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UNITED STATES EX REL. CHAMPION LUMBER COMPANY v. FISHER

decided: February 24, 1913.

UNITED STATES EX REL. CHAMPION LUMBER COMPANY
v.
FISHER, SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR.



PETITION FOR WRIT OF ERROR TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.

Author: Day

[ 227 U.S. Page 446]

 MR. JUSTICE DAY delivered the opinion of the court

This is a petition for the allowance of a writ of error to the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia to review the judgment of that court affirming the judgment of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, dismissing the petition of the Champion Lumber Company against the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of the General Land Office.

It appears that on April 26, 1910, a petition was filed by the petitioner in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia praying for a writ of mandamus against the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of the General Land Office to issue a patent for the land hereinafter referred to. The grounds of the petition were that the Lumber Company was the owner of certain lands which had been finally entered under the homestead laws by one Lucy Johns, from whom the petitioner derived title; that the only authority left in the Land Department on the facts set forth was to issue a patent for the land,

[ 227 U.S. Page 447]

     and further that the ruling of the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of the General Land Office that a protest, made within two years from the date of the issuance of the receiver's receipt, was pending, whereby the patent was withheld in accordance with the provisions of § 7 of the act of March 3, 1891 (26 Stat. 1095, 1098, c. 561), was an arbitrary and capricious ruling, made without legal authority. The respondents answered and denied the allegations of the petition in this respect, and averred the pendency of a protest which justified the holding up of the patent under the provisions of the statute. The case was tried upon an agreed statement of facts, of which the following is an abridgment:

On September 17, 1897, Lucy Johns made entry under the homestead laws at Jackson, Mississippi, of certain land subject to entry, the papers showing that she was qualified to make the entry, which showing has not been questioned; on September 24, 1902, she having made prima facie proof of compliance with the requirements of the homestead laws, final certificate and receipt were issued to her, and the proof was forwarded to the Commissioner of the General Land Office at Washington during October of that year. On January 15, 1903, she conveyed all her interest in the entry to the petitioner, which subsequently conveyed it to one Hines, who later conveyed it back to the petitioner. On November 19, 1902, a special agent of the General Land Office named Hammer wrote the Commissioner that he had reason to believe that ninety per cent. of the proofs in the territory where petitioner's land is situated were fraudulent, and that he had under investigation certain entries, including the one in question, and requested that all patents be withheld until a full report was made; on November 28, 1902, Hammer informed the Commissioner that the investigation so far made had disclosed flagrant frauds, and renewed his request to withhold patents to such lands, and on

[ 227 U.S. Page 448]

     December 13th of that year the Commissioner directed the register and receiver at Jackson to suspend action on commutations and proofs until Hammer had reported; and on June 24, 1904, Hammer, in response to a letter from the Commissioner inquiring as to the necessity of an investigation, replied in the affirmative. On May 12, 1906, another special agent reported that the entry of Lucy Johns "was made for speculative purposes, with no attempt to comply with the requirements of the law, and recommended that the entry be canceled on the ground of non-residence, non-cultivation, non-improvement and abandonment." Thereupon the Commissioner directed that a hearing be had. The petitioner moved for a stay of proceedings, claiming that under § 7, supra, the entry should be patented without further proceedings. The motion was denied by the Commissioner and this denial affirmed by the Secretary of the Interior, who later denied a motion to review his decision, finding that a protest had been filed against the patent of Lucy Johns' homestead entry within two years from the issuance of the receiver's receipt and holding that the case should proceed to hearing on the special agent's charge.

The Supreme Court of the District of Columbia dismissed the petition. Upon appeal to the Court of Appeals that court affirmed the judgment of the Supreme Court. 40 Washington Law Reporter, 780. In the course of the opinion the Court of Appeals said (p. 781):

"Every point advanced by appellant in this case is, in our view, settled by the following very recent decisions: Fisher v. Grand Rapids Timber Co., 37 App. D.C. 436; Ness v. Fisher, 223 U.S. 683; McKensie v. Fisher, 39 App. D.C. 7. In Fisher v. Grand Rapids Timber Co., which involved the interpretation of the very statute upon which appellant here relies, this court, speaking through Mr. Justice Van Orsdel, said: 'While it is true that arbitrary

[ 227 U.S. Page 449]

     power resides nowhere in our system of government, and while the supervisory authority vested in the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of the General Land Office over the disposition of the public lands is neither unlimited nor arbitrary, yet the question here presented as to whether or not the communication and order amounted to a protest, which we regard as exceedingly close, was one clearly within the power of the Commissioner to decide. To say that he was mistaken would ...


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