Peyton v. Desmond

Decision Date15 February 1904
Docket Number1,878.
PartiesPEYTON et al. v. DESMOND.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

This action was brought in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Minnesota, Fifth Division, December 29 1898, by George E. Desmond, a citizen of Wisconsin, against Hamilton M. Peyton and Levi A. Barber, citizens of Minnesota and residents of the Fifth Division of the Minnesota District. The complaint alleged that the plaintiff made homestead settlement in 1890 upon a stated quarter section of public land in Wisconsin, containing merchantable pine timber aggregating 3,600,000 feet, board measure; that continuously thereafter he resided upon and occupied the land, and obtained a United States patent therefor May 16, 1898, by full and regular compliance with the homestead law; that in the winter of 1893 and 1894 while he was in possession of the land under his homestead claim, the defendants 'wrongfully and unlawfully and forcibly entered upon' the land, and cut therefrom all the pine timber; that they thereafter carried off and removed all of this timber, and sawed the same into lumber, and thereafter, and before the issuance of the patent to plaintiff, sold and disposed of the lumber; that the acts of the defendants were done and performed with full knowledge of the rights of the plaintiff to the timber, and against his protest; that the value of the timber prior to the cutting of the trees was $4 per thousand feet, board measure, and after being sawed into lumber was $12 per thousand feet, board measure. Judgment was prayed for $43,200, the value of the lumber, with interest. The case was soon brought to issue but a trial was not had until October, 1902, when a verdict was returned for plaintiff in the sum of $9,425, with interest, for which judgment was given against defendants. No objection was made to the jurisdiction until immediately preceding the trial, when defendants moved that the action be dismissed for the reason, as then asserted by them, that it was one for trespass to realty in Wisconsin, and was therefore local, and not within the jurisdiction of the court below. The action upon this motion was as follows:

'Mr. O'Brien (for plaintiff): * * * This action is brought to recover the value of the timber cut and carried away from the land. It is not, under the statutes of Minnesota, nor under the practice of this state, an action of trespass. It is an action in trover, pure and simple; and the measure of damages here is the value of the timber when cut from the land, and not the injury to the land. The resulting injury to the land in this case is not alleged as a matter of damage, nor would the court permit testimony to be introduced to show it. It is really an action of trover, because the damages sought to be recovered is the value of the property when severed from the land. * * *
'Mr. Hayden (for defendants); I will concede that they could have made a transitory action out of this matter, by using the same facts, if they had seen fit to bring their action in trover instead of in trespass.
'The Court: I think I understand your position fully. It is not a matter of words, but it is a matter of the substantive facts, constituting the plaintiff's right to recover. He seeks to recover in this case-- the complaint leaves no doubt that he so seeks to recover-- the value of the timber at the latest stage when it can be traced into your hands, to wit, the value of the lumber. He does not seek to recover damages for the depleted value of the land, which is the essential feature of a suit in trespass. The motion is denied.'

Other rulings at the trial were to the effect that the title obtained by plaintiff, by his compliance with the homestead law, and by the issuance to him of the patent for the land, related back so as to enable him to maintain this action.

The evidence showed that plaintiff and one Benjamin F. Judd settled upon the land prior to the passage of the land grant forfeiture act of September 29, 1890, c. 1040, Sec. 2, 26 Stat. 496 (U.S. Comp. St. 1901, p. 1599), under which the land was restored to the public domain; that each claimed to have settled with a view to obtaining title under the homestead laws of the United States; that each claimed to be the prior settler, and each presented in due time at the local land office an application to make homestead entry, but the application of Judd, being presented first, was allowed by the local land officers, and that of the plaintiff rejected; that a contest, based upon plaintiff's claim of prior settlement, was then commenced in the local land office by plaintiff against Judd's entry, the proceedings in which resulted in a decision by the Secretary of the Interior against the plaintiff, January 7, 1893; that Judd on July 17, 1893, commuted his homestead entry, and obtained a patent certificate, but no patent was ever issued to him; that plaintiff on October 9, 1893, or possibly when Judd submitted final proof upon his entry, instituted in the local land office further contest proceedings against Judd's entry, which resulted in a decision by the Secretary of the Interior May 23, 1896 (Desmond v. Judd, 22 Land Dec.Dep.Int. 619), declaring that Judd had not in good faith maintained his residence on the land as required by the homestead law, and directing the cancellation of his entry; that, following this decision, plaintiff made final homestead entry of the land, under the statute requiring five years' residence, and under that entry obtained a United States patent May 16, 1898; that in the meantime, on October 11, 1893, the lands were conveyed by Judd to defendants; that defendants had knowledge of, and participated in, the contest proceedings in the Land Department which resulted in the cancellation of Judd's entry; and that the cutting and conversion of the timber by defendants occurred in the winter of 1893 and 1894, while the contest proceedings last named were pending.

Arthur H. Crassweller (Frank Crassweller, on the brief), for plaintiffs in error.

C. D. O'Brien and P. H. Seymour, on the brief), for defendant in error.

Before SANBORN, THAYER, and VAN DEVANTER, Circuit Judges.

VAN DEVANTER, Circuit Judge, after stating the case as above, .

By the common law of England, an action for the recovery of damages for injury to land is local, and can be brought only where the land is situated. This is the law in most of the states of the Union. 1 Chitty, Pl. 281; Shipman Com. L. Pl. (2d Ed.) 201, 383; Cooley on Torts, 471; Livingston v Jefferson, 15 Fed.Cas. 660, No. 8,411; McKenna v. Fisk, 1 How. 241, 11 L.Ed. 117; Ellenwood v. Marietta Chair Co., 158 U.S. 105, 15 Sup.Ct. 771, 39 L.Ed. 913. The operation of this common-law rule has been much restricted by legislation in England (British South Africa Co. v. Companhia de Mocambique (1893) App. Cas. 602) and in some of the states (15 Fed.Cas. 665, note; Genin v. Grier, 10 Ohio, 209, 214). There are other states in which the rule never prevailed. Holmes v. Barclay, 4 La.Ann. 63. The matter is essentially one of state policy or local law. As was said by Mr. Justice Gray in Huntington v. Attrill, 146 U.S. 657, 669, 13 Sup.Ct. 224, 36 L.Ed. 1123:

'Whether actions to recover pecuniary damages for trespasses to real estate * * * are purely local, or may be brought abroad, depends upon the question whether they are viewed as relating to the real estate, or only as affording a personal remedy. * * * And whether an action for trespass to land in one state can be brought in another state depends on the view which the latter state takes of the nature of the action.'

In Minnesota an action for pecuniary damages for trespass to real estate in another state is viewed, not as relating to the real estate, but only as affording a personal remedy. It is there deemed to be transitory in nature, and not local. In Little v. Chicago, etc., Railway Co., 65 Minn. 48, 67 N.W. 846, 33 L.R.A. 423, 60 Am.St.Rep. 421, the Supreme Court of that state, in sustaining the jurisdiction of the courts of the state over an action brought to recover damages for injuries to real estate situated in Wisconsin, said:

'The reparation is purely personal, and for damages. Such an action is purely personal, and in no sense real.'

By the existing judiciary act (Act Aug. 13, 1888, c. 866, Sec. 1, 25 Stat. 433 (U.S. Comp. St. 1901, p. 508)) it is declared:

'That the Circuit Courts of the United States shall have original cognizance, concurrent with the courts of the several states, of all suits of a civil nature, at common law or in equity, where the matter in dispute exceeds, exclusive of interest and costs, the sum or value of two thousand dollars and * * * in which there shall be a controversy between citizens of different states, * * * but where the jurisdiction is founded only on the fact that the action is between citizens of different states, suit shall be brought only in the district of the residence of either the plaintiff or the defendant. * * * '

This action presents a controversy between citizens of different states, and was brought in the district and division of the residence of the defendants. It is of a civil nature, is a common-law action, and the matter in dispute exceeds, exclusive of interest and costs, the sum or value of $2,000. Being also an action which is cognizable in the courts of the state, as before shown, it is equally within the concurrent cognizance of the Circuit Court of the United States, within that state. It was said by Mr. Justice Field in Gaines v. Fuentes, 92 U.S. 10, 18, 20, 23 L.Ed. 524, in referring to the jurisdiction of the federal courts of suits at common law or in equity in which there is a controversy between citizens of different states:

'The C
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