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Opinion of the Court.
canceled was void upon its face and therefore afforded no basis for such a suit in a Federal court. But this court pronounced the objection untenable, saying (p. 410): "While, therefore, the courts of equity may have generally adopted the rule that a deed, void upon its face, does not cast a cloud upon the title which a court of equity would undertake to remove, we may yet look to the legislation of the State in which the court sits to ascertain what constitutes a cloud upon the title, and what the state laws declare to be such the courts of the United States sitting in equity have jurisdiction to remove." Citing Clark v. Smith, supra. See also Cowley v. Northern Pacific Railroad Co., 159 U. S. 569, 582. There are many state statutes of this type, and our decisions show that their enforcement in the Federal courts is subject to but three restrictions: 1. The case must be within the general class over which those courts are given jurisdiction. 2. A suit in equity does not lie in those courts where there is a plain, adequate and complete remedy at law. 3. In those courts there can be no commingling of legal and equitable remedies, or substitution of the latter for the former, whereby the constitutional right of trial by jury in actions at law is defeated, Judicial Code, §§ 24 (cl. 1) and 267; Whitehead v. Shattuck, 138 U. S. 146, 152, 156; Greeley v. Lowe, 155 U. S. 58, 75; Wehrman v. Conklin, Id. 314, 323; Lawson v. United States Mining Co., 207 U. S. 1, 9.
We conclude that the provision in § 57 of the Judicial Code, respecting suits to remove clouds from title, was intended to embrace, and does embrace, suits of that nature when founded upon the remedial statutes of the several States, as well as when resting upon established usages and practice in equity.
The State of Mississippi has such a statute. Code of 1906, § 550. Although originally more restricted (Hutchinson's Code, p. 773; Rev. Code 1857, p. 541, art. 8), it has read as follows since 1871 (Rev. Code 1871, § 975):
234 U. S.
Opinion of the Court.
"When a person, not the rightful owner of any real estate, shall have any conveyance or other evidence of title thereto, or shall assert any claim, or pretend to have any right or title thereto, which may cast doubt or suspicion on the title of the real owner, such real owner may file a bill in the chancery court to have such conveyance or other evidence or claim of title canceled, and such cloud, doubt or suspicion removed from said title, whether such real owner be in possession or not, or be threatened to be disturbed in his possession or not, and whether the defendant be a resident of this state or not."
While we have not been referred to any decision of the Supreme Court of the State passing directly upon the question, whether a conveyance or other evidence of title void upon its face is within the purview of this statute, the decisions of that court brought to our attention show that it has treated the statute as embracing conveyances described as "void"--whether the invalidity was shown upon the face of the instrument being left uncertainEzelle v. Parker, 41 Mississippi, 520; Wofford v. Bailey, 57 Mississippi, 239; Drysdale v. Biloxi Canning Co., 67 Mississippi, 534; Preston v. Banks, 71 Mississippi, 601; Wildberger v. Puckett, 78 Mississippi, 650; and also that it regards the statute as very comprehensive and materially enlarging existing equitable remedies. In Huntington v. Allen, 44 Mississippi, 654, 662, it was said: "The statute in reference to the removal of clouds from title, enlarges the principle upon which courts of equity were accustomed to administer relief. It is very broad, allowing the real owner in all cases, to apply for the cancellation of a deed or other evidence of title, which casts a cloud or suspicion on his title. The terms used in the statute, expressive of the scope of the jurisdiction, viz., ‘cloud,' 'doubt,' 'suspicion,' quite distinctly imply that the instrument which creates them is apparent rather than 'real;' is 'semblance' rather than substance; obscures rather than
Opinion of the Court.
destroys or defeats." In Cook v. Friley, 61 Mississippi, 1, 4, it was further said: "The statute not only authorizes the real owner to file his bill to cancel a paper title, but also to remove the cloud, doubt or suspicion which may spring from the assertion of claim or pretense of right or title thereto by the defendant, who without any muniment of title may assert a claim or pretend to have right or title. The purpose was to give the real owner a remedy against one who asserts any claim or pretends to have any right or title to such owner's land, in analogy to the right of action by the canon law for jactitation of marriage. The real owner is entitled to protection against jactitation of title to the disparagement of his real ownership. He may bring into court one who asserts any claim or pretends to have any right or title to his land, and require him to vindicate his claim or submit to its extinguishment by decree of the court." And in Peoples Bank v. West, 67 Mississippi, 729, 740, the court concluded its opinion with the statement: "We know of no line by which the jurisdiction of the court is limited other than that prescribed by the law which confers it. When the complainant shows a perfect title, legal or equitable, and the title of the defendant is shown to be invalid, it is, in the nature of things, a cloud upon the title of complainant, and should be canceled."
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In view of these decisions, we think the statute must be regarded as entitling the rightful owner of real property in the State to maintain a suit to dispel a cloud cast upon his title by an invalid deed or other instrument, even though it be one which, when tested by applicable legal principles, is void upon its face.
The judgments sought to be canceled as clouds upon the appellant's title were rendered by special courts of eminent domain, each composed of a justice of the peace and a jury. According to the statute controlling such proceedings (Miss. Code, 1906, c. 43) the special court is not
Opinion of the Court.
permitted to quash or dismiss the proceeding for want of jurisdiction or for any other reason, or to inquire whether the applicant has a right to condemn or whether the contemplated use is public, but "must proceed with the condemnation" (§§ 1862, 1865, 1866); and, while an appeal lies to the Circuit Court, a supersedeas is not permitted, and upon the appeal the Circuit Court is restricted, like the special court, to an ascertainment of the compensation to be paid to the owner (§ 1871). A form of judgment is prescribed, which contains blanks for a description of the property and a recital of the compensation awarded, and then declares: "Now, upon payment of the said award, applicant can enter upon and take possession of the said property and appropriate it to public use as prayed for in the application" (§ 1867). An affirmative provision to the same effect also appears in the statute (§ 1868). Considering these statutory provisions and § 17 of the state constitution which declares that the question whether the condemnation is for a public use shall be a judicial question, the Supreme Court of the State holds that "the only question which can be raised in the eminent domain court, and the only jurisdiction confided to it, is the jurisdiction to ascertain the amount of damage sustained by the party whose lands are sought to be taken;" that "a new issue, involving a new question and new pleadings, cannot be raised in the appellate tribunal, that is to say, in the circuit court;" that the owner "may litigate the right to take his property at any time before acceptance of the compensation, or before the waiver of his right to have the question of the use judicially determined;" that "neither the constitution nor the laws of the State provide any particular tribunal in which this question shall be determined, nor is it a matter of any particular concern in what court the question shall be settled, provided it be determined in that forum which is capable of deciding it," and that the
appropriate mode of litigating the question is by a suit in equity challenging the right of the condemnor to enter under the judgment of the court of eminent domain. Vinegar Bend Lumber Co. v. Oak Grove & Georgetown Railroad Co., 89 Mississippi, 84, 107, 108, 110, 112. Thus it will be perceived that under the law of the State, as declared by its court of last resort, the judgment of a special court of eminent domain may be challenged by a bill in equity upon the ground that the condemnation is not for a public purpose. This being so, and the elements of Federal jurisdiction being present, the litigation may, of course, be had in a Federal court. One of the grounds upon which the judgments are challenged in the present bill is that the condemnation is not for a public purpose. If this ground be well taken, as to which we intimate no opinion, the judgments apparently confer upon the appellee a right in the appellant's right of way to which the appellee is not entitled.
We conclude that the suit is one to remove a cloud from title within the meaning of § 57 of the Judicial Code, and is cognizable in the court below, although neither of the parties resides in that district.
GILSON v. UNITED STATES..
APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE
No. 207. Submitted May 6, 1914.-Decided June 8, 1914.
The settled rule of this court that the concurring findings of two courts below will not be disturbed, unless shown to be clearly erroneous, applies where the evidence is taken before an examiner. Texas & Pacific Railway Co. v. Louisiana Railroad Commission, 232 U. S. 338.