ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA.
MR. JUSTICE FIELD delivered the opinion of the court.
This is an action for the possession of a parcel of land of about eighty acres in the county of San Joaquin, California, being substantially the south half of the southeast quarter of section 11, in township 4, of that county.
The plaintiff in the court below, and in error here, asserted title to the premises under a patent of the United States issued to him in due form on the first of October, 1879, upon a homestead entry made by him in May, 1873, and commuted to a cash entry in November following.
The original defendant below, Joseph Kile, now deceased, and in whose place his executors Wilhoit and Thompson have been substituted, claimed the premises under a patent of California,
bearing date the 5th of August, 1865, conveying to him the premises as swamp and overflowed lands, and as part of the land granted to the State by the act of Congress of September 28, 1850. 9 Stat. 519, c. 84.
The action was brought in the Superior Court of the county of San Joaquin, where the issue was tried without the intervention of a jury, by stipulation of the parties. Special findsings of fact were filed, upon which judgment for the plaintiff was rendered. On appeal to the Supreme Court of the State the judgment was reversed, and judgment ordered in favor of the defendants for the lands, and for the rents and profits thereof. To review this judgment the case is brought here on a writ of error. The question presented is the validity of this title under the patent of California. If the claim thereto was abandoned or overthrown, the right of the plaintiff to recover under the patent of the United States would be conceded.
To determine this question, a consideration must be had of the various proceedings taken to obtain the patent of the State, and the law bearing upon them. The act of Congress of September 28, 1850, granted to the several States of the Union all the swamp and overflowed lands within their limits, which, on the passage of the act, remained unsold, to enable them to construct the necessary levees and drains for the reclamation of such lands; and made it the duty of the Secretary of the Interior, as soon as practicable, to make out an accurate list and plats of the lands described, and transmit the same to the governors of the States, and upon their request to cause patents to be issued to the States therefor.
Soon after the passage of the act the question arose in each State as to the time the grant took effect -- whether at the date of the act, or on the issue of the patent to the State upon the request of its governor after the list and plats of the lands had been made out by the Secretary of the Interior and transmitted to him. After much consideration by the officers of the department of the government under whose supervision the act was to be carried out, and by the courts of the several States in which such lands existed, it was held that the words
"are hereby granted" in the act imported a present grant, and not a promise of one in the future; and that the title to the lands, therefore, passed to the State at once, their identification to be made by the action of the Secretary of the Interior, but when identified the title to relate back to the date of the act.
In the recent case of Wright v. Roseberry, 121 U.S. 488, the rulings of the officers of the Land Department, and of the courts of the States in which swamp and overflowed lands existed, by which the conclusion mentioned was reached, are stated with much fulness, and it is unnecessary to repeat what is there said. It is sufficient to observe that the construction thus given to the act is now the accepted law of the country.
But the enjoyment of the grant was greatly impeded by the delay of the Interior Department to make out and certify the lists required. This delay arose from many causes, some of which the secretary could not control, such as the insufficiency of the force under his command to make the required surveys and the necessary identification of the lands. The decision of this court in Railroad Co. v. Smith, 9 Wall. 95, tended in some degree to lessen the evil effects of the delay, in holding that when that officer had neglected or failed to make the identification, it was competent for the grantees of the State, in order to prevent their rights from being defeated, to identify the lands in any other appropriate mode which would effect that object. And in Wright v. Roseberry it was suggested that such mode of identification by the State was also permissible where the secretary declared his inability to certify the lands from any other cause than a consideration of their character -- a suggestion followed in the decision of that case.
In consequence of the delays in certifying the lists and the inconveniences which followed, the legislatures of several States, in which such lands existed, undertook to identify the lands and dispose of them, and for that purpose passed various acts for their survey and sale and the issue ...