Stone v. United States, 265

Citation17 S.Ct. 778,42 L.Ed. 127,167 U.S. 178
Decision Date10 May 1897
Docket NumberNo. 265,265
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

J. R. McBride and C. W. Bunn, for plaintiff in error.

Sol. Gen. Conrad, for the United States.

Mr. Justice HARLAN delivered the opinion of the court.

This action was brought in the district court of the United States for the district of Washington, Eastern division, to recover the reasonable value of certain timber and railroad ties manufactured from trees alleged to have been unlawfully cut by the defendant, Stone, from certain lands in Idaho, of which, it was averred, the United States was the owner.

The answer put the United States upon proof of all the material allegations of the complaint.

But the defendant made two special defenses:

(1) That at a term of the United States district court for the district of Idaho, held in April, 1891, the trespasses and wrongs complained of were presented by the United States to the grand jury for investigation, and such proceedings were then and there taken that the grand jury returned into court true bills of indictment, in which each and all of the wrongs and trespasses complained of herein were included; that the defendant was charged thereby with the commission of an offense against the statutes forbidding the cutting or removal of timber from the lands of the United States; that, on all the charges involving the acts of the defendant as set forth in the complaint filed herein, he was tried and acquitted and discharged therefrom by the judgment of that court; and that judgment was duly entered against the government, 'the issues therein being the same as are now presented in this action, and were each and all determined and adjudged in this defendant's behalf.' The defendant therefore alleged that the issues tendered by the plaintiff herein have been heard, tried, and adjudged for defendant and against the plaintiff by a court of competent jurisdiction, and that such judgment and determination precluded the maintenance of this suit.

(2) That between the dates mentioned in the complaint, to wit, between the months of August, 1888, and November, 1890, he had contracts with various customers for supplies of railroad ties and timber for the manufacture of lumber at points along the line of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company in the state of Washington, and adjacent to the region mentioned in the complaint; that he procured his supplies of timber for the purposes aforesaid from lands embraced in the grant made by acts of congress passed to aid in the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and by contracts with that company, and that at no time did he cut timber on any lands except such as belonged to that company; that during said time he purchased from other parties, who delivered ties and timber suited for lumber on the railroad, both ties and timber not cut by himself, for which he paid the market price, and which were either cut from the railroad lands, or were lawfully cut by the parties who sold and delivered them to him; that no part or portion thereof were cut or taken from lands of the United States, or were unlawfully cut or taken from any lands; that the railroad ties so purchased from other parties, and which were not cut by himself from the lands of the railroad company, were for the use of, and were used in the construction of, the Spokane & Palouse Railway Company's and the Central Washington Railway Company's railroads, respectively, both corporations being organized and constructing their roads under and in compliance with grants made by the act of congress of March 3, 1875, authorizing the use of timber, etc., for construction, to be taken from the public lands of the United States; and that the taking for such purpose was not unlawful, but was by authority of law.

The defense based on the criminal prosecution in the United States district in Idaho was adjudged on demurrer to be insufficient in law.

The United States also brought an action against John H. Stone, Edward Noonan, and W. G. Kegler, as partners doing business under the name of the Spokane Fuel Company, to recover the value of 3,545 cords of wood alleged to have been made from trees unlawfully cut from the public lands of the United States in the same state, and to have been unlawfully converted and disposed of by the defendants to their own use. Noonan answered, denying each and every allegation of the complaint. Stone answered separately, and alleged that 'he was indicted upon a charge of cutting timber unlawfully from the same lands and premises upon which the alleged trespasses complained of in this action are founded at the April term, 1891, of the United States district court for the district of Idaho; that he was thereafter arrested on that indictment, and appeared in said court; that such proceedings were afterwards had, a judgment was duly given and rendered in favor of the defendant, and he has been fully acquitted and discharged of said offense and of said trespass thereby.' That judgment was pleaded in full discharge of the plaintiff's cause of action, and in bar of all right of action on account thereof. As further special defense, Stone denied that the defendants were, or had ever been, partners in any business. The defense based upon the indictment, trial, and judgment referred to was, on demurrer, adjudged to be insufficient in law. Stone then filed an answer denying each and every allegation of the complaint. Noonan denied all the allegations of the complaint. Kegler was not served with process, and did not appear.

The two actions were tried before the same jury, having been previously consolidated by order of court. In the first case there was a verdict and judgment in favor of the United States against Stone for $19,000. In that case the jury, in answer to special questions propounded by the court, stated that Stone had received saw logs unlawfully taken from the lands described in the complaint, and that $15,000 were awarded as damages on that account. They also stated, in response to a special question put by the court, that Stone had received railroad ties unlawfully taken from the lands, and that $4,000 were awarded on that account. In the case against Stone, Noonan, and Kegler as partners, there was a verdict against Stone for $3,000, but the judgment was arrested, and the verdict set aside.

The judgment against Stone for $19,000 was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals. 29 U. S. App. 32, 12 C. C. A. 451, and 64 Fed. 667.

1. It is contended in behalf of Stone that, as the lands from which the trees were alleged to have been unlawfully cut are in Idaho, the action is local to that state, and the district court of the United States for the district of Washington was without jurisdiction. Ellenwood v. Chair Co., 158 U. S. 105, 15 Sup. Ct. 771, is cited as an authority for this proposition. But that case proceeded upon the theory that the allegations of the petition, at the time it was tried, presented a single cause of action, in which the trespass upon the land was the principal thing, and the conversion of the property was incidental only, and, therefore, that the entire cause of action was local. In the present case the petition, it is true avers that the United States was the owner of the lands from which the trees were cut, but the gravamen of the action was the conversion of the lumber and the railroad ties manufactured out of such trees; and a judgment was asked, not for the trespass, but for the value of the personal property so converted by the defendant. The description in the petition of the lands and the averment of ownership in the United States were intended to show the right of the government to claim the value of the personal property manufactured from the trees illegally taken from its lands. Although the government's denial of the ownership of the land made it necessary for it to prove its ownership, the action, in its essential features, related to personal property, was of a transitory nature, and could be brought in any jurisdiction in which the defendant could be found and served with process. And a suit could have been brought to recover the property wherever it could be found. In Schulenberg v. Harriman, 21 Wall. 44, 64, it was said: 'The title to the land remaining in the state, the lumber cut upon the land belonged to the state. Whilst the timber was standing, it constituted a part of the realty. Being severed from the soil, its character was changed. It became personalty, but its title was not affected. It continued as previously the property of the owner of the land, and could be pursued wherever it was carried. All the remedies were open to the owner which the law affords in other cases of the wrongful removal or conversion of personal property.' If a suit like this cannot be maintained, then persons depredating on the public lands may escape civil liability by simply removing from the state in which the depredation occurred, whereby the government would be compelled to rely altogether upon a criminal prosecution, in which it could not succeed except by proving the guilt of the defendant beyond all reasonable doubt.

2. The indictment against Stone in the circuit court of the United States for the district of Idaho charged that he unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously cut and removed, and caused and procured to be cut and removed, from the lands described, 50,000 timber trees growing on such lands, such trees being the property of the United States. It was based upon section 2461 of the Revised Statutes, which provides: 'Sec. 2461. If any person shall cut, or cause or procure to be cut, or aid, assist, or be employed in cutting, or shall wantonly destroy, or cause or procure to be wantonly destroyed, or aid, assist, or be employed in wantonly destroying any live oak or red cedar trees, or other timber standing, growing, or being on any lands of the United States, which, in pursuance of any law passed, or hereafter to be...

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