PRODUCERS' OIL CO. v. HANZEN(1915)
Mr. Edgar H. Farrar for plaintiff in error.[ Producers' Oil Co v. Hanzen 238 U.S. 325 (1915) ]
[238 U.S. 325, 327] Messrs. Eugene Mackey and D. T. Watson for defendants in error.
Mr. Justice McReynolds delivered the opinion of the court:
Plaintiff in error-the Oil Company-instituted this action July 1, 1910, in the district court, Caddo parish, Louisiana, for the purpose of establishing its right to possession of part of lot No. 1, section 4, township 20, north, range 16, west, suddenly become very valuable through discovery of gas and oil. The petition alleges that the United States in 1874 sold to one Pitts lots 1 and 2, section 4, forming a projection known as 'Wilson's Point,' surrounded on three sides by waters of James bayou, a navigable stream; that he immediately entered, and, together with his successors, remained in peaceful, complete possession until April 2, 1910, when defendants in error, without knowledge of Noel, then owner, wrongfully entered upon part of lot No. 1, built a wire fence and placed a keeper thereon; that April 15, 1910, by notarial act duly recorded, the Oil Company purchased both lots from Noel and became subrogated to his rights; and when it came to subject the whole property to actual possession a portion was found occupied as above indicated.
A writ of sequestration, issued contemporaneously with filing of petition, was subsequently dissolved upon motion, a proper bond having been given, conditioned not to commit waste, and to make faithful restitution of fruits if so required.
Answering, defendants in error denied they were occupying any part of lot No. 1, section 4, but said they were and had been since April 2, 1910, in possession of 87.9 acres situated in sections 3 and 4, township 20, described by metes [238 U.S. 325, 330] and bounds, 'which said property your respondents located under the laws of the United States relative to the location of mining lands and upon which they have made a discovery of oil and gas, and are, therefore, entitled to the full use and enjoyment and to a patent from the United States.' They also denied the Oil Company or any of 'its ancestors in title ever had or claimed possession of any part of the property so located by your respondents; but, that, on the contrary, your respondents aver that the said land was never in the possession of any person until the location by them.' Further answering they averred that 'Thomas H. Pitts purchased from the United States, among other property, lot 1 of section 4, township 20 north of range 16 west, containing 12.84 acres, and that he paid for the same with military land warrants, as containing that acreage; that the said lot 1 of section 4 is figured and described on the surveys of the United States by certain metes and bounds, shown on the said plat, the eastern boundary of said lot, as well as the other boundaries thereof, being shown on the said map; that the east line of said lot, which is the boundary between the land of respondents and that of plaintiff, did not and does not denote the banks of any body of water, but that, on the contrary, the said line was run through the hills as the line of boundary of the said lot; that the land of which your respondents are in possession, and which they located under their mineral filing aforesaid, is high land, not subject to overflow at any time, and which never constituted any part of any lake or bayou, and was left out of the surveys of the United States, and which remained the property of the government until said location had been made thereon by your respondents.'
There were introduced in evidence patents from the government, field notes and attending documents, official plat, sundry conveyances, contour maps,-one prepared by Williams for plaintiff company, another by Barnes for [238 U.S. 325, 331] defendants,-Barbour's survey of sections 9, 10, 15, and 16, and photographs showing landscape and vegetation. Witnesses were examined in behalf of both sides chiefly in explanation of lines, maps, water levels, character of land and growth thereon. A draft of the official plat (5/6 original size) is in the margin; on the following page is a copy of the combination map (much reduced) showing the Bristol, Williams, Barnes, and Barbour surveys especially referred to by Louisiana supreme court. At the trial the following stipulation was made part of the record:
[238 U.S. 325, 333] the defendants have actually discovered oil and gas and are now producing oil from said property.
Prior to 1858 Alfred Wilson squatted on the point since known by his name, and during that year sold to Ann Pitts improvements upon '160 acres more or less' lying thereon. In April, 1871, Thomas H. Pitts applied to the United States for a survey of the land,-long improved and then occupied,-and shortly thereafter (July, 1871) this was made by Byron Bradley Bristol, duly certified and reported as 'Field Notes of the Survey of Wilson's Point.' From these notes, referring, among other things, to inclosure, corn field, fence, dwelling, and road, the official plat or diagram was made in office of the surveyor general of Louisiana with actual traverse lines marked out. This plat shows fractional section 4, immediately north of section 9,-divided into two lots, No. 1 on the east, 12.84 acres, and No. 2 west, 11.44 acres,-on a point upon the left bank and surrounded on three sides by waters of James bayon. It is very small and does not indicate with certainty whether traverse lines or the stream constitute north and east boundaries. In respect of this fractional section 4 the surveyor's field notes in part recite: 'July 27th, 1871. Meanders of the left Bank of James Bayon begin at the corner between fractional sections 9 and 4 [southeast corner of Lot No. 1, Section 4], a gum tree at 24.50 West of the corner of sections 3, 4, 9 and 10; run thence down stream in fractional sec. 4; N. 2 degrees E. 6.00; N. 15 degrees W. 3.00; N. 47 1/2 degrees E. 2.50; N. 16 degrees W. 2.50; S. 86 1/2 degrees W. 2.50, spur of marsh [238 U.S. 325, 335] extends out North; S. 57 degrees W. 4.50; S. 33 1/4 degrees W. 4.50; S. 63 degrees W. 4.50; N. 81 degrees W. 2.80 at 1.10, enter Pitts' enclosure; N. 39 1/2 degrees W. 3.00, enter corn field;' thence according to seven designated calls bearing westerly and southerly around lot No. 2 'to the corner to fractional sect. 4 and 9, thence in sect. 9, etc. Under 'General Description' this note appears: 'The front land on James' Bayou is above the common average. The back land is thin and poor, post oak, flat. James' Bayou is navigable in ordinary seasons for large boats. The slough or water course near the original traverse in front of Sec. 10, is now dry and can only be traced by the rotten drift wood.'
March 1, 1878, Thomas H. Pitts received from the United States a conveyance of 'Northwest quarter of the Northeast quarter of Section Nine , . . . containing Forty Acres, according to the official plat.' By patent dated February 18, 1892, which recites a soldier's warrant for 120 acres had been deposited, the United States conveyed to Thomas H. Pitts 'Lots numbered one, two, three and four of Section Nine and the Lots numbered one and two of Section Four in Township Twenty North, of Range Sixteen West, of Louisiana, Meridian, in the District of Lands subject to sale at Natchitoches, Louisiana, containing One Hundred and Twenty-three acres and eighty-eight hundredths of an acre, according to the Official Plat of the Survey of said Lands returned to the General Land Office by the Surveyor- General.'
Pitts's title to 163.88 acres 'with all buildings and improvements,' described substantially as in his two patents,-one for 40 acres, the other 123.88 acres,-was conveyed November 23, 1880, to Walsch for $250; February 15, 1884, Walsch conveyed to Noel for $300; and on April 15, 1910, Noel conveyed the 163.88 acres 'more or less' to plaintiff company for recited consideration of $50,000. [238 U.S. 325, 336] It appears that north and northeast from the northernmost traverse line of lot No. 1, designated in field notes 'S. 86 1/2 degrees W. 2.50, spur of marsh extends out North,' and between it and James bayou, there is and was at time of Bristol survey a narrow ridge of high land 1,636.8 feet long and contiguous fast ground, amounting altogether to about 40 acres ( 87 according to defendants' estimate), upon which is much large growing timber, including cypress, hickory, gum, and oak-one oak 400 feet beyond the traverse lines being 14 feet in circumference. This is the land in dispute. To the south of the Bristol survey and outside its traverse lines lie 300 acres of fast land surveyed and platted by Barbour in 1896
The Oil Company claimed traverse lines around lot No. 1 must be treated as true meanders; that being owner and in actual possession of the lot it had constructive possession of land lying beyond such lines east and north to the bayou-40 acres or more; and that this was being trespassed upon. Defendants in error maintained the traverse lines were not intended as true meanders; that the grant was limited by courses and distances specified; and lands north and east of these were left unsurveyed, with title remaining in the government.
The trial court sustained the Oil Company's contention and adjudged it entitled to be maintained in possession of lot No. 1, 'and that the tongue of land on which defendants and their lessee have drilled an oil well, projecting north, and bounded north, east, and west by Jeems bayou, is a constituent and component part of lot number 1, the boundary of said lot number 1 being the water line of Jeems bayou; it being the purpose of this judgment to fix Jeems bayou as the boundary of said lot without regard to any arbitrary lines of survey.'
Upon appeal the supreme court of Louisiana (132 La. 691, 698-700, 703, 707, 61 So. 754) reversed the judgment of the trial court. It declared:
The cause is here by writ of error and the Oil Company maintains that it was obligatory upon the supreme court to accept the government survey, plat, and patent as correct; to treat traverses about lot No. 1 as true meanders of the bayou; and to hold, in consequence, that boundaries of the grant extended to the stream and include the locus in quo. The substantial Federal question presented-the only one for our determination-is whether, properly construed, the original patent conveyed to Pitts land lying between platted traverse lines and waters of the navigable stream. Waters- Pierce Oil Co. v. Texas, 212 U.S. 86, 97 , 53 S. L. ed. 417, 424, 29 Sup. Ct. Rep. 220. The effect of riparian rights, if established, would depend upon the local law. Hardin v. Shedd, 190 U.S. 508, 519 , 47 S. L. ed. 1156, 1157, 23 Sup. Ct. Rep. 685; Whitaker v. McBride, 197 U.S. 510, 512 , 49 S. L. ed. 857, 860, 25 Sup. Ct. Rep. 530.
Many causes decided by this court involved construction of patents conveying public lands by reference to official surveys and plats indicating streams or other waters. St. Paul & P. R. Co. v. Schurmeir, 7 Wall. 272, 286, 19 L. ed. 74, 78; Cragin v. Powell, 128 U.S. 691, 696 , 32 S. L. ed. 566, 567, 9 Sup. Ct. Rep. 203; Hardin v. Jordan, 140 U.S. 371, 380 , 35 S. L. ed. 428, 432, 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 808, 838; Mitchell v. Smale, 140 U.S. 406, 412 , 35 S. L. ed. 442, 444, 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 819, 840; Horne v. Smith, 159 U.S. 40, 42 , 40 S. L. ed. 68, 69, 15 Sup. Ct. Rep. 988; Grand Rapids & I. R. Co. v. Butler, 159 U.S. 87, 92 , 40 S. L. ed. 85, 87, 15 Sup. Ct. Rep. 991; Ainsa v. United States, 161 U.S. 208, 229 , 40 S. L. ed. 673, 680, 16 Sup. Ct. Rep. 544; Niles v. Cedar Point Club, 175 U.S. 300, 306 , 44 S. L. ed. 171, 173, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 124; French-Glenn Live Stock Co. v. Springer, 185 U.S. 47, 51 , 46 S. L. ed. 800, 802, 22 Sup. Ct. Rep. 563; Kirwan v. Murphy, 189 U.S. 35 , 47 L. ed. 698, 23 Sup. Ct. Rep. 599; Hardin v. Shedd, supra; Security Land & Exploration Co. v. Burns, 193 U.S. 167 , 48 L. ed. 662, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 425; Whitaker v. McBride, supra; Graham v. Gill, 223 U.S. 643, 645 , 56 S. L. ed. 586, 588, 32 Sup. Ct. Rep. 396; Scott v. Lattig, 227 U.S. 229, 244 , 57 S. L. ed. 490, 497, 44 L.R.A.(N.S.) 107, 33 Sup. Ct. Rep. 242; [238 U.S. 325, 339] Chapman & D. Lumber Co. v. St. Francis Levee Dist. 232 U.S. 186, 196 , 58 S. L. ed. 564, 567, 34 Sup. Ct. Rep. 297; Gauthier v. Morrison, 232 U.S. 452, 459 , 58 S. L. ed. 680, 684, 34 Sup. Ct. Rep. 384; Forsyth v. Smale, 7 Biss. 201, Fed. Cas. No. 4,950. A review and analysis of these cases would be tedious and unprofitable; thorough acquaintance with the varying and controlling facts is essential to a fair understanding of them. They unquestionably support the familiar rule relied on by counsel for the Oil Company that, in general, meanders are not to be treated as boundaries, and when the United States conveys a tract of land by patent referring to an official plat which shows the same bordering on a navigable river, the purchaser takes title up to the water line. But they no less certainly establish the principle that facts and circumstances may be examined, and if they affirmatively disclose an intention to limit the grant to actual traverse lines, these must be treated as definite boundaries. It does not necessarily follow from the presence of meanders that a fractional section borders a body of water, and that a patent thereto confers riparian rights.
In the instant case we find a survey of improved lands made at the express request of the occupant to whom they were subsequently patented; a grant from the United States specifying the exact number of acres conveyed; a positive declaration in field notes that land to the north lies outside the traverse lines; admission that excluded area contains not less than 40 acres of high ground, and evidence of large timber growing there; official plat delineating the surveyor's courses and specifying acreage of the several subdivisions, which cannot be said to indicate a water boundary beyond possible question. Outside the southern traverses of this plat, in space designated 'Open Lake,' lie 300 acres of fast land surveyed by Barbour in 1896. Although Noel, the Oil Company's immediate vendor, as owner, was in possession of property known as Wilson's Point place for some thirty years, and until after alleged unlawful entry by [238 U.S. 325, 340] defendants in error, his corporeal possession (as expressly stipulated) was limited east and north by the Bristol traverse lines, and he never occupied or exercised any act of corporeal possession over the above- indicated 40 acres or more without the same.
Considering all disclosures of the record we are unable to conclude the court below erred in holding original patent from the United States to Pitts conveyed no title to lands in controversy, and its judgment must be affirmed.
It seems proper to add that nothing in this opinion or the judgment to be entered thereon shall be taken to prejudice or impair any right which the United States may have in respect to the lands in controversy.