« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
defeated by any defense or plea that the defendant may see fit to make. If the plaintiff's right to sue in the national courts is to be tested solely by his complaint or declaration, and is not aided by any plea interposed by the defendant, no matter how clearly the latter may show that the construction or application of federal laws is involved, then it follows that, if jurisdiction is fairly disclosed by the plaintiff's statement of his own cause of action, it cannot be defeated by an answer or plea so conceived and drawn as to avoid the consideration of any federal question or questions. In other words, as was said, in substance, in Osborn v. Bank, 9 Wheat. 738, 824, the right of the plaintiff to sue does not depend upon the defense which the defendant may choose to set up, because the right to sue exists, if at all, before any defense is made, and must be judged exclusively as of the date of the filing of the complaint, on the state of facts therein disclosed. If, on the face of the complaint or declaration, the case is one which the court has the power to hear and determine, because of the existence of a federal question, it has the right to decide every issue that may subsequently be raised, and whether the decision of the case ultimately turns on a question of federal, local, or general law is a matter that in no wise affects the
a jurisdiction of the court. Mayor v. Cooper, 6 Wall. 247; Railroad Co. v. Mississippi, 102 U. S. 135, 141; Tennessee v. Davis, 100 U. S. 257, 264; Omaha Horse Railway Co. v. Cable Tramway Co., 32 Fed. 727.
In the light of these principles, we proceed to inquire whether any question of a federal character is presented by the bill of complaint which it may become necessary to decide in disposing of the issues involved in the present controversy.
In the consideration of this question we do not deem it essential to state in detail all of the allegations of the amended bill, on which the case appears to have been tried and decided. It will suffice to say in this behalf that the amended complaint set forth by appropriate allegations all of the legislation, both state and national, affecting the land grant in question, and all of the facts and circumstances pertaining thereto, which we have already recited at length in the foregoing statement. In addition to such averments, the amended bill also alleged, in substance, that the lands now. in controversy, being those situated north of Watab, were conveyed by the governor of the state of Minnesota to the First Division Company before the line of road along which they specifically lay in place was completed through and coterminous therewith; that the road abreast of which the disputed lands lie was constructed by the plaintiff company, and not by the First Division Company; that no part of said lands ever belonged or pertained to that part of the branch line which was constructed by the First Division Company, and that, in executing the deeds for the lands in controversy to the First Division Company, the governor of the state acted "wrongfully and without authority of law," and that the deeds so executed were “contrary to law, and void.” The bill further averred that the plaintiff company was the owner of, and that it laid claim to, all the lands in dispute; that the defendant company had no interest therein or right thereto; and it contained a prayer that the plaintiff company be decreed to be the owner of said lands, and that the deeds executed by the governor be adjudged to be null and void, and that the same be canceled as a cloud upon its title. In all of its essential features, therefore, the case made by the amended complaint was a suit to remove a cloud and to quiet title. It does not follow, however, that the case at bar is one of federal cognizance because it contains a reference to numerous acts of congress, and lengthy extracts therefrom. which in fact depends for its decision upon questions of local or general law cannot be brought within the jurisdiction of a federal tribunal as one arising under the constitution and laws of the United States merely by a reference in the complaint or declaration to some federal statute or statutes, and by setting up a claim thereunder which is merely colorable, and obviously without any reasonable foundation. If such a practice was tolerated, the result would be that the jurisdiction of the federal courts would be unduly enlarged, and made to comprehend a class of cases which were never intended to be tried therein. New Orleans v. New Orleans Water Works, 142 U. S. 79, 12 Sup. Ct. 142; Hamblin v. Land Co., 147 U. S. 532, 13 Sup. Ct. 353; St. Louis, etc., Ry. Co. v. State of Missouri, 15 Sup. Ct. 443.
At this point it accordingly becomes necessary to examine the various grounds upon which the plaintiff company predicates its right to recover. It is obvious that it derives its right to sue solely from the act passed by the legislature of the state of Minnesota on March 1, 1877, the material provisions of which act have been embodied in the foregoing statement. In the absence of that enactment, the plaintiff company would have no standing in any court, state or federal, to challenge the defendant's title to the lands in controversy, whether the deeds conveying the same are valid or invalid, void or voidable. The first question, then, that is encountered in the case is whether, by the act last aforesaid, the legislature of the state in fact intended to transfer the lands north of Watab, which had theretofore been deeded by the governor of the state to the First Division Company, to such other railroad company as might construct the uncompleted line of road from Watab to Brainerd, and whether, if it did so intend, the language of the act was adequate to vest in such company as elected to complete the road a legal title to such lands north of Watab and within the limits of the grant as the state then had power to convey. With respect to this question, a controversy arises between the two companies. It is the primary issue in the case. And it must be conceded, we think, that this controversy between the parties raises a question of local law which is in no wise dependent for its decision upon the construction of any federal statute. But if this primary question is decided in the affirmative, as the plaintiff contends that it ought to be, such decision is not decisive of the plaintiff's right to recover. It is merely one step in the direction of a recovery, and, for that reason, it cannot be said that the plaintiff's cause of action is founded solely on a state law, and that it grows out of the act of March 1, 1877. To entitle the plaintiff to a decree, it must further show that the deeds executed by the governor covering lands north of Watab were invalid; that the title of the state to said lands was not divested by the execution of said deeds, and that on March 1, 1877, the legislature of the state still had power to convey said lands by legislative enactment to such company as might elect to construct the uncompleted line from Watab to Brainerd. It is apparent, we think, that the plaintiff endeavors to establish the foregoing proposition that the deeds were in fact void, and that the lands in controversy remained subject to the disposal of the state of Minnesota, because of the invalidity of the prior conveyances, on two grounds. In the first place, it insists that the Litchfield agreement of date February 6, 1864, which was subsequently approved and confirined by the state, operated as a division of the land grant pertaining to the branch line, so that neither Litchfield nor his successor in interest, the First Division Company, could thereafter acquire any right or title whatsoever to any lands pertaining to said grant lying north of Watab, whether they were located within the place or indemnity limits. This, without doubt, is the ground on which the plaintiff chiefly relies for the purpose of establishing the proposition that the governor acted wholly without authority in executing deeds in favor of the First Division Company for the lands now in controversy. But, in addition to such contention, plaintiff also insists, and the allegations of the bill seem to be sufficiently full and specific to furnish a foundation for such contention, that the deeds in question were also unauthorized and void by virtue of limitations and conditions found in the several acts of congress by which the lands in controversy were granted to the territory and state of Minnesota, in trust, to aid in the construction of a branch line of road from St. Anthony, via Anoka, St. Cloud, and Crow Wing, to St. Vincent. In support of this position, it is contended, in substance, that the state held the legal title to all the lands embraced in the grant in trust, and that it could only convey the same on the conditions prescribed in the several acts of congress which created the trust; that, upon a true construction of the grant, the state had no power to convey lands lying within place limits, in advance of construction, after the first 120 sections had been sold; that it had no power to convey lands to any railway company unless the tracts so conveyed were "included within a continuous length of twenty miles of road”; that the granting act of March 3, 1857, set apart and appropriated to the construction of each consecutive section of 20 miles of road the place lands ly. ing abreast of or coterminous with each section, and that the granting act of March 3, 1865, in like manner set apart and appropriated to the construction of each consecutive section of 10 miles of road enough place and indemnity lands coterminous therewith to make altogether 100 sections of land for each 10 miles of road. It is insisted that the deeds now in controversy are invalid, without reference to state legislation, because they were executed by the governor of the state in violation of each of the foregoing provisions claimed to have been contained in said acts of congress.
The ground first stated, on which the plaintiff company bases its claim that the deeds executed by the governor were invalid, does not involve the consideration or decision of any federal question. In construing the Litchfield agreement, and in determining what lands the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad Company intended by that contract to transfer to Litchfield and his associates, it might be found expedient, or even necessary, to consult the act of congress of March 3, 1857, which is referred to therein, and with reference to which the contract appears to have been executed. But, after all, the point at issue upon this branch of the case is the true construction of that agreement, and that is clearly a question of general and local law, inasmuch as the right asserted by the plaintiff depends upon that agreement, and the local statute by which it was adopted and confirmed. A case does not become one of federal cognizance because it may be found necessary, in construing a private contract or a local law from which the rights of the respective parties are derived, to consult some federal statute with a view of ascertaining the meaning of the contract or the scope and effect of the local law. In such cases the cause of action or the defense, as the case may be, is not founded on a law of the United States in any such sense as to bring the suit within the jurisdiction of the federal courts. Miller's Ex’rs v. Swann, 150 U. S. 132, 14 Sup. Ct. 52. It is equally clear, however, that in so far as the plaintiff company challenges the validity of the deeds on the second ground above stated, because they were executed in violation of the provisions of the several granting acts heretofore mentioned, the case at bar does involve certain federal questions which it might be found necessary to decide, and on the decision of which the right of the plaintiff to recover would depend. If the plaintiff company fails to maintain its position that the Litchfield agreement, as confirmed by state legislation, operated to divide the grant and to withdraw the lands north of Watab from the reach of the First Division Company, or that the deeds in question were executed in violation of other state laws, then it seems obvious that the court would find itself compelled to consider the federal questions above suggested, -whether the deeds were rightfully executed under federal laws, and operated to divest the state of its title to all or any of the lands therein described which lie north of Watab. It is proper to observe in this connection that we are not concerned at present with the merits of the several propositions heretofore stated on which the plaintiff bases its claim that the deeds executed by the governor were void, and conveyed no title to the lands situated north of Watab. Whether the construction that is placed on the granting acts by the plaintiff company with a view of impeaching the conveyances is sound or unsound, we need not stop at this point toinquire, because the jurisdiction of the circuit court does not depend on that inquiry. If it appears, in any aspect which the case may assume, that the right of recovery may depend upon a construction of those acts, and if the right to recover so far as it turns on the construction of federal statutes is not merely a colorable claim, but rests upon a reasonable foundation, then a federal question is involved which is adequate to confer jurisdiction. We entertain no doubt that certain provisions contained in the several acts of congress relative to the disposal of the lands by the state and territory of Minnesota are of such a nature as to afford a reasonable ground for the contention that the lands in controversy were not conveyed by the governor of the state in conformity therewith, and that the deeds were for that reason voidable, if not void. We think that the plaintiff company may fairly invoke a construction of those statutes, and that the allegations of the bill are sufficient for that purpose. Nor is it at all material, so far as the question of jurisdiction is concerned, that the court may not be compelled to construe the acts of congress in the respects stated, or in any other, for, as we have already shown, its jurisdiction does not depend upon the nature of the question that is ultimately decisive of the plaintiff's right to recover. If a case is commenced originally in the circuit court, and, by a fair construction of the complaint, it appears that the plaintiff predicates his right to relief on the meaning or effect of a law of the United States, and the claim is made in good faith, so that there is a real instead of a merely colorable controversy, then jurisdiction over the case exists, even though it may appear that the right to the same relief is asserted on another ground, that does not involve the consideration of a federal question. In concluding the discussion on this branch of the case, it is proper to add that we do not concur in the view that the case is one of federal cognizance merely because the title to the lands in controversy is derived from the United States. The bill shows very conclusively that both parties claim under the state of Minnesota, that the title to the state is not challenged, but is conceded to be well founded under the granting acts. The questions at issue all grow out of the manner in which the state dealt with the lands after it acquired the same from the general government. Nor is the case one in which the parties are asserting rights derived respectively from conflicting land grants.
Under these circumstances it must be conceded, we think, in accordance with the decision in Romie v. Casanova, 91 U. S. 379, that a federal question is not involved in the case merely, because the United States is the ultimate source of title. The jurisdiction of the court must be upheld, however, on the ground heretofore stated.
The next question in order is whether the legislature of the state of Minnesota intended to declare by the act of March 1, 1877, that the particular lands in dispute were thereby forfeited to the state and conferred on such company as might thereafter complete the line from Watab to Brainerd, notwithstanding the previous convey. ance thereof by the governor to the First Division Company. The decision of this question turns wholly upon the intention of the legislature, to be ascertained by all of the surrounding facts and circumstances, and the maxim must be applied that, no matter how general may be the language of a statute, that which was not within the intention of the lawmaker is not within the law. It is a notable fact, in its bearing upon the question now under consideration, that two of the deeds, the validity of which is denied, were executed and filed for record in the proper registry office of the state of Minnesota more than 10 years prior to the act of March 1, 1877, and that the other deed was executed and filed nearly 6 years prior thereto, to