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United States Supreme Court

68 U.S. 706

United States  v.  Morillo

APPEAL by the United States from the decree of the District Court for the Southern District of Claifornia, confirming a claim to land under the act of 3d March, 1851, entitled 'An act to ascertain and settle the private land claims in the State of California.' [1] The act having, by a previous section, enacted that 'each and every person' claiming lands in California under title derived from the Spanish or Mexican government, should present them with evidence to a Board of Commissioners appointed by the act, who should examine the same 'upon such evidence, and upon the evidence produ ed by the United States,' and should decide on it, in its 13th and 15th sections provides as follows:

'SECTION 13. All lands, the claims to which have been finally rejected by the commissioners, &c., or which shall be finally decided to be invalid by the District or Supreme Court; and all lands, the claims to which shall not have been presented to the said commissioners within two years after the date of this act, shall be deemed, held and considered as part of the public domain of the United States. Provided, &c.

'SECTION 15. The final decrees rendered by the said commissioners, or by the District or Supreme Court of the United States, or any patent to be issued under this act, shall be conclusive between the United States and the said claimants only, and shall not affect the interests of third persons.'

It was part of the case in this court, made so by the assertion of the United States, that the land in controversy had been confirmed to a person other than the claimant appellee, to wit, had been confirmed to one Ramon Yorba. But this fact did not appear in the record; nor was there evidence of any kind as to the date of this alleged decree; that is to say, whether it was prior to subsequent to the one from which the present appeal was taken. In this state of facts, the question upon this assertion by the Attorney-General of the United States, or his deputy, that the government had no further interest in the case, was, what form of order or decree should be made in this court; whether a decree of reversal, with direction to the court below to dismiss as wanting jurisdiction, or a decree here of dismissal simply?

Messrs. Bates, A. G., and Wills, for the United States: The act of March 3, 1851, gives jurisdiction to the District Courts of California and to this court on appeal, only in controversies between the government and individuals. This is to be inferred from the sections of the act as quoted. The purpose of the act was to provide the means of separating the national domain from the possessions of private individuals. If the controversy is between private individuals only, neither this court nor the court below has jurisdiction. Now the admission by the government that it has no interest in the land, is necessarily sufficient to satisfy the court of that fact; for it is an admission against its own interest. This court cannot entertain jurisdiction in the face of an acknowledgment by the United States that the contest is wholly between private claimants. But if this court has no jurisdiction, neither had the court below; and, whatever is sufficient to induce this court to decline jurisdiction, must of course be sufficient to induce it to reverse. If it declines jurisdiction, it does so only because satisfied that the claim is between private parties; and, when satisfied of that, it is satisfied also that the court below had no jurisdiction. Satisfied of that second fact it necessarily reverses. It matters not how it may be satisfied; whether by the record, or by admission of the party made here. If satisfied in any way, it is enough. The court cannot decline cognizance at all therefore for itself, on the ground alleged, and not go so far as to reverse the decree below with directions to dismiss.

The claimant, Morillo, was not represented here, either by counsel or by brief.

Mr. Justice MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  9 Stat. at Large, 631.

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).