133 U.S. 496 (1890), Wisconsin Cent. R. Co. v. Price County

Citation:133 U.S. 496, 10 S.Ct. 341, 33 L.Ed. 687
Party Name:WISCONSIN CENT. R. CO. v. PRICE COUNTY et al. [1]
Case Date:March 03, 1890
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 496

133 U.S. 496 (1890)

10 S.Ct. 341, 33 L.Ed. 687

WISCONSIN CENT. R. CO.

v.

PRICE COUNTY et al. 1

United States Supreme Court.

March 3, 1890

[10 S.Ct. 341] In April, 1884, the plaintiff in this suit, the Wisconsin Central Railroad Company, a corporation created under the laws of Wisconsin, was the owner of certain lands situated in the town of Worcester, in the county of Price, in that state, and had a patent for them from the state bearing date on the 25th of February, 1884, upon which taxes had, in the year 1883, been assessed by that county, although, as claimed by the plaintiff, the title to a part of these lands was at that time in the United States, and to the remainder of them in the state of Wisconsin. Upon a claim that the lands were thus exempt from taxation, the plaintiff, in April, 1884, brought the present suit in a circuit court of the state, to obtain its judgment that the state taxes were illegal, and to enjoin proceedings for their enforcement. The facts out of which this claim that the lands were exempt from taxation arose, are briefly these:

Page 497

On the 5th of May, 1864, congress passed an act making a grant of lands to the state of Wisconsin to aid in the construction of three distinct lines of railway between certain designated points. 13 St. 66. One of these lines is now held by the plaintiff. The grant in aid of it is in the third section of the act, the language of which is as follows: 'That there be, and is hereby, granted to the state of Wisconsin, for the purpose of aiding in the construction of a railroad from Portage City, Berlin, Doty's Island, or Fond du Lac, as said state may determine, in a north-western direction, to Bayfield, and thence to Superior, on Lake Superior, every alternate section of public land designated by odd numbers, for ten sections in width on each side of said road, upon the same terms and conditions as are contained in the act granting lands to said state to aid in the construction of railroads in said state, approved June three, eighteen hundred and fifty-six. But in case it shall appear that the United States have, when the line or route of said road is definitely fixed, sold, reserved, or otherwise disposed of, any sections, or parts thereof, granted as aforesaid, or that the right of pre-emption or homestead has attached to the same, that it shall be lawful for any agent or agents of said state, appointed by the governor thereof, to select, subject to the approval of the secretary of the interior, from the lands of the United States nearest to the tier of sections above specified, as much public land in alternate sections, or parts of sections, as shall be equal to such lands as the United States have sold or otherwise appropriated, or to which the right of pre-emption or homestead has attached as aforesaid, which lands (thus selected in lieu of those sold, and to which the right of pre-emption or homestead has attached as aforesaid, together with sections and parts of sections designated by odd numbers as aforesaid, and appropriated as aforesaid) shall be held by said state, or by the company to which she may transfer the same, for the

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use and purpose aforesaid: provided, that the lands to be so located shall in no case be further than twenty miles from the line of said road.' The seventh section enacted 'that whenever the companies to which this grant is made, or to which the same may be transferred, shall have completed twenty consecutive miles of any portion of said railroads, supplied with all necessary drains, culverts, viaducts, crossings, sidings, bridges, turn-outs, watering places, depots, equipments, furniture, and all other appurtenances of a first-class railroad, patents shall issue conveying the right and title to said lands to the said company entitled thereto, on each side of the road, so far as the same is completed, and coterminous with said completed section, not exceeding the amount aforesaid, and patents shall in like manner issue as each twenty miles of said road is completed: provided, however, that no patents shall issue for any of said lands unless there shall be presented to the secretary of the interior a statement, verified on oath or affirmation by the president of said company, and certified by the governor of the state of Wisconsin, that such twenty miles have been completed in the manner required by this act, and setting forth with certainty the points where such twenty miles begin, and where the same end; which oath shall be taken before a judge of a court of record of the United States.' The ninth section declared 'that if said road mentioned in the third section aforesaid is not completed within ten years from the time of the passage of this act, as provided herein, no further patents shall be issued to said company for said lands, and no further sale shall be made, and the lands unsold shall revert to the United States.' By the act of congress of April 9, 1874, the time for the and for the reversion of the lands was extended to December 31, 1876. 18 St. p. 28, c. 82.

All the lands embraced by section 3 of the act of 1864 were granted in 1866, by the state of Wisconsin, to the Portage & Lake Superior Railroad Company, and to the Winnebago & Superior Railroad Company, respectively, companies which had been incorporated under the laws of that state.

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& L. Laws Wis. 1866, c. 314, § 8; chapter 362, § 9. In 1869 the consolidation of these two companies, under the name of the 'Portage, Winnebago & Superior Railroad Company,' was authorized by the state, and in 1871 the name of the consolidated company was changed to the 'Wisconsin Central Railroad Company,' the plaintiff in this suit. The Portage, Winnebago & Superior Railroad Company duly filed the location of its road from Stevens' Point to Bayfield on October 7, 1869; and in December following the commissioner of the general land-office withdrew from sale, preemption, and homestead entry the odd-numbered sections of land within the 20-miles limit along the line of the location. The road was built in sections of 20 miles each. Section 6 and portions of sections 5 and 7 fell within Price county. Section 5 was completed in February, 1874, section 6 in December, 1876, and section 7 in June, 1877. The whole number of acresin the odd-numbered sections along the line of the railroad within the 10-mile limits, was 1,377,383.93. Of this number, 789,622 acres had been disposed of by the United States before the act of May 5, 1864, was passed, and 161,695.53 were disposed of after its passage, and before the line of the road was located in October, 1869.

The plaintiff, the Wisconsin Central Railroad Company, received from the United States, prior to November 16, 1877, patents for the 240,363.54 acres within the place limits, that is, within 10 miles on either side of the line of the road as located; and patents for 203,459.62 acres within the indemnity limits, that is, between 10 and 20 miles of the line of the road. One January 9, 1878, the company received from the United States a patent for 162,622.89 acres, and on August 10, 1878, a patent for 29,398.51 acres; both of these patents covering land within the place limits. No other patents [10 S.Ct. 343] were issued by the United States to the company previous to the commencement of this suit, and the patents issued did not include the land upon which the taxes were assessed, to restrain the collection of which the suit is brought. Of the lands in question, 11 parcels, of 40 acres each, lay within

Page 500

the place limits. The remainder of the lands lay within the indemnity limits. A list of selections of lands within the place limits claimed by the company on account of the sixth section of the road from Stevens' Point to Bayfield was filed in the local land-office on December 5, 1876. They included, among other lands, the 11 40's mentioned. A list of selections of land within the indemnity limits claimed by the company, on account of the same section of railway, was filed in that office on the 9th and 15th of December, 1876. They included the remainder of the lands referred to in the complaint. Repeated demands were made by the railroad company, from the time these lists were filed until after the trial of this cause, for patents covering the lands referred to, but no patents were granted for any of them. A full statement of the efforts to secure patents is given in the testimony of the vice-president and general legal manager of the company.

It appears from this statement, the accuracy of which is not questioned in any particular, that up to the time of the decision of this court in Leavenworth, etc., R. Co. v. U.S., 92 U.S. 733, which was rendered in April, 1876, it had been the practice of the land department to allow grantees by the United States of land to aid in the construction of railroads, whose grants were similar in their terms to the one under consideration here, to take land from the indemnity limits in lieu of lands sold or otherwise disposed of by the United States prior to the passage of the act, and of lands to which a pre-emption or homestead right had previously attached; but that this practice was subsequently changed in consequence of the language of the court in that case, and its supposed decision that indemnity could be allowed only for such lands as were sold or reserved or otherwise disposed of, or to which the right of pre-emption or homestead had attached, between the passage of the act and the time the line or route of the road was definitely fixed.

The commissioner of the general land-office, in a letter addressed to the secretary of the interior under date of November 16, 1877, contained in the record, stated that this practice had existed since the inauguration of the railroad land

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-grant system, but that it would appear from the decision in question that the practice was erroneous; that...

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