More v. Steinbach
(Syllabus by the Court.)
This is a suit in equity to determine the adverse claims of the defendants below, appellants here, to certain lands in the county of Ventura, in the state of California. One of the plaintiffs, Rudolph Steinbach, is an alien and a subject of the emperor of Germany. The other plaintiff, Horace W. Carpentier, is a citizen of the state of New York. The defendants are all citizens of the state of California. In their complaint the plaintiffs allege that they are the owners in fee of the premises, which are fully described; that the defendants claim an estate therein adverse to them; that such claim is wholly unfounded and invalid in law or equity; and that its assertion depreciates the value of their title and property, and prevents them from using or selling the property, and otherwise harasses and annoys them in its possession and ownership. They therefore pray that the defendants may be required to set forth the grounds and nature of their claims and pretensions, that the court may determine each of them; and that it may be adjudged that they are unfounded in law and equity, and that the plaintiffs are the owners of the premises and entitled to their possession, and may have a writ of assistance for the possession of such portions as may be found to be in the occupation of the defendants, and for such other and further relief as may be just. In their answer the defendants disclaim all interest in a portion of the premises, and deny that the plaintiffs have any estate in the residue. As to such residue they admit that they claim an estate in fee-simple therein, and aver that the defendant A. P. More is now, and his grantors have been since 1843, the owners thereof in fee by virtue of a grant made April 28, 1840, by Alvarado, then governor of the department of California under the Mexican government; that the grant was approved by the departmental assembly on the 26th of May, 1840; and that thereafter, on the 1st of April, 1843, Micheltorena, then governor of the department, ratified and confirmed the grant; and that, on the 17th and 18th of November, 1847, the grant was duly surveyed, and the grantee placed in possession by the first alcalde of the district in presence of the neighboring proprietors, who consented to the lines thus established. The answer further alleges that the grant was adjudged to be valid and confirmed under the act of congress of March 3, 1851, 'to ascertain and settle the private land claims in the state of California,' (9 St. 631,) and that the defendant A. P. Moore, on the 4th of March, 1858, succeeded by proper conveyances to all the interests of the grantee in the premises, and still remains the owner thereof, except as to a portion not in dispute here, which he has alienated, and as to portions which are described as belonging to the other defendants, all of whom assert title to the parcels held by them under conveyances from him. A replication being filed, proofs were taken, from which it appears that the plaintiffs claimed under a patent of the United States, issued to one Manuel Antonio Rodrigues de Poli, bearing date on the 24th of August, 1874. It is conceded that whatever title was acquired by Poli under the patent had passed by proper mesne conveyances to them. The patet recites the proceedings taken by Poli before the land commissioners under the act of March 3, 1851; the filing of his petition in March, 1852, asking for the confirmation of his title to a tract of land known as the mission of San Buenaventura, his claim being founded upon a sale made on the 8th of June, 1846, by the then governor of the department of California; the decree of confirmation rendered by the board of commissioners in May, 1855; the affirmation of said decree by the district court of the United States for the Southern district of California in April, 1861, to the extent of 11 square leagues, and by the supreme court of the United States, as shown by its mandate issued in December, 1868; and the subsequent depositing in the general land-office of a plat of the survey of the claim confirmed, authenticated by the signature of the surveyor general of the United States for California, the descriptive notes and plat of the survey being set forth in full. The land of which the plaintiffs claim to be the owners is embraced in this patent, and upon its efficacy in transferring the title they rely. The defendants, as stated in their answer, claim under a grant made by Governor Alvarado to Manuel Jimeno on the 28th of April, 1840, which was confirmed under the act of congress of March 3, 1851, to ascertain and settle private land claims in California. It appeared in evidence-a fact not averred in the answer-that the claim thus confirmed was subsequently surveyed as required by that act, and on the 22d of April, 1872, a patent of the United States therefor was issued to the claimants, Davidson and others, who had acquired by proper conveyances whatever rights Manuel Jimeno possessed under the grant. The defendants afterwards succeeded to the rights and title of these claimants. The patent to Davidson and others recites the various proceedings taken by them for the confirmation of the claim to the land covered by the grant to Manuel Jimeno, issued by Governor Alvarado on the 28th of April, 1840, and approved in a subsequent instrument by Governor Micheltorena on the 1st of April, 1843, which two instruments are described as separate grants; the confirmation of the claim by the board of land commissioners on the 22d of May, 1855, and that, an appeal having been taken to the district court of the United States for the Southern district of California, the attorney general of the United States gave notice that it was not the intention of the United States to prosecute it, and thereupon, at its December term, 1857, it was dismissed by the court. The patent also recites the subsequent proceedings taken for the location and survey of the claim, by which it appears that two surveys were made, both of which were brought before the district court of the United States under the act of 1860; and that the one made under instructions of the United States surveyor general in December, 1860, and approved by him in February, 1861, was adopted by the court 'as the correct and true location of the lands confirmed.' The descriptive notes of the survey approved are set forth in full in the patent, with a plat of the lands. This patent does not embrace the premises to which adverse claims are asserted by the defendants. Their contention is that the grant followed by the judicial possession given by the alcalde of the vicinity in 1847, vested in the grantee a perfect title to the lands within such judicial possession, which does embrace these lands; and that their right to such lands is not lost by reason of the fact that they are not included in the subsequent survey of the claim under the act of 1851, and the patent of the United States. The court below held against their contention, and adjudged that the plaintiffs were owners in fee of the described premises, and that the adverse claims of the defendants to an estate of interest therein were unfounded in law or equity, and gave a decree, as prayed, for the plaintiffs. From this decree the defendants have appealed to this court.
J. B. Mhoon and Geo. Flourny , for appellants.
[Argument of Counsel from pages 74-78 intentionally omitted]
E. S. Pillsbury, for appellees.
Mr. Justice FIELD, after stating the facts as above, delivered the opinion of the court.