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United States Supreme Court

68 U.S. 104

United States  v.  Sepulveda

BY acts of Congress, of March 3d, 1851, [1] and of August 31st, 1852, [2] the District Courts of the United States for California, were authorized, on appeal from the Board of Land Commissioners, which body was empowered to settle any claim to land in California that any person might set up by virtue of any right or title derived from the Spanish or Mexican government,-'to decide upon the validity of the said claim.' One of the statutes [3] proceeded to enact for 'all claims finally confirmed by the said commissioners, a patent shall issue to the claimant upon his presenting to the land office an authentic certificate of such confirmation; and a plat or survey of the said land duly approved by the Surveyor-General of California, whose duty,' the act goes on to say, 'it shall be to cause all private claims which shall be finally confirmed, to be accurately surveyed and to furnish plats of the same.' By a third act,-the act of June 14th, 1860, [4]-new powers were given to the District Courts of California, and they now received authority to order into court 'any survey' of private claims, and to decide on it.

But this act did not in any express terms, perhaps in no terms at all, extend to surveys made prior to its passage, except they happened to be 'surveys previously made and approved by the Surveyor-General, which had been at the passage of the act returned into the District Court, or in relation to which proceedings were then pending for the purpose of contesting or reforming the same;' a class of surveys within which the present one did not come.

In 1852, Sepulveda and others presented their claim to the board of commissioners for confirmation of a grant which had been made to them under the Mexican government. In 1853 the board adjudged the claim to be valid, and entered a decree for its confirmation. The case having been removed by appeal to the District Court, the attorney-general gave notice that the appeal would not be prosecuted; and upon motion of the district attorney, in pursuance of such notice, the court ordered that the appeal be dismissed, and that the claimants have leave to proceed upon the decree of the commissioners as upon a final decree. The land, the claim to which was thus confirmed, was now surveyed by direction of the Surveyor-General of the United States for California (as one of the statutes already mentioned directs that in such case it may be), and in 1859 the survey was approved by him. In 1860, the District Court, upon the suggestion of the district attorney that the survey did not conform to the final decree, ordered the Surveyor-General to return into court (as the statute of 1860 plainly gave the court authority to do by a certain class of surveys) a plat of this survey. The court, on hearing, held that there was error in part of the survey, and decreed that certain corrections should be made by a new survey. From this decree the case was now brought here by appeal: the principal question raised by the appeal being, of course, the right of the District Court, under the act of June 14th, 1860, to order the correction of a survey made prior to the passage of the act.

Mr. Wills, in favor of the right, relied on United States v. Fossatt, [5] in this court, as being in point. A motion was made in that case-one similar, in many respects, he remarked, to the present,-to dismiss an appeal; the ground of the motion being that the decrees of the board of commissioners relate only to the question of the validity of the claim, and that by the term 'validity' is meant 'authenticity,' 'legality,' and in some cases, 'interpretation,' but not in any case, 'location,' 'extent,' or 'boundary.' The court asks, 'What are the questions involved in the inquiry into the validity of a claim to land?' and it answers thus: 'It may present questions of the genuineness and authenticity of title, and whether the evidence is forged or fraudulent, or, it may present an inquiry into the authority of the officer to make the grant . . . or, it may disclose questions of the capacity of the grantee to take, or whether the claim has been abandoned or is a subsisting title. But in addition to these questions upon the vitality of title, there may arise questions of the extent, quantity, location, and legal operation, that are equally essential in determining the validity of the claim.' The District Court was accordingly ordered 'to ascertain the external lines of the land.'

Mr. Justice FIELD delivered the opinion of the court:


^1  § viii, &c., 9 Stat. at Large, 631.

^2  § xii, 10 Id., 99.

^3  Stat. of March 3d, 1851, § xiii.

^4  12 Stat. at Large, 33, § 2.

^5  21 Howard, 447.

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).