215 US 16 John Reavis v. Jose Fianza

215 U.S. 16

30 S.Ct. 1

54 L.Ed. 72


No. 16.

Argued April 26, 27, 1909.

Decided November 1, 1909.

Messrs. Frederic R. Coudert, Howard Thayer Kingsbury, and Paul Fuller for appellant.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 16-19 intentionally omitted]

Mr. Henry E. Davis for appellees.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 19-21 intentionally omitted]

Mr. Justice Holmes delivered the opinion of the court:

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This is a bill in equity, brought by the appellees to restrain the appellant from setting up title to certain gold mines in the province of Benguet, or interfering with the same, and to obtain an account of the gold heretofore taken from the mines. The trial court rendered a judgment or decree granting an injunction as prayed. Exceptions were taken on the grounds that the findings of fact were against the weight of evidence, and that the judgment was against the law. The supreme court re-examined the evidence, and affirmed the decree below. Then the case was brought here by appeal.


The appellees make a preliminary argument against the jurisdiction of this court, while the appellant asks us to re-examine the evidence, and to reverse the decree on the facts as well as the law. We cannot accede to either of these contentions. We are of opinion that this court has jurisdiction. For, if the affidavits of value should be held to apply to the whole of Reavis's claims, and not to only that part of them that are in controversy here, still, a statute of the United States, namely, a section of the organic act (§ 45, concerning mining titles in the Philippines), is 'involved,' within the meaning of § 10 of the same act, which determines the jurisdiction of this court. Act of July 1, 1902, chap. 1369. 32 Stat. at L. 691, 695, U. S. Comp. Stat. Supp. 1907, p. 214. The meaning and effect of that section are in question, and our construction even has some bearing upon our opinion that the findings of the two courts below should not be reopened. For, apart from the general rule prevailing in such cases (De la Rama v. De la Rama, 201 U. S. 303, 309, 50 L. ed. 765, 26 Sup. Ct. Rep. 485), we shall refer to the law for special reasons why those findings should not be disturbed in a case like this.


The appellees are Igorrots, and it is found that, for fifty years, and probably for many more, Fianza and his ancestors have held possession of these mines. He now claims title under the Philippine act of July 1, 1902, chap. 1369, § 45, 32 Stat. at L. 691. This section reads as follows:


'That where such person or association, they and their grantors, have held and worked their claims for a period equal to the time prescribed by the statute of limitations of the Philippine Islands, evidence of such possession and working of the claims for such period shall be sufficient to establish a right to a patent thereto under this act, in the absence of any adverse claim; but nothing in this act shall be deemed to impair any lien which may have attached in any way whatever prior to the issuance of a patent.'


It is not disputed that this section applies to possession maintained for a sufficient time before and until the statute went into effect. See Soper v. Lawrence Bros. Co. 201 U. S. 359, 50 L. ed. 788, 26 Sup. Ct. Rep. 473. The period of prescription at that time was ten years. Code of Procedure in Civil Actions. August 7, 1901. No. 190, § 40. 1 Pub. Laws of Philippine Commission, 378, 384. Therefore, as the United States had not had the sovereignty of the Philippines for ten years, the section, notwithstanding its similarity to Rev. Stat. § 2332, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 1433, must be taken to refer to the conditions as they were before the United States had come into power. Especially must it be supposed to have had in view the natives of the islands, and to have intended to do liberal justice to them. By § 16, their occupancy of public lands is respected and made to confer rights. In dealing with an Igorrot of the province of Benguet, it would be absurd to expect technical niceties, and the courts below were quite justified in their liberal mode of dealing with the evidence of possession and the possibly rather gradual settling of the precise boundaries of the appellees' claim. See Carino v. Insular Government, 212 U. S. 449, 53 L. ed. 594, 29 Sup. Ct. Rep. 334. At all events, they found that the appellees and their ancestors had held the claim and worked it to the exclusion of all others down to the bringing of this suit, and that the boundaires were as shown in a plan that was filed and seems to have been put in evidence before the trial came to an end.


It cannot be said that there was no evidence of the facts found, for the plaintiff Fianza testified, in terms, that his grandfather and father had owned the mines in question, and that he and the other appellees owned them in their turn; that they had all worked the mines, that no one else had claimed them, and that the appellant had interfered with his possession, and, when he put up a sign, had torn it down. No doubt his working of the mines was slight and superficial according to our notions, and the possession may not have been sharply asserted as it would have been with us, whether from Igorrot habits or from the absence of legal title under Spanish law. But it sufficiently appears that the appellee's family had held the place in Igorrot fashion, and to deny them possession in favor of Western intruders probably would be to say that the natives had no rights under the section that an American was bound to respect. Whatever vagueness there may have been in the boundaries, it is plain that the appellant attempted to locate a claim within them, and Fianza testified that the plan to which we have referred followed the boundaries that his father showed to him. It is said that the claim is larger than is allowed by § 22. But the limitation of that section applies only to claims 'located after the passage of this act.'


It is to be assumed, then, that the appellees and their ancestors had held possession and had worked their claims for much more than the period required by § 45, before the moment when the statute went into effect. It is to be assumed that the possession and working continued down to within two months of that moment. But the appellant says that he entered and staked his claims before that time, and then was in possession of them. On this ground, as well as others that are disposed of by the findings below, he contends that there was an adverse claim within the meaning of the act. But the ground in question was not unoccupied, and therefore he could not make a valid claim under § 28. See also act of March 2, 1901, chap. 803, 31 Stat. at L. 895, 910, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 2799. He refiled a location in October, 1902, but he did not and could not make the required affidavit because of the prior occupation; and, at that date, Fianza was within the act, unless he already had been deprived of its benefits. Moreover, it is found that Fianza's possession continued down to the bringing of this suit. This is justified by the evidence, and is not contradicted by the bill. The bill, to be sure, alleges that Reavis, in 1900, illegally entered and deprived the appellees of their mines, and that he still continues to maintain his unjust claim. But further on it alleges that, in the spring of 1902, Reavis was directed by the governor of Benguet not to molest the appellees; that he then waited in Manila, and, after the promulgation of the law, 'again entered,' set stakes, and filed a notice of location. So that the bill does not mean that he was continuously in possession, or that he was in possession when the law took effect. We are of opinion that there was no adverse claim that would have prevented the appellees from getting a patent under § 45. See Belk v. Meagher, 104 U. S. 279, 284, 26 L. ed. 735, 737; Altoona Quicksilver Min. Co. v. Integral Quicksilver Min. Co. 114 Cal. 100, 105, 45 Pac. 1047. See also McCowan v. Maclay, 16 Mont. 234, 239, 240, 40 Pac. 602.

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It is suggested that the possession of Fianza was not under a claim of title, since he could have no title under Spanish law. But, whatever may be the construction of Rev. Stat. § 2332, the corresponding § 45 of the Philippine act cannot be taken to adopt from the local law any other requirement as to the possession than the length of time for which it must be maintained. Otherwise, in view of the Spanish and American law before July 1, 1902, no rights could be acquired, and the section would be empty words; whereas, as we have said before, another section of the act, § 16, still further shows the intention of Congress to respect native occupation of public lands.


Again, it is urged that the section, of itself, confers no right other than to apply for a patent. But a right to an instrument that will confer a title in a thing is a right to have the thing. That is to say, it is a right of the kind that equity specifically enforces. It may or may not be true that, if the objection had been taken at the outset, the plaintiffs would have been turned over to another remedy, and left to apply for a patent; but, after a trial on the merits, the objection comes too late. See Perego v. Dodge, 163 U. S. 160, 164, 41 L. ed. 113, 116, 16 Sup. Ct. Rep. 971; Reynes v. Dumont, 130 U. S. 354, 395, 32 L. ed. 934, 945, 9 Sup. Ct. Rep. 486.


Some objections were taken to the exclusion of evidence. But, apart from the fact that they do not appear to have been saved in the exceptions taken to the supreme court and irrespective of its admissibility, the evidence offered could not have affected the result. An inquiry of Fianza, whether he claimed the mines mentioned in the suit or those measured by the surveyor who made the plan to which we have referred, was met by the allowance of an amendment, claiming according to the plan. A question to another of the plaintiffs, whether she saw any Igorrots working for Reavis, would have brought out nothing not admitted by the bill, that Reavis did, for a time, intrude upon the mines in suit. Upon the whole case we are of opinion that no sufficient ground is shown for reversing the decree, and it is affirmed.


Decree affirmed.


U. S. Comp. St. Supp. 1907, p. 214.