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decided: February 23, 1909.



Author: Mckenna

[ 212 U.S. Page 441]

 MR. JUSTICE McKENNA, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the court.

The case presents apparently contradictory decision between two Secretaries of the Interior and plaintiff contends upon the same set of facts. But this contention is not sustained by the record. The first decision of the local office was adverse to the plaintiff, but the decision was reversed by the Interior Department, the Commissioner and the Secretary of the Interior taking a different view of the facts from that taken by the local land office. But a rehearing was granted, and while in the opinion granting it the Secretary repeated his view of the facts, further testimony was allowed to be introduced. Further testimony was introduced, and the local office found that, while it was conflicting -- "the preponderance of it showed: First. That the contestant settled on the land in controversy on the afternoon of September

[ 212 U.S. Page 44216]

     , 1893; that he put up a flag and commenced a well; that he remained thereon until the 20th of September, 1893; that he returned in October, 1893, and built a small house, put up a few trees and had some breaking done; that the again went to Kansas in November, 1893, and remained there until February, 1894, when he again returned to the land in controversy and built a large and better house; that he has resided [upon], improved an cultivated part of the said land from that time to the present; that he has substantially complied with all the requirements of the homestead law.

"Second. We find that his absence from the land from November, 1893, to February, 1894, was excusable because of his financial and physical condition.

"Fourth. We find that there was not fraud in conveying the land formerly owned by the contestant to his son-in-law some months before the opening of the country to settlement.

"Fifth. That the settlement rights of the contestant were commenced before the defendant filed his soldier's declaratory statement, and that the said rights so acquired have been followed up as required by law."

The office recommended that the entry of the defendant "be permitted to stand." The finding and decision were successively affirmed by the Commissioner of the General Land Office and the Secretary of the Interior, in an elaborate opinion, in which the testimony was quoted and commented upon. And to these decisions we must look as the ultimate action of the Department. It is of no legal consequence that different views were expressed in other decisions. It is not contended that Secretary Hitchcock, when he rendered the last decision, did not have complete jurisdiction of the case. It seems to be contended that he was bound by the facts found by his predecessor, Mr. Bliss, and that this court is likewise so bound. The contention is untenable. Potter v. Hall, 189 U.S. 292. In that case it was said:

"The fact that the final conclusion as to the ultimate facts

[ 212 U.S. Page 443]

     reached by the Department differed from the conception of such utimate facts entertained by the Department in previous stages of the controversy, affords no ground for disregarding the conclusion of ultimate fact finally reached, which was binding between the parties."

But besides, as we have seen, additional testimony was taken. It was upon that testimony, as well as upon that which was before Secretary Bliss, that the decision of Secretary Hitchcock was based. It is true the petition alleges that such decision was made upon "precisely the same state of facts" as that of Secretary Bliss, but the allegation is contradicted by the exhibits which are attached to the petition and expressly made part thereof.

The contentions upon which plaintiff bases his second cause of action are equally without merit. The issue of fraud which plaintiff made upon the ownership of land in Kansas and the conveyance thereof to his son-in-law was passed on by the Land Department and decided adversely to plaintiff. There was evidence other than copies of the record. The integrity of the deed by the defendant to his son-in-law was challenged.The evidence is not recited in the opinion of the local land office.It is recited in the opinion of Secretary Hitchcock, and it tended to show that the deed was a consummation of transactions between defendant and his son-in-law which established its validity, and which were inconsistent with the supposition of its having been antedated. However, the issue was met and decided upon testimony submitted, and no fact is alleged which supports the statement that plaintiff was prevented from exhibiting his whole case. He had certainly plenty of time for preparation. The land was opened to settlement September 3, 1893. On the nineteenth of that month plaintiff filed his soldier's declaratory statement upon the land. Defendant made his homestead entry November 24, 1893, and on the twenty-eighth of March, 1894, instituted a contest against plaintiff, which was not heard until October 18, 1895. A decision was rendered on such contest October 24, 1895.

[ 212 U.S. Page 444]

     The progress of the case was somewhat slow in the Interior Department, the rehearing applied for by defendant being granted February, 1899, five years after the institution of the contest. It thus appears that plaintiff had from the twenty-eighth of March, 1894, until October 18, 1895, to prepare for the first hearing upon the contest, and had over five years to the final hearing, in 1899. And he alleges that he had learned as early as January, 1894, that the deed of defendant to his son-in-law was fraudulent. It is true he attempted to show diligence in his investigations, but all he did was to visit Morris County in 1894, and to send an attorney there in 1899, who discovered nothing. And he finally alleges, that on or about the first of March, 1901, which was after the proceedings in the Land Department had closed, he learned "of the existence of proof sufficient to substantiate the allegations of fraud and imposition on the defendant's part." From whom or how he learned it or what defendant did to keep it from him, is not alleged. These allegations only show that the plaintiff has further evidence upon one of the issues made before the Land Department, which he had abundance of time and opportunity to discover and present, and no fact is alleged that anything was done to prevent him from discovering or presenting it, except the general allegation that cunning and deceit were practiced upon him. Of what they consisted he does not allege, or why they endured and were successful for over five years and until the case was closed in the Land Department.

The case therefore falls within the doctrine of Vance v. Burbank, 101 U.S. 514, 519; De Cambra v. Rogers, 189 U.S. 119; Estes v. Timmons, 199 U.S. 391; United States v. Throckmorton, 98 U.S. 65; Friese v. Hummel (Ore.), 37 Pac. Rep. 458. In Vance v. Burbank, supra, this court said, expressing the principle that is to be applied in cases like that at bar:

"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

[ 212 U.S. Page 445]

     properly be said there never has 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 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 cases adduced by plaintiff are consistent with that principle. They only declare the general doctrine that the holder of a patent may be declared to hold the same as trustee for another when he has procured it by an error of law committed by the Land Department, the facts being undisputed, or by fraud or imposition upon that Department. Of the character of the fraud and in what way or under what circumstances exerted in order to be a ground of relief, the cases we have cited are examples.

Decree affirmed.


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