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GREAT NORTHERN RAILWAY COMPANY v. STEINKE ET AL.

decided: February 19, 1923.

GREAT NORTHERN RAILWAY COMPANY
v.
STEINKE ET AL.



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NORTH DAKOTA.

Author: Van Devanter

[ 261 U.S. Page 120]

 MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a suit by the Great Northern Railway Company to determine conflicting claims to a small tract of land adjoining its right of way at Springbrook, North Dakota. That company claims the tract under a grant of station grounds made by the United States to the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway Company, and the defendants claim the same under a patent from the United States to Philander Pollock. The defendants prevailed in the trial court and in the Supreme Court of the State. 183 N.W. 1013. A writ of certiorari brings the case here. 257 U.S. 629.

At a time when the lands in that vicinity were public lands the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway Company, being duly qualified so to do, sought and secured

[ 261 U.S. Page 121]

     a right of way through the same under the Act of March 3, 1875, c. 152, 18 Stat. 482, and constructed its road within and along such right of way. At the same time and in the same way it sought and secured certain lands two miles east of the present site of Springbrook for station grounds. Afterwards it changed its station to a point adjacent to such site and proceeded to give up the original station grounds and to select others, including the tract in controversy, in their stead. It made the requisite survey of the new grounds, prepared a map thereof and on January 12, 1900, filed the map in the local land office, whence it was to be transmitted to the General Land Office and laid before the Secretary of the Interior. The map was returned to the Company for amendment in particulars not shown in the record, was amended accordingly, and on July 18, 1900, was refiled in the local land office. The local officers then transmitted it to the General Land Office, and on October 18, 1900, the Secretary of the Interior approved it "subject to all valid existing rights." On being advised of the Secretary's approval, the local officers should have noted the disposal on the township plat and tract book in their office, but this was not done. The approved map and all papers relating thereto were preserved in the General Land Office in the usual way, and a certified copy of the map and of some of the papers was produced in evidence at the trial.

On January 12, 1900, when the map was first filed in the local land office, the tract in question was public land and free from any claim, but before July 18, 1900, when the map was refiled, the tract was included, with other land, in a preliminary homestead entry made by John Welo. That entry remained intact until May 13, 1901, and was then relinquished by Welo and canceled. On August 19, 1902, the tract was included, with other land, in a preliminary homestead entry made by Philander Pollock, and on June 1, 1903, he released the forty-acre subdivision containing

[ 261 U.S. Page 122]

     this tract from that entry and made another and unrelated entry of the same subdivision. Under the latter entry a patent for the full subdivision was issued to him on February 28, 1906.

Pollock and others, whom he interested in the project, platted the greater part of the forty-acre subdivision, including the tract in question, as a townsite. The defendants purchased from them some of the lots, which, as platted, cover part of this tract.

The station grounds shown on the map approved by the Secretary of the Interior consist of a long strip of land one hundred feet wide extending along one side of the right of way at Springbrook. The tract in question is part of that strip and is in close proximity to the tracks and depot.

The rights of the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway Company in the road, right of way, station grounds, etc., passed to the plaintiff, the Great Northern Railway Company, in 1907.

The Supreme Court of the State, in rejecting the plaintiff's claim under the grant of station grounds and sustaining the defendants' claim under the patent to Pollock, put its decision on two independent grounds. One was that when the map was refiled in the local land office, and when it was approved by the Secretary of the Interior, the tract in question was included in Welo's preliminary homestead entry, and therefore was not subject to disposal under the Act of 1875, and that the Secretary excluded it from his approval by making the latter "subject to all valid existing rights." The other was that thereafter the land officers permitted Pollock to make an entry of the forty-acre subdivision containing this tract, issued to him a certificate of final entry making no reference to the railroad company's claim and gave him a patent purporting to cover the entire subdivision, and that the defendants purchased from Pollock in good faith relying on the final certificate and patent so issued to him.

[ 261 U.S. Page 123]

     The pertinent provisions of the Act of 1875 are as follows:

"That the right of way through the public lands of the United States is hereby granted to any railroad company duly organized under the laws of any State or Territory, except the District of Columbia, or by the Congress of the United States, which shall have filed with the Secretary of the Interior a copy of its articles of incorporation, and due proofs of its organization under the same, to the extent of one hundred feet on each side of the central line of said road; also the right to take, from the public lands adjacent to the line of said road, material, earth, stone, and timber necessary for the construction of said railroad; also ground adjacent to such right of way for station-buildings, depots, machine shops, side-tracks, turn-outs, and water-stations, not to exceed in amount twenty acres for each station, to the extent of one station for each ten miles of its road."

"Sec. 3. That the legislature of the proper Territory may provide for the manner in which private lands and possessory claims on the public lands of the United States may be condemned; and where such provision shall not have been made, such condemnation may be made in accordance with section three of the act entitled [an act to amend an act entitled] 'An act to aid in the construction of a railroad and telegraph line from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean, and to secure to the Government the use of the same for postal, ...


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