Vance v. Burbank , 101 U.S. 514 ( 1880 )

  • 101 U.S. 514 (____)


    Supreme Court of United States.

    *519 Mr. W. Lair Hill for the appellants.

    Mr. J.N. Dolph, contra.

    MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WAITE, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

    So far as this suit depends on the original title of Lemuel Scott, it is clear, under the well-settled rules of decision in this court, that there can be no recovery. The question in dispute is one of fact; that is to say, whether Scott, when he demanded his patent certificate as against the other contesting claimants, had resided on and cultivated the lands in dispute for four consecutive years, and had otherwise conformed to the requirements of the donation act. This was to be determined by the Land Department, and as there was a contest, the contending parties were called on in the usual way to make their proofs. They appeared, and full opportunity was given Scott to be heard. He presented his evidence and was beaten, after having taken the case through by successive stages on appeal to the Secretary of the Interior. This, in the absence of fraud, is conclusive on all questions of fact. We have many times so decided. Johnson v. Towsley, 13 Wall. 72; Warren v. Van Brunt, 19 id. 646; Shepley et al. v. Cowan et al., 91 U.S. 330; Moore v. Robbins, 96 id. 530; Marquez v. Frisbie, supra, p. 473. The appropriate officers of the Land Department have been constituted a special tribunal to decide such questions, and their decisions are final to the same extent that those of other judicial or quasi-judicial tribunals are.

    It has also been settled that the fraud in respect to which relief will be granted in this class of cases must be such as has been practiced on the unsuccessful party, and prevented him from exhibiting his case fully to the department, so that it may properly be said there has never been a decision in a real contest about the subject-matter of inquiry. False testimony or forged documents even are not enough, if the disputed matter *520 has actually been presented to or considered by the appropriate tribunal. United States v. Throckmorton, 98 U.S. 61; Marquez v. Frisbie, supra. The decision of the proper officers of the department is in the nature of a judicial determination of the matter in dispute.

    The operative allegation in this bill is of false testimony only. That testimony Scott had full opportunity of meeting. Rehearings were granted him when the case seemed to require it, and he took all the appeals the law gave. The last decision was given by the highest department officer. If the evidence he presented to the register and receiver was not all considered on these appeals, it was clearly his own fault. It was more than six years from the time his first appeal was taken before the final hearing was had. No fraud is charged on the register and receiver, or on the heirs of Perkins in respect to the keeping back of the evidence. If any was in fact not sent forward, and Scott did not discover the omission until within one year of the time of the commencement of this suit, he must have been grossly neglectful of his own interests. He does not now state what the omitted evidence was, or that it was anything more than cumulative. The extent of his averment is that it strongly supported his claim in the contest. For all we know, the other evidence might have been equally strong, and might have covered the whole ground.

    As to the alleged fraud in the description of the compromise line, it is sufficient to say that, according to the bill, this fraud, if it in fact existed, was discovered long before the contest in the Land Department, and if it had any importance in the case the amplest opportunity was given to show the error and get relief against the agreement. This was one of the matters that might have been presented to the Land Department, and, therefore, is concluded by the decision of that tribunal. Under these circumstances it would be gross injustice to attempt to open that inquiry at this late day in favor of Scott himself, or any one claiming under him upon his own title, irrespective of any his wife may have had.

    This brings us to inquire as to the rights of the children and heirs of the deceased wife. In Hall v. Russell (supra, p. 503) we held that a grant to a settler did not take effect as against *521 the United States, so as to pass any thing more than a possessory right in the lands occupied, until the completion of the four years' residence and cultivation, and a full compliance with all the other conditions of the act. The statutory grant was to the settler; but if he was married the donation, when perfected, inured to the benefit of himself and his wife in equal parts. The wife could not be a settler. She got nothing except through her husband. If he abandoned the possession before he became entitled to the grant, her estate in the land was gone as well as his. In the view we take of the case, it is unnecessary to decide when a settlement became perfected so as to establish a claim, or whether, if the wife died before the end of the four years, her heirs would be entitled to her half when the grant was completed. The question here is whether the wife, or her heirs, gets any thing before the husband, or some one for him, proves up the claim.

    The "settler" is made by the statute the actor in securing the grant. He must notify the surveyor-general of his claim. He must occupy and cultivate the land, and otherwise conform to the provisions of the act, and he, or some one for him, must also make the final proof. When this is done, and he becomes entitled to the grant, his wife takes her share in her own right, but up to that time he alone makes the claim. His acts affecting the claim are her acts. His abandonment, her abandonment. His neglect, her neglect. As her heirs must claim through her, whatever would bar her will necessarily bar them. The Land Department, until the final proofs are made, knows only the husband. If contests arise, he is the party to be notified. He represents the claim, and whatever binds him binds all interested through him in the questions to be decided. For this reason, whatever might have been the rights of the children of Mrs. Scott if the claim had been successfully "proved up," their father was their representative in making the proof, and they must abide the consequences of what he did or omitted to do in their behalf. It follows that, notwithstanding the infancy of the children, the decision of the Land Department concludes them as well as their father.

    This disposes of the case, and the decree is