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United States v. Patterson (56 U.S. 10)

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

56 U.S. 10

United States  v.  Patterson

THIS was a branch of the preceding case. The original title and the lands were the same. Patterson claimed under a deed executed on the 21st of November, 1836, by the heirs of William Barr, deceased; but the deed purported to be executed by their attorney in fact, Robert Thompson.

The cause was argued by the same counsel who argued the preceding case, with the addition of Mr. Lawrence, who claimed to intervene on behalf of the heirs of Joseph Piernas.

Mr. Lawrence, in support of this claim, alleged that,-The petitioners rely upon a conveyance of Jacinto Mora to Barr, Davenport, and Murphey, bearing date the 22d day of July, 1805. This is the only title they set up in their petition to the Ormegas tract.

During the progress of the cause they offered in evidence a conveyance from Jacinto Mora to Joseph Piernas, bearing date the 25th of April, 1796, a paper purporting to be a conveyance from Piernas to Vitor Portia, dated 30th August, 1804, and a conveyance from Portia to Davenport, dated in the year 1818.

All of these instruments of writing are in due form, except the most important one, viz., that purporting to be from Piernas to Portia, which was not authenticated by a notary or other officer, is not taken from any legal depository, nor recorded in the land-office, and in which neither the handwriting of the witnesses nor of Piernas is proved, nor the witnesses produced or their absence accounted for. In short, there is no proof at all of the genuineness of the paper, but it is left for the court to judge of the genuineness of the signature of Piernas.

Now, it will be at once perceived that if there were no defect in the chain of title from Piernas to Davenport, this would have been the elder and better title to Davenport as to the Ormegas tract; and yet, though the conveyance to Davenport of Piernas's interest was in 1818, and this petition was filed in 1845, it is not even alluded to in the petition.

It will be seen, from the extract from vol. 3, American State Papers, (Rec. 46,) that as late as 1815-16, Piernas made claim to this land before the board of commissioners, and no claim was made by Vitor Portia.

In 1824-5 the same land was recommended for confirmation, but was never actually confirmed by Congress. Piernas had in the mean time died, and his heirs were young children, living in poverty and obscurity. (See letter of Hayward, Rec. 172; also Report to Commissioner, Rec. 213.)

The heirs of Piernas deny that he ever signed the paper to Portia, and aver that it is entirely fictitious.

Full notice of the claim of Piernas was before the court below, for the petitioners introduced his title themselves. It was, therefore, fully within the competency of the court below, if they perceived, from the record, title in Piernas to the Ormegas tract, and had no legal evidence before them of his having parted with that title,-to have reserved the rights of Piernas's heirs in their decree; and it is respectfully submitted, that it is within the power of this court (should the validity of the grant be affirmed) to protect those rights, so far as they appear in the present record.

In the case of Cunningham and Ashley, (14 How. 377,) this court interposed meso motu, to save the new Madrid title. Here an older title is introduced. The act of Congress says the court is to decide on evidence brought in by any person other than the parties to the suit. If so, it is proper to intervene here. The deed from Piernas to Portia had never been recorded, and the court below had no right to receive it.

Mr. Baldwin, in reply to Mr. Lawrence, made the following points:--

1. That the great lapse of time raised a strong presumption against this claim.

From 24th day of April, 1818, when, as appears by the record, Piernas conveyed his interest in that tract to Samuel Davenport, no claim has ever been set up to this land, either by Piernas or his heirs, until now, notwithstanding they reside in New Orleans, where their suit was tried at great length in the court below.

2. That the claimants under Piernas cannot intervene in this court, it being a court of appellate jurisdiction.

3. That the deed from Piernas, being an ancient deed under the laws of Louisiana, proved itself.

4. That it was regularly proved-the testimony of Crusat, as to the signature of Piernas, having been taken without objection in the court below.

5. That this court will not undertake to settle the rights of parties in interest, but leave them to litigate their rights in the court below, or in the State tribunals; and that whatever judgment the court might pronounce in this matter, it would not be conclusive between the parties.

Mr. Justice CAMPBELL delivered the opinion of the court.


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).