Chrisman v. Miller

Citation197 U.S. 313,25 S.Ct. 468,49 L.Ed. 770
Decision Date03 April 1905
Docket NumberNo. 171,171
PartiesA. Y. CHRISMAN and H. T. Chrisman, Plffs. in Err. , v. E. O. MILLER and the Home Oil Company
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

This was an action in the superior court of Fresno county, California, to quiet title to certain lands in that county. The complaint by Miller and the Home Oil Company was filed October 14, 1898. The case was tried by the court without a jury, findings of fact were made, and a decree entered in favor of the plaintiffs. On appeal to the supreme court of the state this decree was affirmed, September 13, 1903. 140 Cal. 440, 98 Am. St. Rep. 63, 73 Pac. 1083, 74 Pac. 444. Thereafter the case was brought to this court on writ of error. The dispute between the parties was as to the validity of respective locations of the land under the mineral laws of the United States. The mineral found therein, and on account of which the locations were made, was petroleum. From the findings it appears that on June 14, 1895, eight persons, one Barieau being of the number, attempted to make a mineral location upon the tract in controversy, the same being an entire quarter section. Whatever interest they thus acquired was, on December 24, 1896, conveyed to E. O. Miller. On December 31, 1896, Miller by his written declaration abandoned and relinquished all rights which he had acquired by this conveyance. On the same day and about four hours thereafter Miller and seven others, duly qualified to make entries, made a mineral location of the entire tract. Subsequently all interests obtained thereby were vested in the plaintiffs. On January 1, 1897, the defendants attempted to make a location of certain portions of the tract. The tenth, eleventh, fifteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth findings are as follows:

'10. That immediately after going into possession of said northeast quarter of said section 20, the said plaintiff, Home Oil Company, commenced digging, boring, and excavating thereon for petroleum and other fluid products, and has expended in such work the sum of more than $30,000, and by means of such digging, boring, and excavating discovered large quantities of petroleum therein; and there now exists, and did at the commencement of this action, wells of great depth, sunk and excavated upon said property by said Home Oil Company, from which there is a daily flow of large quantities of petrolum of great value.

'11. That ever since the 17th day of September, 1897, the said plaintiff, Home Oil Company, has been and is now in the sole and exclusive possession of all of said real property, and engaged in working, developing, and mining the same, and extracting petroleum and other fiuid products therefrom.

'15. That said defendant A. Y. Chrisman never at any time discovered a seepage of petroleum or other mineral oil upon said land or any part thereof, and the defendant H. T. Chrisman never discovered a seepage of petroleum or other mineral oil upon said land or upon any part thereof, and that the only discovery of petroleum or any other fluid produce upon said lands or upon any part thereof is the discovery made by the plaintiff Home Oil Company as in these findings before stated.

'17. That on the said 1st day of January, 1897, no part of the said northeast quarter of section 20 was vacant public mineral land or open to exploration or location for mining purposes, but, on the contrary, the whole of said northeast quarter of said section 20 was then in the possession of J. A. Hannah, E. O. Miller, W. F. Hall, D. G. Overall, L. E. Hall, Harry Levinson, R. B. Biddle, and Charles H. Smith, under and by virtue of their location of said land hereinbefore mentioned.

'18. That the said defendants, A. Y. Chrisman and H. T. Chrisman, did not make the location for mining purposes hereinbefore mentioned in good faith, and did not, nor did either of them, enter into the possession thereof or any part of the same for the purpose of working and mining thereon on the 1st day of January, 1897, or upon any other date; and said defendants have not and neither of them has since the 1st day of January, 1897, or since any day whatever, done and performed upon said land or any part thereof such work and labor or made improvements thereon as is required by the laws of the United States or of the state of California; and that the said defendants have not been and neither of them has been in the exclusive possession of said tracts of land so claimed by them; and said defendants are not, and neither of them is, in the possession of said tracts of land so claimed by them or either of them, or any part thereof; and the said defendants ever since the said 1st day of January, 1897, or since any day whatever or at all have not been nor are they or either of them now entitled to the exclusive or any possession of the tracts of land claimed by them or any part thereof, nor are said defendants entitled, nor is either of them entitled, to the exclusive or any possession whatever of any part of said northeast quarter of said section 20, in township 19 south, range 15 east, Mt. Diablo base and meridian.'

Messrs. William H. Metson, Joseph C. Campbell, Frank C. Drew, and Philip Mansfield for plaintiffs in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 316-318 intentionally omitted] Mr. L. L. Cory for defendants in error.

Mr. Justice Brewer delivered the opinion of the court:

In cases coming from a state court we do not review questions of fact, but accept the conclusions of the state tribunals as final. Clipper Min. Co. v. Eli Min. & Land Co. 194 U. S. 220, 48 L. ed. 944, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 632, and cases cited in the opinion; Kaufman v. Tredway, 195, U. S. 271, ante, p. 33, 25 Sup. Ct. Rep. 33; Smiley v. Kansas, 196 U. S. 447, ante, p. 289, 25 Sup. Ct. Rep. 289.

By the findings of the trial court the Chrismans, plaintiffs in error, never made any discovery of petroleum or other mineral oil, did not make the attempted location in good faith, and never did any work on the tract. These findings were of date June 24, 1899, nearly two years and a half after their attempted location. It would seem from these facts that they had no pretense of right to the premises.

It is contended, however, that the supreme court, in its opinion, practically set aside these findings in one respect, and that is the discovery of petroleum. We do not so understand that opinion. The only reference made to the matter is in these words: 'The alleged discovery of defendants under their location may be disposed of in a single sentence. It amounted to no more than the pretended discovery by Barieau;' and in reference to Barieau's alleged discovery the court said:

'Upon the question of discovery the sole evidence is that of Barieau himself. Giving fullest weight to that testimony, it amounts to no more than this, that Barieau had walked over the land at the time he posted his notice, and had discovered 'indications' of petroleum. Specifically, he says that he saw a spring, and 'the oil comes out and fioats over the water in the summer time, when it is hot. In June, 1895, there was a little water with oil and a little oil with water coming out. It was dripping over a rock about 2 feet high. There was no pool; it was just...

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