Ryan v. Railroad Company

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

99 U.S. 382

Ryan  v.  Railroad Company

APPEAL from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of California.

This is a suit in equity brought by Ryan to enjoin and restrain the Central Pacific Railroad Company from relying upon or using as evidence a patent issued to it by the United States for a certain tract of land in California.

The company is successor to the California and Oregon Railroad Company, to which, in aid of the construction of a railroad, Congress granted land by an act approved July 25, 1866 (14 Stat. 239), entitled 'An Act granting lands to aid in the construction of a railroad and telegraph line from the Central Pacific Railroad, in California, to Portland, in Oregon,' the second section whereof is set out in the opinion of the court.

The land in controversy is situated within the indemnity or ten-mile limits beyond the alternate sections first named in the act, and at its date was within the exterior boundaries of a certain Mexican claim known as the Manuel Diaz grant, which was finally rejected as invalid, March 3, 1873.

Oct. 30, 1874, the company finding that there were not sufficient odd-numbered sections within the limits of its grant, not otherwise granted, &c., to make the quantity to which it was entitled, made selection of the land in controversy, the same being then public land, and applied for a patent therefor, in all respects in the manner provided by said act. This selection was examined by the register and receiver of the proper land-office, and it appearing to them that there were not sufficient alternate sections within the twenty-mile limits of the railroad grant, not otherwise granted, &c., to satisfy the grant, they, Dec. 26, 1874, approved the selection as indemnity for a portion of the lands so lost, and thereafter forwarded the same to the Commissioner of the General Land-Office. The selection was thereupon approved by the Secretary of the Interior, and a patent was issued to the company, March 17, 1875.

Ryan being in all respects qualified to avail himself of the provisions of an act of Congress, entitled 'An Act to secure homesteads to actual settlers on the public domain,' approved May 20, 1862 (12 Stat. 392), filed an application, July 14, 1876, accompanied by his affidavit, as required by said act, in the proper land-office, to be allowed to enter as a homestead the quarter-section so selected by, and patented to, the company; and he thereupon paid the lawful fees, and received a duplicate receipt from the register and receiver therefor. He subsequently built a house thereon, and, Nov. 4, 1876, moved with his family into said house, where he continued to reside until the commencement of this suit. He alleges that the said patent is held and asserted by the company in hostility to his title.

The court dismissed the bill, and Ryan appealed here.

Mr. John Currey for the appellant.

The Attorney-General for the United States.

If the right of the company to land within the indemnity limits attached at the same time as its right to the odd-numbered sections within the original limits, it is conceded by the counsel for the appellee that the rule in Newhall v. Sanger (92 U.S. 761) is applicable to this case, and, if adhered to, must govern its decision.

The records of the Department of the Interior establish that the order withdrawing the lands from sale or other disposal embraced those within the granted and the indemnity limits alike; and the question recurs, whether that order was authorized and required by the act under which the appellee claims.

The grant was in praesenti, and acquired precision upon the definite location of the road. Railroad Company v. Smith, 9 Wall. 95; Schulenberg v. Harriman, 21 id. 44; Leavenworth, &c. Railroad Co. v. United States, 92 U.S. 733. Upon such location, it was made the duty of the Secretary of the Interior to order a withdrawal from sale of the public lands granted 'within the limits before specified.' What were they? Manifestly thirty miles on each side of said line of road. The language of the act is 'twenty alternate sections per mile (ten on each side) of said railroad line.' Ten alternate sections on either side of said road could only be found by extending over a space of twenty miles.

This is the first limit mentioned in the act.

If the twenty alternate sections were not found within that limit, then the company had the right to select other lands in lieu of those 'sold, reserved, occupied by homestead settlers, pre-empted, or otherwise disposed of' within the next ten miles.

This is the second limit mentioned in the act.

The act, however, requires the withdrawal 'within the limits before specified,' the plural being used, evidently, to include both limits. Where the word 'limits' occurs in the preceding part of the second section, it means the twenty miles on each side of the road; but in the clause 'within the limits before specified,' it refers to the entire limits of the grant.

The order of withdrawal, therefore, properly embraced both the twenty and the ten mile limits. Any other manner would not have been in accordance with the terms of the act. Certainly Congress would not have required the lands within the indemnity limits to be withdrawn, if they were not included in the grant.

The grant was of ten sections per mile on each side of the road, provided, at the time of its definite location, the United States owned that quantity within thirty miles of either side thereof. It is urged by the appellee that the grant acquired precision upon such location, only as to the lands included within what is termed the granted limits. This is clearly incorrect. Every alternate section of public land within the indemnity limits, so called, was, by the order of withdrawal, subject to the grant. By such location, and that order, the company acquired a vested right in each section, viz. a right to a patent, provided any section of land or a part thereof, within the first limits mentioned, was lost by any of the ways specified in the act.

While it is true that no title to land within the indemnity limits passed absolutely upon such location, it is also true that the right to acquire title to the alternate sections there situate was granted. Upon the order of withdrawal, the right of the United States to dispose of them ceased. The title within those limits is acquired by virtue not of the selection, but of the grant, although that is made definite by the selection. The title to public lands can only be derived under a general or a special act of Congress. Wilcox v. Jackson, 13 Pet. 498; Bragnell v. Broderick, id. 436.

Under the ruling of the Department of the Interior the grant to the company attached at the same time to all the odd-numbered sections of public land within the granted and the indemnity limits.

This construction, although not binding upon this court, is entitled to great respect (United States v. Dickson, 15 Pet. 141); and we submit that having received the benefit of it, and thereby obtained thousands of acres of valuable land which otherwise would have been disposed of by the government, while thousands of other acres have been, and still are, withheld from disposal, the company should not be permitted now to question the correctness of such construction.

Mr. S. W. Sanderson, contra.

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).