Semple v. Hagar

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

71 U.S. 431

Semple  v.  Hagar

SEMPLE filed a bill against Hagar in one of the State courts of California. The bill alleged that he, the complainant Semple, had obtained a patent from the United States for a tract of land, based upon a Mexican grant for the same land, known as the 'Colus' grant; that the land so granted had been surveyed by the United States, and included certain lands enumerated; that the defendants claimed part of the same land under a Mexican grant known as the 'Jimeno' grant, for which a patent had also been issued by the United States to the defendants; that the surveys of the said grants overlapped; that the grant of the 'Jimeno' tract had been obtained by fraud and was a cloud on the complainant's title. The prayer of the bill was that the court might declare 'the said fraudulent grant, commonly called the 'Jimeno Rancho,' void, and of no effect, as issued upon false suggestions, and without authority of law.'

The defendant demurred to this bill, setting forth nine several grounds of demurrer, and among them these:

1st. That the court had no jurisdiction of the subject of the action.

2d. That there was a defect of parties plaintiff.

3d. That there was a defect of parties defendant.

The court below made a decree dismissing the billg; a decree which on appeal the Supreme Court of California, the highest court of equity of the State, affirmed.

The case was then brought here as being within the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act, which enacts that the final decree in the highest court of law or equity of a State, &c., where there is drawn in question the validity of an authority exercised under the United States and the decision is against the validity, or drawn in question the construction of any clause of a statute of commission held under the United States, and the decision is against the title specially set up by either party under such statute or commission, may be reviewed in this court.

Mr. Wills, for the defendant in error, now, and in advance of the case being regularly called, moved-the record being a short one, and of but ten pages-to dismiss the writ of error for want of jurisdiction. He thus argued:

1. The State courts of California had no jurisdiction of the subject of the action. This court has held, in Field v. Seabury, [1] that the question of the validity of a patent for land is 'a question exclusively between the sovereignty making the grant and the grantee.' The courts of California, carrying out this doctrine, have held, that 'a patent imports absolute verity, and that it can only be vacated and set aside by direct proceedings instituted by the government, or by parties acting in the name and by the authority of the government.' [2]

2. It has been decided by the court, in Moreland v. Page, [3] that this court has not jurisdiction, under the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act, to review the judgment of a State court, when the question involved relates to the proper boundary between two tracts of land, although the owners of both had valid grants from the United States.

Mr. Reverdy Johnson, for the plaintiff in error, contra, argued in support of the jurisdiction; contending, also, that the question, whether the jurisdiction did or did not exist, was one which the court would not settle in this preliminary way; that the question could not be settled without a thorough examination of the record; and that this could not be made until the case came up in regular order; that then, when the court would understand the whole matter, it could better decide the delicate matter of jurisdiction.

Mr. Justice GRIER delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  19 Howard, 332.

^2  Leese v. Clarke, 18 California, 571; Same v. Same, 20 Id. 423. See, also, Beard v. Federy, 3 Wallace, 479.

^3  20 Howard, 522.

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).