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MONTANA MINING COMPANY v. ST. LOUIS MINING AND MILLING COMPANY

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


January 14, 1907

MONTANA MINING COMPANY, LIMITED
v.
ST. LOUIS MINING AND MILLING COMPANY

ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, White, Peckham, McKenna, Holmes, Day

Author: Brewer

[ 204 U.S. Page 212]

 MR. JUSTICE BREWER, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

The first question is, of course, the one of jurisdiction. If

[ 204 U.S. Page 213]

     the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court depended alone on diverse citizenship then, undoubtedly, the decision of the Court of Appeals was final, and the case could only be brought here on certiorari. On the other hand, if it did not depend alone on diverse citizenship, the decision of the Court of Appeals was not final, and the case is properly here on writ of error. The original complaint alleged the citizenship of the two corporations, plaintiff and defendant, but did not allege the citizenship of the individual defendants. In order to sustain the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court on the ground of diverse citizenship the citizenship of all the parties on one side must be diverse from that of those on the other. So, unless there was a Federal question presented by that complaint, as the citizenship of the individual defendants was not shown, the Circuit Court had no jurisdiction of the case. It may be that this was remedied by the subsequent first and second amended complaints, in which the individual defendants were left out, the citizenship of the two corporations, plaintiff and defendant, alleged, and to which complaints the Montana company, without raising any question of jurisdiction, appeared and answered. Conolly v. Taylor, 2 Pet. 556; Anderson v. Watt, 138 U.S. 694. Be that as it may, in view of the fact that this litigation has been twice before this court, has been protracted for many years, involves so large an amount, and also presents questions of Federal mining law, which, though perhaps not necessary for our decision, have yet been elaborately argued by counsel, we are of opinion that if the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court did, after the filing of the amended complaints, depend entirely on diverse citizenship, the case ought to be brought here by writ of certiorari. As either by writ of error or certiorari the decision of the Court of Appeals can be brought before this court, and as each has been applied for, and as the importance of the case seems to demand our examination, it is scarcely necessary to consume time in attempting to decide positively whether there was a Federal question involved, or the jurisdiction depended solely on diverse citizenship. The

[ 204 U.S. Page 214]

     writ of error was duly allowed prior to the filing of the record in the first instance, and to avoid any further question of our jurisdiction we allow the certiorari. Pullman Car Co. v. Transportation Co., 171 U.S. 138.

We pass, therefore, to a consideration of the merits, and the first question presented by counsel -- indeed, as we look at it, the pivotal question -- is the proper construction of the bond and deed by which the plaintiff in error claims title to the compromise ground.

The bond described the ground, adding "together with all the mineral therein contained." The deed executed in pursuance of the judicial decree contains the same description, followed by the words above quoted and also the further words given in the statement of facts, "together with all the dips, spurs and angles," etc.

Now, the contention of the defendant in error is that the effect of the compromise followed by the bond and conveyance was simply to locate the boundary line between the two claims, leaving all subsurface rights to be determined by the ordinary rules recognized in the mining districts and enforced by the statutes of Congress.

The argument in favor of this construction is forcibly put by Circuit Judge Gilbert, delivering the opinion of the Court of Appeals, when the case was first presented to that court. 102 Fed. Rep. 430; 42 C.C.A. 415. Without quoting it in full it is to the effect that agreements and conveyances of the whole or parts of mining claims are to be construed in the light of the mining law, as, generally speaking, we construe a contract, not merely by its terms, but having regard to the subject-matter involved and the surrounding circumstances, in order to ascertain the intention of the parties. Particular reference was made to Richmond Mining Co. v. Eureka Mining Co., 103 U.S. 839, 846, in which this court held that a line specified in a contract between the owners of contiguous mining claims to be one "continued downward to the center of the earth was not a vertical plane, but must be construed as

[ 204 U.S. Page 215]

     extending the boundary line downward through the dips of the veins or lodes wherever they might go in their course toward the center of the earth."

Further, the argument is that the adverse proceedings were maintained by the owners of the Nine Hour claim on the theory that the strip of land so contracted to be conveyed was a portion of that claim; that if the action had gone to judgment, sustaining their contention, the result would have been simply to fix the surface line of division between the two claims, without affecting the subsurface rights. Reference was also made to the suit for specific performance brought by the present plaintiff in error, in which it alleged that the contract had been made for the purpose of settling and agreeing upon the boundary line between the two claims, and that the suit was maintained upon the theory that, as owner of the Nine Hour claim, it owned the compromise ground afterwards conveyed.

We are not insensible to the force of this argument, and also appreciate fully what is said by counsel in reference to the familiarity of the several concurring justices with mining law and contracts and conveyances made under it.

Yet, notwithstanding, we are compelled to dissent from their construction of these instruments, and to hold that something more was intended and accomplished than the mere establishment of a surface boundary line. We premise by saying that nothing can be invoked in the nature of an estoppel from the averments in the pleadings in the suit for specific performance. True, the plaintiff in error alleged that the compromise ground was a part of its mining claim, and that the bone was executed "to settle and compromise the said suit and adverse claims, and for the purpose of settling and agreeing upon the boundary line between" the two claims; but the bond itself, reciting the fact of a settlement and compromise, and an agreement by the contestants to withdraw their objections to the application for a patent, stipulates for a conveyance, after patent, of the compromise ground, "comprising

[ 204 U.S. Page 216]

     a part of two certain quartz lode mining claims, known as the St. Louis lode claim and the Nine Hour lode claim," they being, respectively, the two claims owned by the parties hereto. Further, the answer denied that the compromise ground was a part of the Nine Hour lode claim, and alleged that the then owner of the St. Louis lode claim executed the bond as a compromise of the adverse claim and suit, and to enable him to obtain a patent for the whole of his claim.

The facts in the case, as well as the allegations in these pleadings, show that the two claims conflicted; that when application was made for a patent adverse proceedings were instituted, and that rather than try the title of the respective locators to the territory in conflict, and by way of compromise, they agreed that the owner of the St. Louis claim might proceed to patent, and then convey the compromise ground to the grantors of the plaintiff in error.

It must also be noticed that the dispute between the two claims was not simply in respect to the compromise ground -- at least, testimony offered to prove this was ruled out -- but involved a larger area, and that the disputing parties settled by the bond, describing what was to be conveyed.

It is undoubtedly true that if the bond had simply described the surface area or fixed a boundary line between the two claims, the subsurface and extralateral rights might have been determined by the mining law. It might have been implied that there was no intention to disturb the rights given by it.

Further, while it may be true that the words "together with all the dips, spurs and angles," etc., are generally employed in conveyances of mining claims in order to emphasize the fact that not merely the surface but the extralateral rights which go with a mining claim are conveyed, yet it must be noticed that in addition to these customary words are these, found in both the bond and the deed, "together with all the mineral therein contained," and they cannot be ignored, but must be given a meaning reasonable and consistent with other parts of the instruments. It is not satisfactory to say that they

[ 204 U.S. Page 217]

     are only equivalent to those that follow, "dips, spurs," etc., that the same thing is meant by each expression. While of course repetition is possible, yet it is not to be expected; and when, in addition to the ordinary words found in conveyances of mining claims, is this extra clause, we naturally regard it as making some further grant.

The scope of this deed would not be open to doubt if only the common law was to be considered. And in this connection it may be remarked that the common law has been kept steadily in force in Montana. "The common law of England, so far as the same is applicable and of a general nature, and not in conflict with special enactments of this Territory, shall be the law and the rule of decision, and shall be considered as of full force until repealed by legislative authority." Laws of Montana, 1871, 1872, p. 388, ch. 13, sec. 1, substantially reenacted in Mont. Ann. Code, ยง 5152. See also Territory v. Ye Wan, 2 Montana, 478, 479; Territory ex rel. v. Virginia Road Co., 2 Montana, 96; Butte Hardware Co. v. Sullivan, 7 Montana, 307, 312; Palmer v. McMasters, 8 Montana, 186, 192; Milburn Mfg. Co. v. Johnson, 9 Montana, 537, 541; Forrester v. B. & Min. Co., 21 Montana, 544, 556. By that law a deed of real estate conveys all beneath the surface, unless there be some words of exception or limitation. But the mining laws of both State and Territory were in force, and in construing conveyances of mining claims the provisions of those laws must be taken into account, and may add to or subtract from the rights passing by a common law conveyance of agricultural or timber lands. It is probably not necessary to specify extralateral rights in order that a conveyance of a mining claim be operative to transfer them, and yet it is not strange that the custom grew up of naming them for the sake of avoiding the possibility of disputes. While the bond made no mention of extralateral rights, yet in all probability it would have been held to pass them and the court may have thought that the single specification, "all the mineral therein contained," was liable to be construed as narrowing the conveyance so as to

[ 204 U.S. Page 218]

     include only the mineral beneath the surface, and therefore required that there should be incorporated in the deed the words "together with all the dips, spurs," etc. Yet in requiring the introduction of these words, which in terms define extralateral rights, it also retained the phrase "together with all the mineral therein contained."

To the suggestion that giving this construction to the bond and conveyance is in effect the granting of a section of a vein of mineral, the answer is that there is nothing impracticable or unnatural in such a conveyance. It does not operate to transfer the vein in toto, but simply carves out from the vein the section between the vertical side lines of the ground and transfers that to the grantee. The title to the balance of the vein remains undisturbed.

To the further suggestion that the owner of the apex might be left with a body of ore on the descending vein beyond the further side line of the compromise ground which he could not reach, the answer is that this assumes as a fact that which may not be a fact. The owner of the apex may be the owner of other ground by which access can be obtained to the descending vein, and it also is a question worthy of consideration whether granting a section out from a descending vein does not imply a right reserved in the grantor to pass through the territory of the section conveyed in order to reach the further portion of the vein. Those are questions which need not now be determined. This secondary vein does not appear to have been known at the time of the compromise, and while, of course, there is always a possibility of such a vein being discovered, yet parties are more apt to contract and settle upon the basis of what they know than upon the possibilities of future discovery.

The action of the parties hereto is suggestive, although not of itself decisive. This action for the recovery of ore taken out from beneath the surface of the compromise ground was pending when the suit for specific performance was brought in 1894. Nothing was done in this action from that time until

[ 204 U.S. Page 219]

     three weeks after a final decision of the specific performance case by this court, when an amended complaint was filed, and the case thereafter proceeded by ordinary stages to trial and judgment. The original complaint alleged the ownership by the St. Louis company of its mining claim and of all veins, lodes or ledges having their tops or apexes inside of its surface boundary lines, with the right to follow those veins, lodes or ledges on the dips or angles outside the side lines of the mining claim. It also alleged that the defendants entered wrongfully upon one of the veins, lodes or ledges having its top or apex within the surface location of the St. Louis claim, and which had in its dip or angle passed outside the side lines of the St. Louis claim and "entered beneath the mining property claimed or pretended to be claimed by the said defendants or some of them, and that in utter disregard of the right or title of plaintiff the said defendants ever since have been and now are extracting and taking therefrom large quantities of coarse rock and ore," etc. In other words, it sought to recover from the Montana company the value of the ore taken by the latter from a vein whose apex was within the surface boundaries of the former's claim, but which in its dip had passed outside the side lines into territory claimed by the Montana company. With that as its claim the litigation was dormant for four years. Now, if it were true that the apex of the vein was within the side lines of the St. Louis claim and the ore taken by the defendant was taken from below the surface of the compromise ground, and all that was accomplished by the compromise and bond was the establishment of a boundary line, leaving subsurface and extralateral rights undisturbed, there was no necessity of postponing the litigation until the question of title to the surface was disposed of. As we have said, we do not mean that this is decisive, because the St. Louis company may have thought that all controversies would be ended if it could once establish that the Montana company took nothing by virtue of the compromise and bond. Still the delay in the litigation is in harmony with the belief that

[ 204 U.S. Page 220]

     the words in the bond, "together with all the mineral therein contained," meant all the mineral below the surface.

The disposition of this question compels a reversal of the judgment. It may also effectually dispose of all disputes between the parties, and, therefore, it would be a mere waste of time to attempt to consider other questions which have been discussed with ability and elaboration by counsel.

In view of this conclusion it is also apparent that the order restraining defendant in error from removing ore from the disputed territory ought not to have been set aside.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed and the case remanded to the Circuit Court with instructions to grant a new trial. Further, the order restraining defendant in error from mining and removing any of the ore in dispute will be reinstated and continued in force until the final disposition of the case.

Judgment reversed and restraining order reinstated.

19070114

© 1998 VersusLaw Inc.



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