Mr. Marvin J. Sonosky, of Washington, D.C., for complainant.
Messrs. Donald R. Richberg, of Washington, D.C., and C. R. Ellery, of Cheyenne, Wyo., for defendants.
Mr. Chief Justice VINSON delivered the opinion of the Court.
The United States filed a complaint in this Court against the State of Wyoming and The Ohio Oil Company to establish plaintiff's title to certain Wyoming lands claimed by the State, and to recover for oil which the [331 U.S. 440 , 442] Company has taken from the lands under a lease from the State. 1
By joint answer, the defendants claimed title in the State, and that both defendants have at all times in good faith believed title to be in the State.
The case was referred to a special master, 325 U.S. 833 , who heard evidence and argument, and submitted to the Court a report, in which he recommended a decree quieting plaintiff's title to the lands in question, but denying plaintiff any recovery for the oil heretofore taken. Both plaintiff and defendants have entered exceptions to the adverse parts of the report, and the case is now before us on such exceptions. 2
The lands in dispute are those lying within Section 36, Township 58, Park County, Wyoming. It is conceded that plaintiff originally had title to these lands as part of the public lands of the United States. The master held that the Enabling Act of July 10, 1890,3 on which defendants rely as the source of their rights, properly construed, would operate to vest title in the State only as of the date that an official survey of the lines of the Section was approved by the Commissioner of the General Land Office, and then only if no inconsistent disposition of the lands had been previously made. The master found, however, that no such survey was made and approved until July 27, 1916. Several months earlier on December 6, 1915 these lands had been placed in a petroleum reserve by Presidential order. 4 [331 U.S. 440 , 443] Defendants' exceptions to the master's findings and conclusion relating to title give expression to two basic contentions: first, that the Enabling Act immediately vested in the State an indefeasible right to whatever lands would be found on later survey to lie within Section 36; second, that a so-called Coleman survey of 1892 identified Section 36 sufficiently to create then in the State an indefeasible equity, which ripened into full legal title when the complete survey was made and approved in 1916. These contentions will be further elaborated and discussed in order.
Consistent with the policy first given expression in the Ordinance of 1785, the Federal Government has included grants of designated sections of the public lands for school purposes in the Enabling Act of each of the States admitted into the Union since 1802.5 This Court has frequently been called upon to construe the provisions and limitations of such grants. It has consistently been held that under the terms of the grants hitherto considered by this Court, title to unsurveyed sections of the public lands which have been designated as school lands does not pass to the State upon its admission into the Union, but remains in the Federal Government until the land is surveyed. Prior to survey, those sections are a part of the public lands of the United States and may be disposed of by the Government in any manner and for any purpose consistent with applicable federal statutes. If upon survey it is found that the Federal Government has made a previous disposition of the section, the State is then entitled to select lieu lands as indemnity in accordance with provisions incorporated into each of the school-land grants. The interest of the [331 U.S. 440 , 444] State vests at the date of its admission into the Union only as to those sections which are surveyed at that time and which previously have not been disposed of by the Federal Government. 6
Defendants contend, however, that regardless of the rule generally applicable in school-grant cases, the provisions of the Wyomig Enabling Act are such that upon her admission into the Union in 1890, an indefeasible proprietary interest in Sections 16 and 36 in each township, whether surveyed or unsurveyed, vested immediately in the State, except as to such sections as had been disposed of previously by the Federal Government for other purposes. This interest, it is contended, is of such a nature, as to preclude any appropriation or reservation of unsurveyed Sections 16 and 36 by the Federal Government after the date of Wyoming's admission into the Union. It is defendants' position, therefore, that the order of the President of the United States issued December 6, 1915, which caused the lands here in issue to be included in Petroleum Reserve No. 41, was not sufficient to defeat the State's interest, even if it be assumed that a survey of that section had not been completed at that time. We, accordingly, turn our attention to the provisions of the Wyoming Enabling Act which defendants rely upon to support their contentions.
Section 4 of the Enabling Act provides:
Defendants first point to the fact that in the granting clause, Congress employed words of present grant. This is said to evince an intention to vest immediately in the State, not only legal title to section 16 and 36 when surveyed and not otherwise disposed of, but also an indefeasible proprietary interest in the unsurveyed sections of the school lands. We believe that this contention is precluded by earlier decisions of this Court. In Heydenfeldt v. Daney Gold & Silver Mining Co., 1877, 93 U.S. 634 , decided some thirteen years before the passage of the Wyoming Act, this Court construed the granting clause of the Nevada Enabling Act, which contains language substantially identical to that of 4 of the Wyoming Act,8 as not [331 U.S. 440 , 446] immediately vesting in the State title to sections of the school lands unsurveyed at the date of admission. 9 In United States v. Morrison, 1916, 240 U.S. 192, 205 , 331, this Court stated: 'We regard the decision in the Heydenfeldt case as establishing a definite rule of construction.'
It is significant, also, that three years before the passage of the Wyoming Act, the Secretary of the Interior, in construing the granting clause of the Colorado Enabling Act, which also contains language of present grant, took the position that title to unsurveyed school lands passes to the State only at the date of survey and then only where the Federal Government has made no other disposition of the land prior to that time. 10
Defendants urge, however, that the pertinent language of the Wyoming Enabling Act should be considered in connection with the legislative history of the Organic Act of July 25, 1868,11 under the authority of which Wyoming was organized into a territory. It is pointed out that 14 of the Organic Act as originally introduced reserved sections 16 and [331 U.S. 440 , 447] 36 in each township for school purposes at the time 'when the lands in the said territory shall be surveyed under the direction of the government of the United States, preparatory to bringing the same into market. * * *' During the course of the debates on the bill, 14 was amended to eliminate the phrase quoted above, so that as finally enacted the Organic Act made a present reservation of the lands for school purposes. 12 It is not defendants' contention that 14 of the Organic Act must necessarily prevail over the provisions of the Enabling Act. It is urged, however, that as a guide to construction, the legislative history of 14 of the Organic Act clearly indicates an intention on the part of Congress to vest in Wyoming at the date of its admission as a State, immediate interests in all school lands, whether surveyed or unsurveyed, such as to defeat any subsequent attempts by the Federal Government to reserve the sections for other purposes.
We find the argument unconvincing. During the course of the Congressional debates which preceded the amending of 14 of the Organic Act, concern was expressed by certain members of Congress that delaying the reservation for school purposes until the date of survey would leave open the possibility that the most choice school lands would be settled upon by squatters, preemptors, or homesteaders, prior to survey so as to defeat the reservation of those lands for school purposes. It was apparently to deal with that situation that the amendment was passed. We find nothing in the desire of Congress to preserved the reservation of the school lands against the claim of individual settlers, however, as evincing any intention to strip from the Federal Government the power to deal with those lands in the public interest as authorized by the applicable federal statutes. That Congress did not so intend is indicated by the fact that only four [331 U.S. 440 , 448] years after the passage of the Organic Act, Congress reserved a large tract of the public lands in Wyoming for the Yellowston National Park. 13 In the Enabling Act, it was specifically provided that Wyoming was notentitled t o indemnity for sections 16 and 36 in the townships included within the Yellowstone reservation. Even as to the rights of individual settlers on the school lands, Congress pursued no consistent course. Although the amendment to 14 of the Organic Act apparently was passed to protect the right of the Territory to the school lands against the claim of such individuals, Congress, in the Act of August 9, 1888,14 gave recognition to the claims of homesteaders and preemptors established prior to survey and granted to the Territory the right to select other portions of the public lands in lieu thereof. We conclude, therefore, that nothing in the legislative history of the acts passed before the Wyoming Enabling Act gives support to the State's claim to title in this case.
Defendant's principal contention, however, is that regardless of the construction which might be required if the granting clause of the Enabling Act stood alone, that clause read in connection with 5 of the Act, gives clear support to their position. Section 5 provides as follows:
Defendants vigorously assert that the phrase 'but shall be reserved for school purposes only' completely and irrevocably divested the Federal Government of power [331 U.S. 440 , 449] to dispose of or to deal with any sections 16 and 36 of the public lands in the State not sold or otherwise disposed of prior to the passage of the Enabling Act. This phrase read in connection with the language of present grant in 4, it is asserted, reveals a clear intention to vest immediately in the State an indefeasible interest in all such lands. We do not believe that the language should be so construed.
The phrase 'but shall be reserved for school purposes only' should not be considered apart from the language which immediately precedes it. The clause beginning with the semicolon in the last sentence in the section clearly and explicitly treats the claims of individuals to school lands asserted under the federal and laws and provides that those claims should not prevail against the State. The phrase upon which Wyoming relies should be construed as an affirmation of the State's interest as opposed to the claims of such individuals. The phrase, however, should not be construed as a limitation on the Federal Government's powers to deal with such lands in a manner consistent with the applicable federal statutes. The powers of the Federal Government was respect to the public lands, as contrasted to the claims of individuals asserted under the land laws, are nowhere mentioned in the section. We think that in the absence of such language, the section should not be construed as a limitation on those powers. 15
Convincing support for this construction is found both in the legislative history of the language contained in 5 of the Wyoming Act and in subsequent Congressional enactments. Language identical to the last clause of 5 first appeared as part of 11 of the Act of February 22, [331 U.S. 440 , 450] 1889,16 the Enabling Act for the States of Washington, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. A bill authorizing the admission of South Dakota, and containing language similar to that later included in 5 of the Wyoming Act, was first passed by the Senate. 17 When the bill came before the House for consideration, an amendment was approved which struck out all the provisions of the Senate bill following the enacting clause and substituted a bill caling for t he admission of Washington, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. 18 As finally passed by the House, the substitute bill provided that rights of settlers to the school lands should be preserved where settlements were made prior to survey or before approval of the Act of admission. 19 The conference committee, however, rejected those provisions; and the Act as passed included language similar to that in the original Senate bill and identical to that later incorporated into the Wyoming Act, providing that the claims of the States to the school sections should prevail over those of the individual settlers. 20 It will be observed that the conflict between the provisions in the House bill and the Senate bill related to the competing interests of the States and the individual settlers. Nothing in this history indicates that by accepting the alternative provided in the Senate bill and resolving the conflict in favor of the States, Congress intended, also, to extinguish the powers of the Federal Government, theretofore exercised, with respect to the [331 U.S. 440 , 451] unsurveyed sections of the school lands. Nor is there any evidence that Congress intended such a departure from previous practice when it incorporated an identical clause into 5 of the Wyoming Act. Indeed, the House Committee Report states that the Enabling Act gives to Wyoming 'the usual land grants,'21 and the manager of the bill in the House of Representatives during the course of the debates made a similar statement.