Joy v. St. Louis (201 U.S. 332)/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

201 U.S. 332

Joy  v.  St. Louis

 Argued: March 9, 1906. --- Decided: April 2, 1906

There is no diversity of citizenship in this case, and the only ground of jurisdiction claimed is that the action arises under the laws of the United States. The case is a pure action of ejectment, and the general rule in such actions, as to the complaint, is that the only facts necessary to be stated therein are, that plaintiff is the owner of the premises described, and entitled to the possession, and that defendant wrongfully withholds such possession, to plaintiff's damage in an amount stated. Setting out the source of the plaintiff's title, as was done with so much detail in this case, was unnecessary, but it does not alter the case, because a claim that the title comes from the United States does not, for that reason merely, raise a Federal question.

It is a long-settled rule, evidenced by many decisions of this court, that the plaintiff cannot make out a case as arising under the Constitution or the laws of the United States unless it necessarily appears by the complaint or petition or bill in stating plaintiff's cause of action. In Little York Gold-Washing & Water Co. v. Keyes, 96 U.S. 199-203, 24 L. ed. 656-658, it was said that before the circuit court can be required to retain a cause under its jurisdiction, under § 5, act of 1875 [18 Stat. at L. 472, chap. 137, U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, p. 511], it must in some form appear upon the record, by a statement of facts, in legal and logical form, such as is required in good pleading, that the suit is one which really and substantially involves a dispute or controversy as to a right which depends upon the construction or effect of the Constitution, or some law or treaty of the United States. That was a case of a petition for a removal of a suit from the state to the Federal court. But it has been held that whether there is a right of removal in such cases depends upon whether the circuit court could have exercised original jurisdiction. Third Street & Suburban R. Co. v. Lewis, 173 U.S. 457, 43 L. ed. 766, 19 Sup. Ct. Rep. 451; Arkansas v. Kansas & T. Coal Co. 183 U.S. 185, 46 L. ed. 144, 22 Sup. Ct. Rep. 47; Boston & M. Consol. Copper & S. Min. Co. v. Montana Ore Purchasing Co. 188 U.S. 632-640, 47 L. ed. 626-632, 23 Sup. Ct. Rep. 434. This original jurisdiction, it has been frequently held, must appear by the plaintiff's statement of his own claim, and it cannot be made to appear by the assertion in the plaintiff's pleading that the defense raises or will raise a Federal question. As has been stated, the rule is a reasonable and just one that the complainant, in the first instance, shall be confined to a statement of his cause of action, leaving to the defendant to set up in his answer what his defense is, and, if anything more than a denial of plaintiff's cause of action, imposing upon the defendant the burden of proving such defense. This principle was given effect to in Tennessee v. Union & Planters' Bank, 152 U.S. 454, 38 L. ed. 511, 14 Sup. Ct. Rep. 654; Muse v. Arlington Hotel Co. 168 U.S. 430, 42 L. ed. 531, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 109; Third Street & Suburban R. Co. v. Lewis and Arkansas v. Kansas & T. Coal Co. supra; Filhiol v. Maurice, 185 U.S. 108, 46 L. ed. 827, 22 Sup. Ct. Rep. 560; Boston & M. Consol. Copper & S. Min. Co. v. Montana Ore Purchasing Co. supra.

The mere fact that the title of plaintiff comes from a patent or under an act of Congress does not show that a Federal question arises. It was said in Blackburn v. Portland Gold Min. Co. 175 U.S. 571, 44 L. ed. 276, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 222, that 'this court has frequently been vainly asked to hold that controversies in respect to lands, one of the parties to which had derived his title directly from an act of Congress, for that reason alone presented a Federal question.' The same principle was held in Shoshone Min. Co. v. Rutter, 177 U.S. 505, 44 L. ed. 864, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 726, and also in DeLamar's Nevada Gold Min. Co. v. Nesbitt, 177 U.S. 523, 44 L. ed. 872, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 715.

To say that there is a dispute between the parties as to the construction of the patent or of the several acts of Congress referred to does not raise a Federal question, because a statement that there is such dispute is entirely unnecessary in averring or proving plaintiff's cause of action. His source of title, as set forth in the petition, might not be disputed, and the defense might rest upon the defense of adverse possession, as set up in the answer. If defendants contented themselves on the trial with proof of such defense, then no question of a Federal nature would have been tried or decided.

In those cases where the dispute necessarily appears in the course of properly alleging and proving the plaintiff's cause of action, the situation is entirely different. In this case the real dispute, as stated by the plaintiff, is whether plaintiff is entitled to the land formed by accretion, which has taken place many years since the patent was issued and since the acts of Congress were passed. There is no dispute as to the terms of the patent or of the acts of Congress. The language of the averment in the petition (which is set out in full in the foregoing statement of facts) shows that the controversy in dispute is not at all in regard to the land covered by the letters patent or by the acts of Congress, and no dispute is alleged to exist as to such land, but the dispute relates to land, 'which land is a portion of the land formed by accretions or gradual deposits from said river, along said west bank thereof, between said north and south lines of said outlot, confirmation, and surveys, and which thereby became a portion of the land granted by said letters patent and acts of Congress approved June 13th, 1812, and June 6th, 1874, respectively.'

Now, whether the land contained in the original patent reached to the Mississippi river as its eastern boundary, under the distances called for by the patent, would be a question of fact, as was stated in Sweringen v. St. Louis, 185 U.S. 38, 46 L. ed. 795, 22 Sup. Ct. Rep. 569, and whether the plaintiff is, upon the facts set forth, entitled to the accretion, is a question of local or state law, and is not one of a Federal nature. St. Anthony Falls Water Power Co. v. St. Paul Water Comrs. 168 U.S. 349-359, 42 L. ed. 497-501, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 157, and cases cited. In Packer v. Bird, 137 U.S. 661, 34 L. ed. 819, 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 210, it was held that while the Federal court would construe grants of the general government without reference to the rules of construction adopted by the states for grants by them, yet whatever incidents or rights attached to the ownership of the property conveyed by the United States bordering on a navigable stream would be determined by the states in which it is situated, subject to the limitation that their rules do not impair the efficacy of the grant, or the use and enjoyment of the property by the grantee. To the same effect is Shively v. Bowlby, 152 U.S. 1, 38 L. ed. 331, 14 Sup. Ct. Rep. 548. In the opinion in that case, at page 57, L. ed. p. 352, Sup. Ct. Rep. p. 567, it is said: 'By the law of the state of Oregon, therefore, as enacted by its legislature and declared by its highest court, the title in the lands in controversy is in the defendants in error; and, upon the principles recognized and affirmed by a uniform series of recent decisions of this court, above referred to, the law of Oregon governs the case.'

As this land in controversy is not the land described in the letters patent or the acts of Congress, but, as is stated in the petition, is formed by accretions or gardual deposits from the river, whether such land belongs to the plaintiff is, under the cases just cited, a matter of local or state law, and not one arising under the laws of the United States.

The question before us is wholly different from the case of a writ of error to a state court founded upon § 709 of the Revised Statutes of the United States (U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, p. 575). A Federal question may appear in the course of the trial, and some right specially claimed or set up under a Federal statute may have been denied, and the party against whom the decision was made can have the question reviewed by this court under that section.

In Cooke v. Avery, 147 U.S. 375, 37 L. ed. 209, 13 Sup. Ct. Rep. 340, this question was not decided. It was not referred to in the course of the opinion, and it is no authority for the plaintiff's contention herein. It was simply held that there was an issue between the parties which depended upon the laws of the United States and the rules of the circuit court, and their construction and application were directly involved.

In any aspect in which this case may be viewed, we think it was not one over which the Circuit Court had jurisdiction, and for that reason its order dismissing the petition is affirmed.


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).