Horne v. Smith

Decision Date03 June 1895
Docket NumberNo. 341,341
Citation15 S.Ct. 988,40 L.Ed. 68,159 U.S. 40
PartiesHORNE v. SMITH et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Horatio Bisbee, for plaintiff in error.

Geo. McClellan Robbin and Oscar Foote, for defendants in error.

Mr. Justice BREWER delivered the opinion of the court.

But a single question needs consideration. The title of the plaintiff to the property described in his complaint is not challenged, but the contention of the defendants is that the land which confessedly they occupy is not a part of the land so described. In other words, the only question involved is one of description and boundary.

Plaintiff's title rests on a patent from the United States dated March 20, 1885, conveying 'lot numbered seven of section twenty-three, and the lots numbered one and two of section twenty-six, in township twenty-nine south, of range thirty-eight east of Tallathassee meridian, in Florida, containing one hundred and seventy acres and forty-two hundredths of an acre, according to the official plat of the survey of the said lands returned to the general land office by the surveyor general.' The official plat of township 29 was in evidence, which showed that sections 23 and 26 were fractional sections bordering on the Indian river. On this plat a meander line runs through the sections from north to south, the Indian river being on the west thereof. The east line of the sections is, so far as these lots are concerned, the ordinary straight line of government surveys. In the S. 1/2 of the S. E 1/4 of section 23 is lot 7. The area of that lot is given as 73.06 acres. The N. E. 1/4 of section 26 is divided into lots 1 and 2. The area of lot 1 is 54.90 acres; and of lot 2, 42.53 acres. The boundary lines of these three lots are all straight, with the exception of the meander line on the west. The length of the section line between lot 7 and lot 1, extending from the east section line to the meander line on the west, is stated to be 30.55 chains. Along the course of this meander line, as shown on the plat, runs, according to the testimony, a bayou or savannah opening into Indian river; and west of this bayou, and between it and the main waters of the river, is a body of land extending in width a distance of a mile, or a mile and a quarter, and amounting to some 600 acres. This is a body of low land, in some places, however, from four to six feet above the level of the river, and covered with a growth of live oak trees, many of them three and four feet in diameter. It was not land formed by accretion since the survey.

The contention of the plaintiff is that inasmuch as this body of land is not shown upon the official plat, and although the boundaries and areas of the three lots are given, the latter aggregating only 170 acres, the patent for the lots conveys all the land to the main body of the river. In other words, a patent for 170 acres conveys over 700. The basis of this contention is the familiar rule that a meander line is not a line of boundary, and that a patent for a tract of land bordering on a river conveys the land, not simply to the meander line, but to the water line, and hence, as claimed in this case, carries it to the water line of the main body of the river. The testimony is apparently not all in the record, nor are all the instructions, but this presents the ruling of the court: 'It is the rule that the meander line is not the boundary line. They are run, not as boundaries of the tract, but for the purpose of finding the sinuosities of the bank of the stream. Fractional divisions, made so by the water, are designated and sold by the numbers attached to, and reference is always had to, the notes and maps of the survey. The water, in the notes, is the boundary, and when there exists a difference between the meander line, as run, and the actual margin of the stream or lake, the water is the true boundary; but the rule has its limitations, as, for instance, a case in Polk county, with which I am familiar, where there is fifteen miles intervening between the meander line and the margin of a lake. This breaks the rule, and I charge you that when, as in this case, there is from three-fourths of a mile to a mile and a quarter between the meander line and the actual margin of the river, and when for half a mile in width this land has upon it oak trees, some of which are from three to four feet in diameter, especially where the waters of the river make up, forming a bayou which conforms substantially to the meander line of the government survey, this is not within the rule.'

Whatever criticisms may be placed upon this instruction, we think that, as applied to the facts of this case, the ruling of the court was substantially correct. It is undoubtedly true that official surveys are not open to collateral attack in an action at law. Stoneroad v. Stoneroad, 15 Sup. Ct. 822; Russell v. Land-Grant Co., 15 Sup. Ct. 827. It is also true that the meander line is not a line of boundary, but one designed to point out the sinuosities of the bank of the stream, and as a means of ascertaining the quantity of land in the fraction which is to be paid for by the purchaser. Railroad Co. v. Schurmeir, 7 Wall. 272; Hardin v. Jordan, 140 U. S. 371, 380, 11 Sup. Ct. 808, 838. It is also true that metes and bounds in the description of premises control distances and quantities, when there is any inconsistency between them. Morrow v. Whitney, 95 U. S. 551, 555.

But the question in this case is whether the boundary of these lots is the bayou, or the main body of the river. That a water line runs along the course of the meander line cannot, of...

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