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Opinion of the Court.

ticulars, it should have been granted. But there was no specific objection to the bill upon that ground. The defendants rested the case upon a general demurrer for want of equity, and it must be determined, in its present shape, upon the theory that the facts are as alleged in the bill. The argument on this branch of the case, by counsel for the railroad company, proceeds, in part, upon the assumption that there was no such compliance with the homestead and preëmption laws as would give any of the settlers, referred to in the bill, the rights claimed for them in this suit. Indeed, one of the counsel insists that such settlers have no existence except in the bill filed by the Government. And many other sugges tions are made that depend upon matters of which we cannot, upon this record, take cognizance. We must take the case to be that which is presented by the bill, and give judgment accordingly. The defendants, by their demurrers, admit that the settlers, referred to in the bill, did all that the laws of the United States required in order to give them the rights which, the bill alleges, belong to them, and in disregard of which the patents in question were issued. If the railroad company chose to invite a decision upon such a case, it must abide the consequences.

That the case, as now presented, is one of equitable cognizance, we do not doubt. This question must be determined with reference to the equity jurisdiction of the courts of the United States, and not by reference to the remedies given by the local law. As to some of the lands, so far as we can judge by the averments of the bill, the United States has a direct interest in them. As to others, it is under an obligation to claimants under the homestead and preëmption laws to undo the wrong alleged to have been done by its officers, in violation of law, by removing the cloud cast upon its title, by the patents in question, and thereby enable it to properly administer these lands, and to give clear title to those whose rights, under those laws, may be superior to those of the railway company. A suit, therefore, to obtain a decree annulling the patents in question, so far as it is proper to do so, was required by the duty the Government owed as well to the

Opinion of the Court.

public as to the individuals who acquired rights, which the patents, if allowed to stand, may defeat or embarrass.

In United States v. San Jacinto Tin Co., 125 U. S. 273, 286, which was a suit by the United States to set aside a patent alleged to have been improperly issued, and in which the right of the Attorney General to bring such a suit was denied, this court held that such an action could be maintained where it appeared that there was an obligation on the part of the United States to the public, or to any individual, or where it had any interest of its own. In the recent case of United States v. Beebe, 127 U. S. 338, 342, it was said: "And it may now be accepted as settled that the United States can properly proceed by bill in equity to have a judicial decree of nullity and an order of cancellation of a patent issued in mistake, or obtained by fraud, where the Government has a direct interest, or is under an obligation respecting the relief invoked.

Even if it had not been thus authoritatively settled, it would have been difficult, upon principle, to reach any other conclusion. The public domain is held by the Government as part of its trust. The Government is charged with the duty and clothed with the power to protect it from trespass and unlawful appropriation, and, under certain circumstances, to invest the individual citizen with the sole possession of the title which had till then been common to all the people as the beneficiaries of the trust. If a patent is wrongfully issued to one individual which should have been issued to another, or if two patents for the same land have been issued to two different individuals, it may properly be left to the individuals to settle, by personal litigation, the question of right in which they alone are interested. But if it should come to the knowledge of the Government that a patent has been fraudulently obtained, and that such fraudulent patent, if allowed to stand, would work prejudice to the interests or rights of the United States, or would prevent the Government from fulfilling an obligation incurred by it, either to the public or to an individ- ́ ual, which personal litigation could not remedy, there would be an occasion which would make it the duty of the Government to institute judicial proceedings to vacate such patent.

Opinion of the Court.

In the case before us, the bill avers that the patents, whose cancellation is asked for, were obtained by fraud and imposition on the part of the patentee, Beebe. It asserts that there exists, on the part of the United States, an obligation to issue patents to the rightful owners of the lands described in the bill; that they cannot perform this obligation until these fraudulent patents are annulled, and that they therefore bring this suit to annul these fraudulent instruments, whose existence renders the United States incapable of fulfilling their said prior obligation." These principles equally apply where patents have been issued by mistake, and they are specially applicable where, as in the present case, a multiplicity of suits, each one depending upon the same facts and upon the same questions of law, can be avoided, and where a comprehensive decree, covering all contested rights, would accomplish the substantial ends of justice.

Much was said at the bar as to the bearing upon the present case of the decision in Kansas City &c. Railroad v. The Attorney General, 118 U. S. 682. That was a suit by the United States to cancel certain patents issued to the MissouriKansas Company for lands selected, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, to indemnify that company for losses by reason of previous appropriations or sales of lands in place limits. It appears from the record of that case that the lands, so selected and patented, were odd-numbered sections within the overlapping indemnity limits of the grants made by the above acts of 1863 and 1866. As the Atchison and Leavenworth Companies were equally entitled, under the act of 1863, to obtain indemnity from the odd-numbered sections, within their respective overlapping indemnity limits; as the Atchison Company assigned its rights, under the acts of 1863 and 1864, to the Missouri-Kansas Company; and as it was shown that the Leavenworth Company had relinquished its right, title and interest in the lands involved in that suit, to the Missouri-Kansas Company; nothing, it would seem, stood in the way of the selection of the above odd-numbered sections as indemnity lands for the latter company; provided, the assignment by the Atchison Company to the Missouri-Kansas

Opinion of the Court.

Company was valid for the purposes for which it was made, and provided, also, the acts of 1863, 1864 and 1866 were to be construed as in pari materia, and having a single object, namely, the building of one road down the Neosho Valley to the point of intersection with the Leavenworth road. The court held that the acts were to be so construed, and that the assignment by the Atchison Company, being approved by the State of Kansas and by Congress in the passage of the act of 1866, was valid. The right of the Missouri-Kansas Company to indemnity from the odd-numbered sections within the overlapping indemnity limits of that company and of the Leavenworth Company was, therefore, upheld. There is nothing in that decision to sustain the proposition that the Missouri-Kansas Company could obtain indemnity from the even-numbered sections within the place limits of the Leavenworth road, which, as we have seen, were reserved to the United States by the act of 1863 for specific purposes, and, therefore, were excluded from the operation of the act of 1866. Nor does that case determine the question as to the right of the MissouriKansas Company to indemnity from the even-numbered sections within the common indemnity limits of that and the Leavenworth road to which claims of settlers had not attached before their actual selection by proper authority for that company. That right is sustained upon the grounds heretofore stated in this opinion, which are entirely apart from those upon which is based the decision in the other case in reference to the odd-numbered sections there in dispute.

Only one other matter, referred to in the bill, is of sufficient consequence to require notice. The demurrers were general for the want of equity; and as what we have said leads to a reversal of the decree, it is unnecessary to express an opinion as to that part of the bill alleging that the Missouri-Kansas Company had, before the bringing of this suit, December 5, 1887, received patents for 252,929.14 acres, more or less, in excess of what it was or is entitled to receive. We adopt this course because the paragraph of the bill relating to this alleged excess is not sufficiently full and explicit to justify a consideration, at this time, of the question it attempts to raise. Besides,


the act of March 3, 1887, required an immediate adjustment by the Secretary of the Interior of all unadjusted land grants made in aid of the construction of railroads. 24 Stat. 556, c. 376. We are informed by the brief of one of the defendants' counsel, that there has been a final adjustment of the grants made for the benefit of the Missouri-Kansas Company, and that such adjustment shows that there is a very large deficiency in lands due to that company. Whether the lands already patented to the railroad company are in excess of what it was entitled to receive, and what effect such a fact, if established, will have upon the present suit, are questions which can be better determined after the issues between the parties are fully made up and the evidence all taken.

The decree is reversed and the cause remanded with directions to overrule the several demurrers to the bill, and to require answers from the defendants, and for other proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.




Nos. 32, 33. Argued April 16, 17, 1891. Decided October 26, 1891.

Upon the rendition of a decree, a petition and motion for a rehearing was filed. At the succeeding term of the court an order was entered, granting a rehearing, which order was entered as of a previous term. The record contained no order showing the continuance of the motion and the petition for rehearing to the succeeding term. Held, that the presumption must be indulged, in support of the action of a court having jurisdiction of the parties and the subject matter-nothing to the contrary affirmatively appearing that the facts existed which justified its action; and, therefore, that the court granted the application for a rehearing at the previous term.

The question of usury, in a loan made in 1873 to a citizen of Illinois by a

Connecticut corporation— the loan being evidenced by notes of the

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