NORTHERN PAC. RY. CO. v. ELY(1905)
Messrs. C. W. Bunn and James B. Kerr for plaintiff in error. [197 U.S. 1, 2] Messrs. Harold Preston, William E. Cullen, F. T. Post, and Samuel R. Stern for defendants in error.
Mr. Chief Justice Fuller delivered the opinion of the court:
This was a suit brought by the Northern Pacific Railway Company, successor to the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, in the superior court of the county of Spokane, state of Washington, against a large number of persons, to quiet title, remove clouds, and recover possession of certain parcels of real estate, alleged to be portions of its right of way in that county.
The complaint alleged that plaintiff was the owner and entitled to a strip of land, 400 feet wide, on which defendants had wrongfully entered. Some of the defendants were defaulted. Separate answers were interposed by others, separate trials had, separate verdicts rendered, and bill of exceptions granted. As to one defendant, the case was submitted to the court for trial, and findings of fact and conclusions of law were made and filed.
A single decree was rendered in favor of contesting defendants, from which the railway company appealed to the supreme court of the state, where the decree was affirmed. 25 Wash. 384, 54 L. R. A. 526, 87 Am. St. Rep. 766, 65 Pac. 555. [197 U.S. 1, 3] The opinion of that court was filed June 29, 1901, and judgment of affirmance entered July 30, 1901. On May 4, 1903, the case of Northern P. R. Co. v. Townsend, 190 U.S. 267 , 47 L. ed. 1044, 23 Sup. Ct. Rep. 671, was decided. May 28, 1903, the railway company was allowed a writ of error from this court, the judgment of the state supreme court being described as entered June 29, 1901. The case was docketed July 23, 1903, and is now numbered 88. June 30 a second writ of error was taken out and filed below, the papers correctly describing the judgment as entered July 30, 1901, and was docketed here August 13, 1903, and is now numbered 102.
Plaintiff moved for leave to amend the record in No. 88 so that the date of the judgment might be correctly given, and that thereupon No. 102 be dismissed, or, in the alternative, that No. 88 be dismissed. We grant the latter application, and dismiss No. 88 without prejudice to proceeding in No. 102. Wheeler v. Harris, 13 Wall. 51, 20 L. ed. 531; Silsby v. Foote, 20 How. 290, 15 L. ed. 822.
The facts on which the state supreme court proceeded are thus stated:
It may be added that it was only as to some of the parcels [197 U.S. 1, 5] that the filing of the map of definite location and the construction of the railroad preceded the filing of the entries. But we regard the case as falling within the rule holding the grant of the right of way effective from the date of the act. St. Joseph & D. C. R. Co. v. Baldwin, 103 U.S. 426 , 26 L. ed. 578.
The supreme court held that the action was barred by the statute of limitations; that the company was estopped from asserting title by reason of the circumstances; and that: 'Where, through the negligence and laches of a railroad company, the occupancy by others of portions of the right of way granted to it by the government has ripened into title by adverse possession, the company cannot set up the defense that the right of way was granted for public purposes only, and that it would be against public policy to permit either its abandonment by the company or the acquisition of adverse rights therein by way of estoppel or of the bar of the statute of limitations.'
As before stated, on the 4th day of May, 1903, the decision of this court in Northern P. R. Co. v. Townsend, 190 U.S. 267 , 47 L. ed. 1044, 23 Sup. Ct. Rep. 671, was announced. We there ruled that individuals could not, for private purposes, acquire by adverse possession, under a state statute of limitations, any portion of a right of way granted by the United States to a railroad company in the manner and under the conditions that the right of way was granted to the Northern Pacific Railroad Company. At the same time it was not denied that such right of way granted through the public domain within a state was amenable to the police power of the state. And we said: 'Congress must have assumed, when making this grant, for instance, that in the natural order of events, as settlements were made along the line of the railroad, crossings of the right of way would become necessary, and that other limitations in favor of the general public upon an exclusive right of occupancy by the railroad of its right of way might be justly imposed. But such limitations are in no sense analogous to claim of adverse ownership for private use.' [197 U.S. 1, 6] We are not prepared to overrule that decision, and tested by it, the judgment in this case must be reversed. But we were then dealing with the original right of way, which was of a width of 400 feet. April 28, 1904, an act of Congress entitled 'An Act Validating Certain Conveyances of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company and the Northern Pacific Railway Company,' was approved (33 Stat. at L. 538, chap. 1782), reading as follows:
The terms and provisions of the act were accepted by the railway company June 22, 1904, and the acceptance, duly certified, was filed in the Interior Department July 7, 1904
In Townsend's Case it was said, among other things:
The act of April 28, 1904, in view of our decision in that case, was obviously intended to and did have the effect to narrow the right of way to 200 feet in width, so far, at least, as, outside of that strip, the original right of way had been parted with.
The rule in the state of Washington as to adverse possession is thus stated by the supreme court in this case:
In Sharon v. Tucker, 144 U.S. 533, 543 , 36 S. L. ed. 532, 535, 12 Sup. Ct. Rep. 720, 722, where the statute of limitations in force in the District of Columbia was applied, Mr. Justice Field, speaking for the court, said: [197 U.S. 1, 8] 'It is now well settled that, by adverse possession for the period designated by the statute, not only is the remedy of the former owner gone, but his title has passed to the occupant, so that the latter can maintain ejectment for the possession against such former owner, should he intrude upon the premises. In several of the states this doctrine has become a positive rule, by their statutes of limitations declaring that uninterrupted possession for the period designated to bar an action for the recovery of land shall, of itself, constitute a complete title. Leffingwell v. Warren, 2 Black, 599, 17 L. ed. 261; Campbell v. Holt, 115 U.S. 620, 623 , 29 S. L. ed. 483, 485, 6 Sup. Ct. Rep. 209.'
This was quoted in Toltec Ranch Co. v. Cook, 191 U.S. 532, 538 , 48 S. L. ed. 291, 292, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 166, 167, and it was remarked:
So far as title to portions of the right of way could be lawfully acquired from the railway company, defendants below, appellees in the supreme court had acquired title to their parcels by adverse possession, and occupied the same position as if they had received conveyances, which the act of April 28, 1904, operated to confirm. The act is remedial, and to be construed accordingly. The lots of some of the defendants were outside of the 200 feet. The lots of others were partly within and partly without the strip. But the act was passed after the judgment of the supreme court was rendered, and while the case was pending here, and it must be left to the state courts to deal with the matter in the light of the conclusions at which we have arrived.
In Kansas P. R. Co. v. Twombly, 100 U.S. 78 , 25 L. ed. 550, which was a writ of error to the supreme court of the territory of Colorado, the act authorizing the action was repealed while the writ was pending in this court, and we, in the exercise of appellate jurisdiction, declined to send the case back to the court below with instructions to enter a judgment of nonsuit, and affirmed the judgment because we found no error. [197 U.S. 1, 9] In the present case, the parties will not be compelled to resort to some form of original proceeding to obtain relief under the act of April 28, 1904, as, apart from that statute, the decree must be reversed, and thereupon the record will be open for such adjudication as the then situation may demand.
In No. 88, writ of error dismissed; in No. 102, decree reversed and cause remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
Mr. Justice Harlan was of opinion that the decree of the state supreme court should be affirmed for the reasons given, and, therefore, dissented.