114 F.3d 484 (5th Cir. 1997), 95-60625, Beggerly v. United States

Docket Nº95-60625.
Citation114 F.3d 484
Party NameChris W. BEGGERLY; James R. Beggerly; Clark M. Beggerly; Velma B. Garner; Suzanne Reed; David Reed, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. UNITED STATES of America, Defendant-Appellee.
Case DateMay 29, 1997
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 484

114 F.3d 484 (5th Cir. 1997)

Chris W. BEGGERLY; James R. Beggerly; Clark M. Beggerly;

Velma B. Garner; Suzanne Reed; David Reed,

Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

UNITED STATES of America, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 95-60625.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

May 29, 1997

As Corrected on Rehearing July 28, 1997.

Page 485

Ernest G. Taylor, Jr., Robert Minard Arentson, Jr., Marielle Christine Crockett, Watkins, Ludlam & Stennis, Jackson, MS, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

William Brandt Lazarus, Martin W. Matzen, Washington, DC, Donald Monroe Waits, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Biloxi, MS, for Defendant-Appellee.

Henry D. Granberry, III, Atlanta, GA, for Southeastern Legal Foundation, Amicus Curiae.

John Joseph Rademacher, Jerome J. Werderitch, Michael John Stientjes, Park Ridge, IL, for American Farm Bureau Federation and Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, Amici Curiae.

Page 486

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Before POLITZ, Chief Judge, and EMILIO M. GARZA and STEWART, Circuit Judges.

POLITZ, Chief Judge:

The Beggerlys appeal the district court's order granting the motion to dismiss by the United States and denying the Beggerlys' cross-motion for summary judgment in which they sought to vacate a consent judgment under which the United States acquired title to property previously held by the Beggerlys. Concluding that the Beggerlys are entitled to the relief sought, we reverse and remand.

BACKGROUND

On April 3, 1950 Clark M. Beggerly, Sr., on behalf of his family, bought a portion of Horn Island, offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, at a tax sale in Jackson, Mississippi. On January 8, 1971 Congress enacted legislation authorizing the Department of Interior to establish a federal park on lands that included Horn Island. 1 In 1972 the National Park Service began negotiating with the Beggerlys for the purchase of their property on Horn Island. In October 1975 the Beggerlys entered into a contract to sell the land to the government for $156,500. Subsequently the government canceled the contract contending that because it had never issued a land patent, it was the title owner of Horn Island.

In 1979 the government brought a quiet title action in the Southern District of Mississippi against the Beggerlys and other defendants. During discovery the Beggerlys sought proof of their title, and government officials ostensibly conducted a thorough search of the public land records. The government then formally represented to the Beggerlys and the district court that no part of Horn Island had ever been granted to a private landowner and, as a result of these representations, in 1982 the government persuaded the Beggerlys to accept a settlement agreement it proposed. The district court entered judgment based upon that agreement; the Beggerlys received $208,175.87 and title was quieted in favor of the United States. 2

Their disappointment with the results of the settlement led the Beggerlys to mount an exhaustive search for a land patent to support their claim of title. They wrote letters to public officials, made Freedom of Information Act requests, and searched land records in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C. Finally, in 1991 the Beggerlys hired a genealogical record specialist who conducted research in the National Archives and discovered the Boudreau Grant which supported the Beggerlys' claim of title. Government officials reportedly had searched the National Archives during the quiet title suit but had not discovered this document and thereafter erroneously advised the court and the Beggerlys that Horn Island had never been privately disposed. The Beggerlys contacted the Bureau of Land Management requesting the issuance of a land patent for Horn Island. The BLM summarily denied their request.

The Beggerlys then filed the instant action on June 1, 1994 seeking to set aside the consent judgment and to recover just compensation. The government moved to dismiss the complaint, invoking Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(1). The Beggerlys filed a cross-motion for summary judgment and filed an amended motion to add the Tucker Act 3 and the Quiet Title Act 4 as jurisdictional bases. The district court granted the government's motion to dismiss and denied the Beggerlys' cross-motion for summary judgment and motion to amend. The Beggerlys timely appealed.

ANALYSIS

1. Sovereign Immunity

The government contends that sovereign immunity bars the Beggerlys from proceeding with an independent action in equity. The government relies on Zegura v. United States 5 in which we held that sovereign immunity barred a bill of review brought to vacate a prior judgment obtained by the United States. The Eleventh Circuit viewed Zegura as controlling authority for the proposition that an independent action could not

Page 487

be brought against the government absent a waiver of sovereign immunity. 6 We are not so persuaded and do not find Zegura as controlling herein. Zegura dealt only with a bill of review, which is a type of equitable action that has been replaced by the motions enumerated in Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b). Although an independent action in equity is similar to a bill of review and its modern successors--the Rule 60(b) motions--it is nonetheless a different action. Rule 60(b) makes the distinction clear, stating that it does not "limit the power of a court to entertain an independent action." We therefore conclude that Zegura does not control in the independent action context.

We have held that an independent action filed in the same court that rendered the original judgment is a continuation of the original action for purposes of subject matter jurisdiction. 7 It would be anomalous to torpedo a party bringing the independent action with a plea of sovereign immunity when the action is in reality a continuation of the original lawsuit in which jurisdiction was not an issue. To allow the government to use sovereign immunity as a shield where it previously has invoked the court's jurisdiction and prevailed based upon its misrepresentations, negligence, or mistake would do unacceptable violence to our basic notions of justice. We therefore agree with our colleagues in the Second Circuit and now conclude and hold that governmental consent is not required to bring an independent action in the same court as the original action. 8

2. The Independent Action

The elements of an independent action are:

(1) a judgment which ought not, in equity and good conscience, to be enforced; (2) a good defense to the alleged cause of action on which the judgment is founded; (3) fraud, accident, or mistake which prevented the defendant in the judgment from obtaining the benefit of his defense; (4) the absence of fault or negligence on the part of the defendant; and (5) the absence of any adequate remedy at law. 9

The Beggerlys have satisfied these elements. We now hold that the district court erred as a matter of law in denying the Beggerlys' action to vacate the consent judgment. Crucial to that determination is our conclusion that the district court erred in failing to recognize the validity of the Boudreau Grant. That document is an English translation of a 1781 Spanish land grant in which the Governor General of Spanish Louisiana conveyed Horn Island to Catarina Boudreau. Although the available document is not the original grant, it is the only copy available, presumably because a fire destroyed the Spanish West Florida archives where the original Spanish version would have been stored. The Supreme Court has held that a certified translation of a Spanish land grant may be used to prove the existence of a grant where the original cannot be found or has been destroyed. 10 We therefore find and conclude that the English translation is the best evidence of the original grant and is admissible to prove its existence.

The government contended at oral argument that the Boudreau Grant was merely an application for a land patent. In the early 19th century Congress established land commissions to organize the private claims of landowners, in what are now the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, who had acquired their property from England, France, or Spain. Heirs of Catarina Boudreau presented the Boudreau Grant to the land commissioner for claims east of the Pearl River. It was not accepted. The land commissioners were responsible for ascertaining titles and claims but did not have the authority to adjudicate title. The controlling statute required that the commissioners submit claims to Congress for final action. 11

Page 488

We must therefore conclude that the land commissioner's refusal to accept the application did not conclusively determine that Horn Island belonged to the United States.

It is abundantly clear that the land commissioners did not have the authority to confiscate property rightfully owned by private individuals. It is well-settled that, absent a specific congressional act, land validly granted by a foreign nation remained privately owned after the United States acquired political control of the subject area. Chief Justice John Marshall taught:

The modern usage of nations, which has become law, would be violated; that sense of justice and of right which is acknowledged and felt by the whole civilized world would be outraged, if private property should be generally confiscated, and private rights annulled. The people change their allegiance; their relation to their ancient sovereign is dissolved; but their relations to each other, and their rights of property, remain undisturbed. 12

Articles II and III of the treaty consummating the Louisiana Purchase, under which the United States acquired property south of the 31st parallel where Horn Island is located, 13 expressly protected the rights of private landowners. We consider it beyond serious debate that if the Boudreau Grant was...

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6 practice notes
  • 503 B.R. 620 (Bkrtcy.E.D.Pa. 2013), 11-14041 (JKF), In re Frazer/Exton Development, L.P.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Third Circuit
    • September 26, 2013
    ...In Beggerly, the United States brought a quiet title action against the Beggerlys and other defendants. Beggerly v. United States, 114 F.3d 484, 485 (1977), rev'd, 524 U.S. 38, 118 S.Ct. 1862, 141 L.Ed.2d 32 (1998). During discovery in the quiet title action, the Beggerlys sought proof......
  • In re Frazer/Exton Development, LP, 092613 PAEBC, 11-14041 (JKF)
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Third Circuit
    • September 26, 2013
    ...In Beggerly, the United States brought a quiet title action against the Beggerlys and other defendants. Beggerly v. United States. 114 F.3d 484, 485 (1977), rev'd. 524 U.S. 38 (1998). During discovery in the quiet title action, the Beggerlys sought proof of their title to a portion of land ......
  • 524 U.S. 38 (1998), 97-731, United States v. Beggerly
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Supreme Court
    • June 8, 1998
    ...Given this fact and the QTA's unusually generous limitations period, extension of the statutory period would be unwarranted. Pp. 47-49. 114 F.3d 484, reversed and Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Stevens, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Souter, J., joi......
  • 132 F.3d 1100 (5th Cir. 1998), 97-40663, Calhoun County, Tex. v. United States
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
    • January 22, 1998
    ...court ordered dismissal of Calhoun County's claim, a divided panel of this Court handed down a decision in Beggerly v. United States, 114 F.3d 484 (5th Cir.1997), cert. petition filed, 66 U.S.L.W. 3324 (Oct. 27, 1997). In Beggerly, the Court explicitly applied the doctrine of equitable toll......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • 503 B.R. 620 (Bkrtcy.E.D.Pa. 2013), 11-14041 (JKF), In re Frazer/Exton Development, L.P.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Third Circuit
    • September 26, 2013
    ...In Beggerly, the United States brought a quiet title action against the Beggerlys and other defendants. Beggerly v. United States, 114 F.3d 484, 485 (1977), rev'd, 524 U.S. 38, 118 S.Ct. 1862, 141 L.Ed.2d 32 (1998). During discovery in the quiet title action, the Beggerlys sought proof......
  • In re Frazer/Exton Development, LP, 092613 PAEBC, 11-14041 (JKF)
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Third Circuit
    • September 26, 2013
    ...In Beggerly, the United States brought a quiet title action against the Beggerlys and other defendants. Beggerly v. United States. 114 F.3d 484, 485 (1977), rev'd. 524 U.S. 38 (1998). During discovery in the quiet title action, the Beggerlys sought proof of their title to a portion of land ......
  • 524 U.S. 38 (1998), 97-731, United States v. Beggerly
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Supreme Court
    • June 8, 1998
    ...Given this fact and the QTA's unusually generous limitations period, extension of the statutory period would be unwarranted. Pp. 47-49. 114 F.3d 484, reversed and Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Stevens, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Souter, J., joi......
  • 132 F.3d 1100 (5th Cir. 1998), 97-40663, Calhoun County, Tex. v. United States
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
    • January 22, 1998
    ...court ordered dismissal of Calhoun County's claim, a divided panel of this Court handed down a decision in Beggerly v. United States, 114 F.3d 484 (5th Cir.1997), cert. petition filed, 66 U.S.L.W. 3324 (Oct. 27, 1997). In Beggerly, the Court explicitly applied the doctrine of equitable toll......
  • Request a trial to view additional results