Laren v. Fleischer, 291

Decision Date01 June 1921
Docket NumberNo. 291,291
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Samuel Herrick, of Washington, D. C., for petitioner.

Mr. Patrick H. Loughran, of Washington, D. C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents a controversy arising out of conflicting applications to enter a quarter section of land under the homestead law (12 Stat. 392). While the land was public and unappropriated, one Rider made a homestead entry of it, and later it was included, with other lands, in a first-form reclamation withdrawal.1 The withdrawal did not extinguish Rider's entry, but while in force prevented the initiation of other claims. It was largely provisional, and whenver in the judgment of the Secretary of the Interior any of the lands were not required for the purpose for which the withdrawal was made they were to be restored to public entry. While the withdrawal was in force one Fleischer instituted a contest against Rider's entry, at his own cost collected and presented evidence establishing its invalidity, and procured its cancellation. Rider acquiesced in that decision and is not concerned in the present controversy. Fleischer had no claim to the land prior to the contest, and in instituting and carrying it through acted as a common informer, which was admissible under the public land laws. To encourage the elimination of unlawful entries by such contests Congress had declared in the act of May 14, 1880, c. 89, § 2, 21 Stat. 140 (Comp. St. § 4537):

'In all cases where any person has contested, paid the land office fees, and procured the cancellation of any pre-emption, homestead, or timber culture entry, he shall be notified by the register of the land office of the district in which such land is situated of such cancellation, and shall be allowed thirty days from date of such notice to enter said lands.'

When Rider's entry was canceled the register sent to Fleischer a written notice informing him thereof and stating that he would be allowed 30 days after the tract was restored to public entry within which to enter it in the exercise of his preferred right as a successful contestant. The notice was dated February 11, 1909. Afterwards the Secretary of the Interior issued an order whereby the lands included in the withdrawal were restored to settlement on April 18, 1910, and to public entry on May 18 following. On the earlier date one McLaren made homestead settlement on this tract and on the later date both Fleischer and McLaren applied at the local land office to make homestead entry thereof—Fleischer in the exercise of his preferred right and McLaren in virtue of his settlement. Fleischer's application was allowed and McLaren's rejected, the local officers being of opinion that Fleischer had the prior and better right. McLaren appealed and the action of the local officers was sustained by the Commissioner of the General Land Office and by the Secretary of the Interior. In due course Fleischer received a patent for the land and McLaren then brought this suit to have Fleischer declared a trustee for him of the title and to compel a conveyance in execution of the trust. During the pendency of the suit McLaren died and it was revived in the name of his personal representative. Fleischer prevailed in the court of first instance and again in the Supreme Court of the State. 181 Cal. 607, 185 Pac. 967. A writ of certiorari brings the case here. 253 U. S. 479, 40 Sup. Ct. 482, 64 L. Ed. 1023.

The sole question for decision is whether the officers of the land department erred in matter of law in holding that under the act of May 14, 1880, Fleischer was entitled to 30 days after the land was restored to entry within which to exercise his preferred right of entry. The words of the act are, 'shall be allowed thirty days from the date of such notice to enter said lands.' Generally when an existing entry is canceled the land becomes at once open to entry and the act is easily applied. But where, as here, an existing withdrawal prevents the land from becoming open to entry for more than 30 days after the notice of cancellation issues, the application to be made of the act is not so obvious, and it becomes necessary to inquire what is intended. Does the act mean that the preferred right to enter the land is lost if not exercised within 30 days after the notice issues, even though the land is not open to entry during that period? Or does it mean that the contestant shall have 30 days during which the land is open to entry within which to exercise his preferred right, and therefore that if the land is not open to entry at the date of the notice the time during which that situation continues shall be eliminated in computing the 30-day period? In the practical administration of the act the...

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