allegation was, however, that the land was now owned by McGarrahan, who purchased it in December, 1857, after a decree of confirmation was pronounced by the court, who having had no suspicion that there was anything fraudulent in the judicial proceedings by which the title was confirmed, was not affected by Ord's fraudulent act, and who stood in the position of an innocent purchaser, without notice.

Representing this person, and desiring to get the case dismissed from the court, as the first stept in establishing his title, Messrs. Cushing and Stone, in his behalf, set up that this court had no jurisdiction of the case. Urging, with what force they could on the evidence, McGarrahan's title as a bona fide purchaser for value of a title regular on its face, they set up further, pressing it strongly, that the court had no jurisdiction to entertain the appeal.

1st. Because the appeal was not taken within five years from the date of the decree.

2d. Because there was no citation.

3d. Because the appeal was not entered at the term of this court next succeeding the appeal.

4th. Because the pretended appeal, by virtue of which this entry was made, lost all its legal effect, by reason of the subsequent proceedings, in the District Court, on the part of the United States District Attorney.

5th. Because the decree appealed from was not a final decree.

To understand these grounds, a narrative must be borne with by the reader. Its particulars are complicated and dull, perhaps, as well. The history has been once told in the reports of two years since. [1] But not to refer the reader for half the case to a volume which he may not have at hand, the reporter must request him to tolerate a repetition, and read it again.

The case was heard in the District Court of Southern California, June 5, 1857; on which day the court delivered its 'opinion,' confirming the claim for three leagues; and ordering 'a decree' to be entered up in conformity with the opinion. But no decree was entered at that time. Was it that a thing begun in fraud found its author infirm of purpose, and was followed by irregularity? The cause did not appear. On the 7th January, 1858, a decree in extenso was filed, describing the land confirmed as 'three' leagues. The decree ended thus:

'And it appearing that, on the 5th June, 1857, the lands had been confirmed by the court to the said claimant, and it having been omitted to sign and enter a decree therefor, at the date last aforesaid, it is ordered that the same be done now for then.'

On the 4th of February of the same year, the court ordered that the claimant 'have leave to amend this decree by substituting another in its stead.' Gomez did accordingly, on the day following, procure another decree to be entered. It was much like the other, giving the name of the tract and boundaries, as it did; describing it, however, as containing four leagues. This decree ended thus:

'It appearing that, heretofore, to wit, on the 5th June, 1857, &c., the claim in this case had been confirmed by the court, but that it had been omitted by the court to sign the decree of confirmation at the time the same was made. It is, therefore, further ordered by the court that the same be signed now as then.'

In due time, the sin of the district attorney found him out. He withdrew from the country. And on motion of the United States it was, on the 21st March, 1861, ordered by the court (Ogier, J., sitting),


^1  United States v Gomez, 1 Wallace, 690.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).