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United States Supreme Court

42 U.S. 95

City of Mobile  v.  Emanuel

This cause is brought to this court by a writ of error, to the Supreme Court of Alabama.

An action of trespass to try the title to a certain lot or piece of ground in the city of Mobile, was commenced by the plaintiffs against the defendants, in the Circuit Court of the state. Issue being joined, a jury were empannelled, who rendered a verdict of not guilty. As the right of the plaintiffs was asserted, exclusively, under an act of Congress, and the decision being against that right, the plaintiffs, having excepted to certain rulings of the court on the trial, prosecuted this writ of error, under the twenty-fifth section of the judiciary act of 1789.

The bill of exceptions states that it was proved the defendants were in possession of the premises described in the declaration, at the time the suit was brought.

An act of Congress, entitled 'An act, granting certain lots of ground to the corporation of the city of Mobile, and to certain individuals of said city,' passed 20th May, 1824, was read: also 'A resolution of the mayor and aldermen of the city of Mobile, passed the 23d day of April, 1834, in the following words: 'Resolved, that the map of the city as now shown to the board, be accepted and approved; and it is further resolved that the names of the streets be the same as heretofore established."

It was also proved by the plaintiffs that the map referred to was one published by Goodwin and Haise, a copperplate copy of which was offered in evidence; a copy of such parts of said map as is necessary to refer to is annexed.

It was also proved that there never had been a street in Mobile, known as North Boundary street. And also, that the premises in question were situate, in May, 1824, between Church street, south of Adams street, and below high water as well as low water-mark and the channel of the river. It was also proved that the premises were north of St. Louis street, as laid out in said map, and that in 1824, Water street did not extend to St. Louis street, and that at that time buildings were few and scattered above St. Louis street.

The defendant offered in evidence a grant from the Spanish government, and proved that they claimed title to the premises under that grant.

The court charged the jury that, if the place in controversy was, subsequent to the admission of this state into the Union, below both high and low water-mark, then Congress had no right to grant it; and if defendants were in possession, the plaintiffs could not oust them, by virtue of the act of Congress. That the grant to Forbes extended to high water-mark, and that if the place claimed was between high water-mark and the channel, in front of the grant, and had been reclaimed by the defendants, then the plaintiffs could not recover in virtue of the act of Congress, and this, notwithstanding the reservation of the right of way specified in the confirmation of the grant to Forbes.'

It appeared that on the 9th January, 1767, the English government, being then in possession of the country, had granted the land in controversy to William Richardson; and that a grant of the same land was made to John Forbes and Co., the assignees of Richardson, by the Spanish authority, the 26th September, 1807. In the British grant the land 'was bounded east by the river Mobile,' and by the Spanish 'by the bank of the river,' 'leaving a free passage on the bank,' &c.

The case was removed by writ of error from the Circuit Court to the Supreme Court of the state, in which judgment was affirmed.

The first section of the act of 1824, referred to in the bill of exceptions, vests 'in the mayor and aldermen of the city of Mobile, for the time being, and their successors in office, for the sole use and benefit of the city, forever, all the right and claim of the United States to all the lots not sold or confirmed to individuals, either by that or any former act, and to which no equitable title exists in favour of an individual under that or any other act, between high water-mark and the channel of the river, and between Church street and North Boundary street, in front of the city.'

And the second section of the act 'excepts from the operation of the law, cases where the Spanish government had made a new grant or order of survey for the same, during the time at which they had the power to grant the same; in which case, the right and claim of the United States shall be and is hereby vested in the person to whom such alienation, grant, or order of survey, was made, or in his legal representative.'

In principle this case is similar to that of the City of Mobile v. Hallett, 16 Peters, 261. In that cause the court say, 'From the bill of exceptions, it appears, that the defendant was in possession of the land in controversy under a Spanish grant, which was confirmed by the United States; and that the land extended to the Mobile river. It was then within the exception in the act of 1824, and no right vested in the plaintiffs. We think, therefore, that the instruction of the Circuit Court to this effect, was right.' The same language is equally applicable to the case under consideration. And it appears that the judgment of the Circuit Court was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Alabama, on the ground that 'there was no vacant space between high and low water-mark; all having been sold and confirmed to Forbes,' under his Spanish grant.

The Spanish grant being an exception in the act, under which the plaintiffs claim, the instruction of the Circuit Court in favour of the defendant was correct. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Alabama 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).