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UNITED STATES v. NORTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY.

decided: April 16, 1900.

UNITED STATES
v.
NORTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT.

Author: Shiras

[ 177 U.S. Page 436]

 MR. JUSTICE SHIRAS delivered the opinion of the court.

The important questions of fact and of law were substantially the same in the two cases, and so were the reasoning and conclusions of the respective courts below. In a judgment just entered by this court, the judgment of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin was affirmed, for reasons given in the opinion, a reference to which is deemed to be a sufficient disposition of the questions common to the two cases.

[ 177 U.S. Page 437]

     But in the present case there has been raised and argued a proposition not considered in the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, and which is entitled to our attention. Briefly stated, it is that, even if it be conceded that the eastern terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company was lawfully fixed at Ashland, Wisconsin, yet that the land grant of the company had lapsed before any map of the definite location of the railroad east of Duluth, Minnesota, had been filed in the land department; that the company could not lawfully extend the construction of its railroad, so as to entitle it to land under its land grant, after the time limited by act of Congress for the completion of the railroad had fully expired; and that, consequently, the patent to the land described in the bill, being land east of Duluth, was granted mistakenly and improperly.

This contention is based on the language of section 8 of the incorporating act, which is as follows: "That each and every grant, right and privilege herein are so made and given to, and accepted by, said Northern Pacific Railroad Company, upon and subject to the following conditions, namely: That the said company shall commence work upon said road within two years from the approval of this act by the President, and shall complete not less than fifty miles per year after the second year, and shall construct, equip, furnish and complete the whole road by the fourth day of July, Anno Domini eighteen hundred and seventy-six." The time of completion was subsequently extended to July 4, 1880. 14 Stat. 355; 15 Stat. 255.

It is always safe, in approaching a question of this kind, to have regard to the pleadings in the case. Otherwise there is danger that the court and counsel may be drawn into discussions outside of the case actually presented.

On inspection, it appears that the case made by the bill is, that the eastern terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad became, was and now is at the city of Duluth, State of Minnesota; that the land in question being part and parcel of the public lands of the United States, is more than ten miles east of the said eastern terminus, and not, therefore, within the limits of the grant to said company; that the patent granted to the said company on April 22, 1895, was issued "through

[ 177 U.S. Page 438]

     mistake and inadvertence, and under the erroneous impression and mistaken belief that said tract of land was within the limits of the said grant to the Northern Pacific Railroad Company;" and the relief prayed for is that said tract of land be restored to the complainant; that the defendant be required to reconvey all of said tract of land; and that said patent issued by the ministerial officers of the government, so far as the tract of land described in the bill is concerned, be cancelled and annulled; and for such other and further relief as may be just and equitable.

It is true that, in the narrative part of the bill, the eighth section of the incorporating act is quoted, and also there is set forth the several transactions whereby it is alleged Duluth became established as the eastern terminus of the company's road, but there is no intimation that it was the purpose of the bill to have a forfeiture of the company's rights and property judicially ascertained and declared. Indeed, the obvious purpose of the suit was to have the question of the proper terminus of the company's road determined; and it seems a fair deduction from the averments and prayers of the bill that, if that terminus was found to be at Ashland, then the complainant would not be entitled to any relief.

It is argued on behalf of the Government that, even if the bill did not point to a forfeiture as part of the proof that the land had been mistakenly patented, yet that as the defendants, in their answer, had set up, as part of their defence, that the road had been "duly," and "in all respects," constructed in accordance with the law, thereby entitling them to the land in dispute, the issue was thereby widened so as to include the question of forfeiture. We think the Court of Appeals properly disposed of this argument when it said: "This is nothing but a suit to avoid a patent to a single tract of land on the sole ground that the land department erroneously found the eastern terminus of the road to be at Ashland when it was at Duluth. No forfeiture of any of the rights and privileges of the ...


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