Connoyer v. Schaeffer

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

89 U.S. 254

Connoyer  v.  Schaeffer

ERROR to the Supreme Court of Missouri; the case being thus:

An act of the 2d March, 1805, [1] for enabling claimants of land in the territory acquired by us from France in the year 1803 (within which territory the present State of Missouri is included), to have their incomplete titles to lands confirmed and perfected, enacts that the claimant of such land shall file within a certain time, with the register or recorder of land titles of the district, his notice in writing, together with every grant, 'order of survey, deed, conveyance, or other written evidence of his claim,' and that unless he shall so file 'such written evidence,' all his right shall be void. 'Nor shall any grant, . . . deed of conveyance, or other written evidence,' says the act, 'which shall not be so recorded, as above directed, ever be considered or admitted in evidence in any court of the United States, against any grant derived from the United States.'

The act then provides for the appointment of commissioners, who were to hear and decide in a summary manner 'all matters respecting such claims.'

By a subsequent act, one of 21st April, 1806, [2] the time for filing the 'notices in writing and written evidences of claims' was extended, but with a similar provision, as to all claims not so presented being barred, and the evidence of them not admitted in evidence if not so filed. The act enacts that oral testimony may be heard in support of or opposition to such claims.

Under these acts many old French and Spanish tiles in Missouri were examined and confirmed. But the acts expired before all that were filed could be disposed of. Accordingly new acts were passed; one July 9th, 1832, and one March 2d, 1833, [3] providing 'for the final adjustment of land claims in Missouri.' These acts provided for a board of commissioners to 'examine all unconfirmed claims to lands in that State heretofore filed in the office of said recorder according to law;' and enacted that in examining these claims heretofore filed, they 'shall proceed in the examination in a summary manner, with or without any new application of claimants.' Under these acts, therefore, no new claim could be filed before the board; the commissioners were only to pass upon the claims already filed.

These statutes being on the statute-book, Louis Labeaume, on the 27th of June, 1808, gave notice to the old board of commissioners-that is to say, the board proceeding under the acts of 1805 and 1807-of his claim to a lot of land-a common field lot in the city of St. Louis. The tract had been conceded in 1772 by the acting lieutenant-governor of the Spanish government to a certain Francoise, widow Dodier; Labeaume, of course, claiming by conveyances under her.

The conveyance to Labeaume, as filed before the boards as evidence of his title, showed two different conveyances on the same paper. One conveyance was from eight persons named, who purported to be the right heirs of the widow Dodier, and was dated 18th August, 1806; one of the eight persons being a certain Joseph Hortez, who signed the conveyance in behalf of Margaret Bequette, his wife, as one of the heirs of the said widow. The other conveyance was from the same Hortez, and in this conveyance he conveys the tract as having been acquired by him, at a judicial sale, as the property of the said widow, made and ordered by the lieutenant-governor; but the proces verbal (or record, to use the English term) of which sale and adjudication, the deed recites had been lost in the secretary's office. This deed was dated the 23d August, 1806, was acknowledged, and with the acknowledgments appended thereto was recorded in the recorder's office of St. Louis County.

The board before which Labeaume appeared and presented the concession and his derivative title-papers-that is to say, the board acting under the acts of 1805 and 1807-did not confirm his title.

Labeaume himself died in 1821, having made a will by which he devised all his estate to his widow.

After the passage of the acts authorizing the appointment of a board to examine claims previously filed according to law, but not confirmed, a son of Labeaume appeared before the new board and presented in behalf of his mother as now representing the original claimant, the claim originally filed by Labeaume. And in June, 1835, this board reported 'that this claim ought to be confirmed to the said widow Dodier or her legal representatives,' and it was so confirmed accordingly, by act of Congress of July 4th, 1836.

In this state of things, a certain Schaeffer (A.D. 1860) being in possession and now confessedly vested with whatever title was vested by these proceedings in Labeaume, Connoyer, and others (who it was equally admitted was, as to a part of the premises in controversy, vested with whatever title passed to the heirs of the widow Dodier by virtue of the confirmation) sued him in ejectment.

On the trial, the plaintiffs, already mentioned as heirs of the widow Dodier, relied on the confirmation as being to her, and to her legal representatives, contending that from defective execution the deeds upon which Labeaume founded his derivative title could pass no title, and therefore that there could have been no confirmation to him made upon them.

The defendant, who had put in evidence the original deeds set out in the proceedings of the first board, relied much more on the confirmation; he contending that the history of these confirmations of land claims under the already-mentioned acts of Congress showed that there were two classes of cases which came before the boards:

1st. Where the claimant exhibited only the original concession and did not attempt to show any title out of the person to whom the concession had been made originally.

2d. Where, with the original concession, there were exhibited mesne conveyances, which the claimant relied on as bringing the title down to himself.

And that while in the former class of cases nothing was established on a confirmation to the original grantee and his representatives but the title of that grantee, in the second, under the decision of this court in Bissell v. Penrose [4] both the title of the original grantee and the derivative title to the claimant were established.

The defendant therefore insisted that the regularity of the papers accompanying Labeaume's claim could not be inquired into, as the confirmation when made inured to Labeaume, if living, and if dead, to his legal representatives.

The court in which the ejectment was brought held that the confirmation of the lot sued for inured to Labeaume, and those claiming under him, and not to the widow Dodier and her heirs. As the plaintiffs claimed as such heirs, that ruling of the court decided the whole case. The holding being affirmed in the Supreme Court of the State of Missouri, the plaintiffs brought the case here.

The question, of course, was to whom did the confirmation inure? If to Labeaume, then it was an unimportant inquiry whether the title-papers produced by him were imperfectly executed or not. If to the legal representatives of the widow Dodier, the inquiry was important.

It may be here added, though the thing is scarce worth reporting, that for the purpose of showing that those from whom he sought to deduce title were claimants before the land commissioners, the plaintiff sought to introduce, in connection with the Dodier claim, a certified copy of a request in writing, as found of record in the office of the recorder of land titles in and for the Territory of Missouri, signed by one T. B. Reddick and twelve others, in which these thirteen requested the recorder, 'for the benefit of all parties interested, to record the registered concessions in Livre Terrein, Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, on file' in his office. It did not appear that those under whom the plaintiffs claimed had any agency in giving this notice. No evidence was offered connecting them with the transaction, nor did it appear that any signer was interested in the lands or represented any one who was.

The court in which the ejectment was brought rejected this evidence; and the Supreme Court, adverting to the characteristics of it just mentioned, confirmed its action; adding 'that the paper pointed to a mass of books, and asked that certain records should be made, but named no claimant, described no lands, and did not intimate that any one was in fact claiming under any of the concessions referred to.'

Mr. C. C. Whittelsey, with whom was Mr. H. A. Cunningham, for the plaintiffs in error, asserted the true rule of law to be, that where the board of commissioners omitted all mention of the person presenting the claim as assignee of the original grantee of the former government, and confirmed the claim to the legal representatives of the person who held the claim by grant from the French or Spanish governments, then that the confirmation inured to the benefit of the persons showing themselves to be the legal representatives of such grantee by inheritance as heirs, or by will as devisees, or by conveyance as purchasers, and did not inure to the benefit of the party filing the claim, except so far as he showed himself by plainly good muniments to be the legal representative by descent, devise, or purchase.

It was impossible, the counsel argued, to read over the list of claims filed before the board of commissioners, or with the recorder of land titles, prior to 1814, and then to examine the list of confirmations, without observing in how many cases the commissioners confirmed the claims as against the United States, but refused to decide that the claimant was the person entitled to the land by derivative title. By examining these reports it would be seen that the commissioners issued certificates sometimes by name to the person filing the claim, sometimes to the claimant as assignee, and sometimes to the representatives of the person under whom the claim was claimed. [5]

The form 'to the original concessionee or his legal representatives' by descent, devise, or purchase, left the question open to inquiry in a court of justice, to whom the certificate, confirmation, or patent should inure, and thus saved the officers of the government the necessity of deciding upon many and difficult questions of derivative title. When, therefore, the board of commissioners in their action, June, 1835, declared that this claim ought to be confirmed to the said 'widow Dodier or her legal representatives,' they plainly showed that they did not intend to confirm the land to Labeaume or his representatives by name, for he was not named in the judgment of confirmation.

The assumption that the judgment of confirmation inured to the benefit of the person who filed the claim in all cases, when the party presenting the claim presented any evidence whatever, to show a derivative title from the original concessionee of the former governments, took from the board of commissioners all authority to pass upon the validity of the derivative title, and rendered their decision nugatory. Must they decide in express words that the derivative title was invalid, and so enter it of record and reject the claim for that reason, although as against the government the original claim was equitably entitled to confirmation, or were they at liberty to put this question by and leave it to be settled by the courts as advised by the attorney-general?

Of course, if the confirmation inured to Labeaume simply because he in person appeared to present the claim, that closed the case; but such a position could not be maintained.

The learned counsel, referring to Bissell v. Penrose, [6] much relied on by the plaintiff, contended that if it applied to this case at all, it was in reality inconsistent with the well-established rule in regard to the confirmation of land claims previously laid down in Strother v. Lucas, [7] and moreover could not be reconciled with what of quite late time had been implied in Hogan v. Page; [8] that, in addition, the case could not be maintained on principle.

The rejection of the copy of the paper signed by Reddick and the twelve others, was not strongly insisted on.

Messrs. Glover and Shepley, contra, contending that the confirmation inured to Labeaume, relied on Bissell v. Penrose, in support of that position, arguing that the cases of Strother v. Lucas and Hogan v. Page were misconceived and misapplied by the learned counsel opposing.

Mr. Justice DAVIS delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  2 Stat. at Large, 326.

^2  2 stat. at Large, 391.

^3  4 Stat. at Large, pp. 565-661.

^4  8 Howard, 317.

^5  See 2 Land Claims, pp. 563-603; 3 Id. pp. 275-317; Report of Board of 1832-3, 5 Land Claims; see list of certificates, Nos. 6, 89, 90, 92, 110, 157, 169, 185, 199, 207, 215, 225, 256, 267, 270, 275, 280, 284, 285, 298, 321, 358, 394, 402, 439, 440, 448, 514, 523, 543, 576, 606, 625, 628, 648, 649, 650, 651, 661, 672, 694, 717, 721, 731, 742, 764, 770, 793, 827, 897, 918-legal representatives of Gab. Dodier, Sr.-942, 943, 953, 968, 979, 1015, 1023, 1123, 1127, 1158, 1159, 1194, 1217, 1218, 1230, 1270, 1272, 1288, 1290, 1291, 1299, 1301, 1303, 1304. Nos. 942 and 943 were the lots in controversy in the suit of Strother v. Lucas, 12 Peters, 410.

^6  8 Howard, 317.

^7  12 Peters, 410.

^8  2 Wallace, 605.

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).