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Opinion of the Court.
this court sustained a decree cancelling a patent although no fraud was shown, and its issue was simply owing to inadvertence and mistake. We are of the opinion that the ruling of the Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals was correct; that the matters of fact involved in these contests should be settled by the land department; that when through inadvertence and mistake a patent has been wrongfully issued, by which the jurisdiction of the land department over these disputed questions of fact is lost, a court of equity may rightfully interfere and restore such lost jurisdiction, to do which it becomes necessary to cancel the patent.
To deny relief in this case would open the door to many possibilities of wrong. It appears that although an order had been made to suspend all action in respect to the application for this patent, somehow or other the clerk having charge of the proceedings in respect to it was ignorant of such order, and that although in the papers handed to him was the formal entry of an appearance for a contestee, he failed to examine such instrument, and assumed that it was a mere entry of an appearance in behalf of the applicant. Upon the showing made in this case he was innocent of wrong intent, but if such omission can be operative to deprive the land department of its appropriate jurisdiction, it affords too strong an inducement for an intentional omission, proof of which may well be beyond the power of the government. The decree of the Court of Appeals is
MR. Justice Gray was not present at the argument and took no part in the decision of this case.
The plaintiff's contention in this case was that, notwithstanding the action
of the Department of the Interior in certifying the land in controversy to the State of Nebraska and the subsequent conveyances in the chain of title from that State to the appellees, such apparent legal title was absolutely void, because, by the acts of Congress the land was not subject to selection by the State, it being within the limits of the land grant to the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Company, and reserved for homestead and preëmption, but not for private entry. All the facts upon which that contention rested were matters of statute and record, and any defence to the apparent legal title created by them was available in an action at law to recover possession. Held, that, without deciding whether the selection and certification of these lands were absolutely void or simply voidable at the election of the Government, or were valid and beyond any right of challenge of the Government, or any one else, a case was not presented for the interference of a court of equity.
The controversy in this case respects the northeast quarter of section 14, township 5, range 3, situate in Saline County, Nebraska. The facts are these : The State of Nebraska upon its admission into the Union became entitled, by virtue of section 8 of the act of Congress, September 4, 1841, c. 16, 5 Stat. 453, 455, to 500,000 acres of public land to aid in promoting its internal improvements. March 26, 1868, the State selected 359,708 acres of land, including the tract in controversy as part of this grant. March 24, 1870, the selection was approved by the Commissioner of the General Land Office, who, in his certificate of approval, certified that the lists had been “carefully examined and compared with the township plats and tract books of this office and are found to be free from conflict; and I respectfully recommend that the same be approved subject to any valid interfering rights which may have existed at the date of selection.” March 29, 1870, this action was approved by the Secretary of the Interior in these words: “ Approved subject to all the rights above
Statement of the Case.
mentioned.” The lists duly certified were transmitted to the State and recorded in the proper office. April 20, 1871, the State of Nebraska patented 100,000 acres of these lands, including the tract in controversy, to the Midland Pacific Railway Company in execution of a contract made by the State, through an act of its legislature, February 15, 1869. Laws Nebraska, 1869, p. 153. The appellees hold under a chain of title from the Midland Pacific Railway Company, the deed to Jacob Reinhard, one of the appellees, and Frederick Fieser, being dated November 11, 1878, they at the time paying for the land twelve dollars per acre. On May 12, 1892, Frederick Fieser died, and his heirs and devisees are, in addition to Jacob Reinhard, the appellees in this case. The appellees and their grantors have paid the taxes of every kind levied upon the land since the patent from the State, amounting at the time of the decree in the Circuit Court to $1375.81.
The claim of appellant was initiated on May 31, 1883, more than fifteen years after the selection by the State, more than thirteen years after the approval by the Secretary of the Interior of such selection and the certification to the State, twelve years after the State had conveyed the land away to its grantee, and nearly five years after the deed to appellees. It was initiated by an occupation of the tract and an application to enter it as a homestead. This application was rejected by the local land officers, and their action in this matter was affirmed by the Commissioner of the General Land Office and the Secretary of the Interior. On July 6, 1888, the appellant, who had been in continuous possession ever since his first entry, tendered the local land office proof that he had complied with the terms and conditions of the homestead laws of the United States, and demanded a patent for the land. This was denied by the local land officers, and from such denial no appeal was taken. The theory upon which the appellant proceeded was that the land was within the limits of the grant made by the United States to the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Company by act of Congress July 2, 1864, c. 216, 13 Stat. 356, 364, and that by the act
Opinion of the Court.
of March 6, 1868, c. 20, 15 Stat. 39, the even-numbered sections within such limits were raised to double minimum lands, and, while subject to homestead and preëmption entry, were not subject to private entry; that therefore the selection by and certification to the State were absolutely void and passed no title; that the title remained in the United States until he by full compliance with the requirements of the homestead laws acquired an equitable right to the land.
An action of ejectment having been commenced by Reinhard and Fieser on November 16, 1885, in the United States Circuit Court for the District of Nebraska, to recover possession, a bill in equity was filed by the appellant in the same court on October 8, 1888, to enjoin the further prosecution of that action and to quiet his title. Upon pleadings and proof the Circuit Court entered a decree dismissing the bill, which decree was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals, 19 U. S. App. 698, from which decree an appeal was taken to this court.
Mr. G. M. Lambertson for appellant. Mr. J. W. Deweese was on his brief.
Mr. Charles E. Magoon and Mr. Charles Off utt for appellees.
MR. JUSTICE BREWER, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.
On the threshold of this case we are confronted with the question whether, assuming that the appellant has any rights in the land, a case is presented for the interference of a court of equity. Ilis contention is that notwithstanding the action of the Interior Department in certifying the land to the State, and the subsequent conveyances in the chain of title from the State to the appellees, such apparent legal title was absolutely void because by the acts of Congress the land was not subject to selection by the State, it being within the limits of the land grant to the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Company, and reserved for homestead and preëmption, but not for private entry. All the facts upon which his contention rests are
Opinion of the Court.
matters of statute and record, and any defence to the apparent legal title created by them was available in the action to recover possession. For if it be true as contended that this land thus certified to the State was not under the acts of Congress land open to selection, the validity of such certification, as of a patent, can be challenged in an action at law. Bur. fenning v. Chicago, St. Paul &c. Railway, 163 U. S. 321, and cases cited in the opinion.
But the mandate of the statute, Rev. Stat. S 723, affirming in this respect the general doctrine in respect to the jurisdiction of courts of equity, is that “suits in equity shall not be sustained in either of the courts of the United States in any case where a plain, adequate and complete remedy may be had at law.” This general proposition has been affirmed by this court in a multitude of cases, among others the following, in which the jurisdiction of courts of equity to restrain proceedings at law was denied on the ground that there existed a full and adequate defence, available in the legal action. Ilungerford v. Sigerson, 20 How. 156; Insurance Company v. Bailey, 13 Wall. 616, 623, in which it was said: “Where a party, if his theory of the controversy is correct, has a good defence at law to a purely legal demand,' he should be left to that means of defence, as he has no occasion to resort to a court of equity for relief, unless he is prepared to allege and prove some special circumstances to show that he may suffer irreparable injury if he is denied a preventive remedy.” Grand Chute v. Winegar, 15 Wall. 373. It follows from these considerations that if this suit in equity is to be regarded as simply one to restrain the action at law, it cannot be sustained, because upon the appellant's own theory he has a full, adequate and complete defence at law.
But it is contended by appellant that his suit is something more than one to restrain the action at. law; that it is a suit to quiet his title and to hold the appellees as trustees of the legal title for his benefit; that the restraint of the law action is simply incidental to and in furtherance of the main relief, which is the quieting of his title. Assuming for the purposes of this case that his contention in this respect is correct, we