William Jones and Sylvester Marsh, Plaintiffs In Error v. William Johnston

Decision Date01 December 1855
Citation59 U.S. 150,18 How. 150,15 L.Ed. 320
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

THIS case was brought up by writ of error, from the circuit court of the United States, for the District of Illinois.

The case is stated in the opinion of the court, but it is difficult for the reader to understand the points, unless with the assistance of an explanatory map. Many of these were used during the argument, but the sketch here presented, may convey some idea of the locality.

Johnston, who brought the ejectment in the court below, was the owner of lot No. 34. Jones and Marsh claimed that lot No. 35 was entitled to the whole benefit of the alluvion. There were three trials in the court below, the last of which resulted in a verdict and judgment for the plaintiff as follows:——

Beginning at a point on the line between lots thirty-four and thirty-five, in Kinzie's addition to Chicago, Cook county, Illinois, three hundred feet southerly of the south line of North Water street, measuring on that line for distance; thence south, eleven degrees and thirty minutes, east, one hundred and thirty-five feet, to the north pier; thence easterly along the north pier to the shore of Lake Michigan; thence northwardly along the lake shore two hundred and twenty-two feet; thence westerly in a straight line to the place of beginning.

The instructions given to the jury by the circuit court are stated in the opinion of the court.

It was argued by Mr. Scammon and Mr. Johnston, for the plaintiffs in error, and by Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Chase, for the defendant.

On the trial in the circuit court, the counsel for the defendant made twelve prayers to the court; some of which were granted, others with reservations and qualifications. The counsel for the plaintiff made seven prayers, which were qualified in the same way; and then the court gave other instructions to the jury of its own accord. The arguments of counsel in this court discussed all these points; and it would not be possible to explain them, without giving too extended a statement of all the points.

Mr. Justice NELSON delivered the opinion of the court.

This is a writ of error to the circuit court of the United States for the district of Illinois.

The suit below, was an action of ejectment, brought by Johnston, against Jones and Marsh, to recover a tract of alluvial land in the city of Chicago, formed in Lake Michigan, adjoining the north pier of Chicago harbor, and which is claimed as an accretion to water-lot No. 34, in Kinzie's addition. The defendant, Jones, is owner of lot No. 35, in said addition, lying east, and adjoining 34, and between that and the lake.

Both parties claim under Robert A. Kinzie, the patentee of the north fractional section 10, in township 39, which was situate in the bend of the Chicago River, at its mouth, and bounded southerly by that river, and easterly by the Michigan Lake. Kinzie, the patentee, in February, 1833, laid out an addition to the town of Chicago upon this fractional section, and made a plat of the same, which was recorded in the recorder's office of the county, on the 18th of January, 1834, according to the requirements of the laws of the State of Illinois. On this plat, lot No. 34, is one of a series of water-lots, bounded on the south side of North Water street, sixty feet, as its northerly boundary, and is included within lines dropped from the fixed corners on that street at right angles with the same, and extended until they intersect the lake shore. Lot No. 35, is the next lot east, of the same width, on Water street, and extended in like manner to the lake, its west line being the east line of 34.

On the 25th of February, 1833, R. A. Kinzie, conveyed to John H. Kinzie, several lots in this addition, and among others, lot No. 35. And on the 1st September, 1834, John H. conveyed the same to Jones, the defendant, describing it in the deed as in Kinzie's addition, and as 'being water-lot No. 35,' &c., 'agreeably to the town plat, recorded in the office of the recorder of the said county of Cook, to which reference may be had if necessary.'

On the 22d of October, 1835, R. A. Kinzie, conveyed to Johnston, the plaintiff, lot No. 34, describing it as lying in Kinzie's addition, and known as water-lot No. 34, 'as will more fully appear, reference being had to said plat as recorded in the recorder's office of the town of Chicago, in the county of Cook,' &c.

In the summer of 1833, the general government commenced the construction of the harbor of the city of Chicago, which is formed by an erection of two piers across this fractional section 10, from the curve of the Chicago River, as it takes a direction southerly to the lake, and for a considerable distance into the lake, the effect of which was to turn the river from its sweep southerly across the sand-bar to the waters of the lake between the two piers, and thus opening a passage for vessels into the town.

The south pier was built in 1833, and the north in 1834. The harbor thus constructed, divided several of the lots in Kinzie's addition that bounded on Water street, east and west, and, among others, as is claimed by the defendant, No. 34, leaving a part of it as originally laid out, south of the harbor.

Since the construction of the harbor and extension of the piers into the waters of the lake, the shore above, or north of the piers, has greatly changed, the firm land having increased by the washing up of sand and earth, and the recession of the waters to the extent of some twelve hundred feet in width, and for a considerable distance in length northward along the shore. The present suit is brought to recover a portion of this alluvion or new-formed land, as an increment or accession to lot No. 34. The plaintiff claims that a part of its southern termination on the lake was north of the piers, and contiguous to the new-formed land, and therefore entitled to its share of the increment. The defendant contends that no part of its boundary was on the lake north of the harbor, and therefore no part connected with or adjoining this land newly formed. On the contrary, that part of his own lot, No. 35, which lies between 34 and the lake, was bounded on the lake south of the north pier, and hence cut off No. 34 from any portion of the alluvial accession.

The plaintiff insisted, on the trial, that the plat of Kinzie's addition, as recorded in the recorder's office in January, 1834, was incorrect, and produced what was claimed to be the original, but which was not recorded when the conveyances of the lots in question were executed. According to this original plat, as the side lines were laid down, lot No. 34 appeared to be partially bounded on the lake north of the harbor. In this respect, it differed from the plat recorded; as, according to the side lines as there extended, its entire boundary on the lake was south of the harbor.

In laying out the addition by the surveyor in 1833, the only lines of the lots run out or measured on the ground were those butting on Water street, the north lines of the lots. The side lines depend upon their protraction on the plat of the addition; and which, as we have already said, were formed by dropping them at right angles from the corners on Water street, and extending them till they intersected the lake. And even the lake shore, as laid down on the plat—as appears from the testimony of the surveyor—was ascertained without survey or measurement, and with little more accuracy than could be obtained from the eye.

The case was a good deal embarrassed on the trial, arising out of the evidence in respect to this original plat, and some consideration and effect were given to it by the court in submitting it to the jury. We think the court erred in admitting it as evidence to control, or in any way to affect, the record plat. Both lots in controversy were conveyed with express reference to that, and without such reference there is not a sufficient description given in the deeds of the boundaries to admit of a location of either.

If there was in fact any error or mistake in this reference, by way of description of the premises conveyed, the remedy was in chancery to reform the deed. So long as that remained unreformed, the description of the lot by the reference to the recorded plat was conclusive upon the parties.

The acts of the State of Illinois regulating the laying out of town-lots, and the recording of the plats of the same, were supposed by the court below to have a bearing upon the questions involved, and influenced the instructions given and refused to the jury. It seemed to be admitted that the plat recorded did not conform in all respects to the requirement of the statutes.

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