Lanfear v. Hunley

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

71 U.S. 204

Lanfear  v.  Hunley

Court of Louisiana. The case was thus:

Lanfear brought suit against Hunley in a State District Court of Louisiana, to recover the possession of certain land occupied and claimed by Hunley as his own. The plaintiff relied on a title derived from a Spanish grant in early times to Paul Toups, and subsequently confirmed, as he alleged, by acts of Congress in 1807, 1814, 1820, and with greater particularity by an act of August 18th, 1856, to the children of Toups, and to a certain Daspit St. Amand through whom he claimed. Toups's petition was made in 1795, and was for

'A grant of land on the place called 'Les Coteaux de France,' at a distance of about eleven leagues from the capital, and about three and a half leagues from the river, on the other bank, reaching to a bayou named Crocodile, which runs parallel with the river, and the said land to be taken from the crossing of said bayou as far as the large swamp on the other side of Bayou des Cannes-the whole forming a strip of land about sixteen or eighteen arpents wide, and about two leagues and a half long-bounded on one side by floating prairies and on the other by lakes and marshes.'

The land was granted as prayed for. But there having been, as the plaintiff alleged, several bayous in that neighborhood named in former times Bayou Crocodile, though with one exception no longer now so named, the question as to the line to which the land extended-a question of boundary alone-became a disputed one.

The first act of Congress, that of 1807, relied on as confirming the claim as set up by Lanfear, the plaintiff, was a general act, authorizing commissioners to pass on claims to lands granted prior to 1803, limiting such grant to 2000 acres, and leaving locations to be determined. Nor was there anything of a particular kind in the act of 1814, or that of 1820. In 1854, Hawke, a deputy surveyor of the United States, made a survey of the land granted to Toups and confirmed to his children, and so surveyed it as to cover the lands of the defendant, now in dispute, and on the 18th August, 1856, Congress, referring specifically to the survey as made by Hawke, declared the same 'confirmed' in favor of Lanfear. The act contained these provisos:

'Provided, that such confirmation shall only be construed into a relinquishment of title on the part of the United States, and shall not affect the rights of any third persons claiming title, either under adverse title or as pre emptor; And provided further, that any person or persons, who are now settled on said lands, or any portion of the lands embraced in the said surveys, shall be entitled to have and maintain an action to test the validity of said surveys, and the extent of the said claims of the children of Paul Toups and of Daspit St. Amand, numbers 74 and 529, and to have the same determined judicially, in the same manner as though the land on which they are settled had been surveyed as public land, and they had been permitted to enter the same by way of pre emption, it being the true intent and meaning of this act that no person who would be now entitled to a right of pre emption to any part of said land, if the same were the property of the United States, shall be deprived of the same, unless it is judicially decided that the surveys were made in conformity with the legal rights of said Ambrose Lanfear, under the said confirmation.'

The State court in which the suit was brought decided against the plaintiff, and the Supreme Court of Louisiana having confirmed that judgment, the case came here for re-examination under the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act, which provides that a final judgment in the highest court of a State-where is drawn in question the validity of a treaty or statute of, or an authority exercised under the United States, and the decision is against that validity, or where is drawn in question the construction of any statute of the United States, and the decision is against the right specially set up or claimed by either party under such statute-may be re-examined in this court; enacting further, however, that no other error shall be assigned or regarded as ground of reversal than such as immediately respects the before-mentioned questions of validity or construction.

Messrs. M. Blair and F. A. Dick, for the plaintiff in error, and Mr. A. G. Riddle, contra, argued the case on its merits.

Mr. Janin, for the defendant in error, asked to have the case dismissed for want of jurisdicition. Against the right to take the jurisdiction, he said that the act of August 18th, 1856, was the only one which defined the claim in language less vague than the original grant; that the act of 1856, which did define it, referred it to the courts to settle the location of the survey, and what land really passed under the confirmation; that the courts of Louisiana had settled that and nothing else; and that this was not a subject for review. Hence that the writ could not be entertained.

Mr. Justice SWAYNE delivered the opinion of the court.


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).