Sparks v. Pierce/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

115 U.S. 408

Sparks  v.  Pierce

 Argued: November 16, 1885. ---

This case, as seen by the pleadings stated, is in its main features similar to that of Deffeback v. Hawke, ante, 95, just decided. The plaintiffs here, as in that case, rely upon a patent of the United States for the land in controversy, issued under the laws for the sale of mineral lands. It is admitted that the land was mineral in its character, and the patent itself is evidence that all the requirements of the law for its sale were complied with. The defendants, as in that case, set up as ground for equitable relief against the enforcement of the rights of the plaintiffs under the patent, that their grantor occupied the land as a lot in a town-site-here the town-site being that of Central City; there that of Deadwood City-and made improvements thereon before the plaintiffs claimed it as mining ground, or took proceedings to procure its title, and that he sold the lot to them, with its improvements, for a valuable consideration. They, therefore, as the defendant did in the other case, deny the right of the plaintiffs to acquire the premises as a mining claim on the town-site; but they also contend that if the plaintiffs had that right, the patent issued to them should have contained reservations excluding from its operation the buildings and improvements of the defendants and whatever was necessary for their use and enjoyment. They also contend that, if this defense be not sustained, they should be allowed compensation for their improvements on the premises.

The case differs, however, in one important particular from that of Deffeback v. Hawke. There an entry had been made of the town-site in the landoffice of the United States by the probate judge of the county for the benefit of the occupants of the town. The entry, it is true, was afterwards canceled by the secretary of the interior so far as the premises in controversy in that case were concerned. The proceedings showed, however, a desire on the part of the occupants to secure the title of the United States, and not to rest upon their naked possession. Here it does not appear that any effort had been made, either by the authorities of the town, or by the probate judge of the county, or by any one else on behalf of the occupants of the town, or by the defendants or their grantor, to acquire the legal title. The case presented, therefore, is that of occupants of the public lands without title, and without any attempt having been made by them, or by any one representing them, to secure that title, resisting the enforcement of the patent of the United States, on the ground of such occupation. Mere occupancy of the public lands and improvements thereon give no vested right therein as against the United States, and consequently not against any purchaser from them. To entitle a party to relief against a patent of the government, he must show a better right to the land than the patentee, such as in law should have been respected by the officers of the land department, and being respected would have given him the patent. It is not sufficient to show that the patentee ought not to have received the patent. It must affirmatively appear that the claimant was entitled to it, and that, in consequence of erroneous rulings of those officers on the facts existing, it was denied to him. Bohall v. Dilla, 114 U.S. 51; S.C.. 5 Sup. Ct. Rep.

The question as to the allowance for improvements is disposed of by the decision in Deffeback v. Hawke. A person who makes improvements upon public land, knowing that he has no title, and that the land is open to exploration and sale for its minerals, and makes no effort to secure the title to it as such land under the laws of congress, or a right or possession under the local customs and rules of miners, has no claim to compensation for his improvements as an adverse holder in good faith when such sale is made to another, and the title is passed to him by a patent of the United States. Judgment 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).