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    JOINES v. PATTERSON, 274 U.S. 544 (1927)

    U.S. Supreme Court

    JOINES v. PATTERSON, 274 U.S. 544 (1927)

    274 U.S. 544

    JOINES
    v.
    PATTERSON et al.
    No. 298.

    Argued April 26, 1927.
    Decided May 31, 1927.

    [274 U.S. 544, 545]   Mr. Wm. G. Davisson, of Ardmore, Okl., for petitioner.

    Mr. W. F. Semple, of Durant, Okl., for respondents.

    Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

    This controversy concerns title to lands allotted after her death to Emma Patterson, a Choctaw Indian. Once [274 U.S. 544, 546]   within the Southern judicial district of Indian Territory, they are now in Murray, Stephens, and Carter counties, Oklahoma. By original complaint presented to the Murray county district court, February 21, 1920, respondents here-William M. Patterson, surviving husband of Mrs. Patterson, and their five children-alleged that, although petitioner, U. Sherman Joines, had held actual and peaceful possession of the lands since July 5, 1907, the legal title thereto was in them, and they asked an appropriate decree establishing their rights.

    Mrs. Patterson, resident of the Central judicial district, Indian Territory, died there May 14, 1906, leaving five minor children, born, respectively, 1894, 1897, 1900, 1903, and 1905. Her surviving husband, father of these children and a white man, was appointed guardian for them by the United States Court, Central District, sitting at Durant (now in Bryan county, Oklahoma). Thereafter, April 24, 1907, he petitioned the United States Court for the Southern District, sitting at Ardmore (now in Carter county, Oklahoma), to sell the lands. May 2, 1907, that court authorized the sale, and on the following October 8 the guardian filed his report, showing sale of them at public outcry July 5, 1907, for $2,000 to U. Sherman Joines, petitioner here, the highest bidder. He also stated that, acting as their guardian, he had conveyed to Joines all interest of the minors in the lands.

    October 5, 1907, purporting to act as guardian, Patterson undertook by deed to convey to Joines all the minors' interest in the lands. Since then Joines had held open and adverse possession.

    July 14, 1913, the county court, Carter county, Oklahoma, after reciting its succession to the United States Court sitting at Ardmore, undertook to confirm the sale made in 1907. August 5, 1913, Patterson, purporting to act as guardian, again undertook by deed to convey to [274 U.S. 544, 547]   petitioner the minors' right, title, and interest in and to the lands. This deed recited the court proceedings during 1907 and the guardian's action thereunder, including his report of sale; also the 1913 order of confirmation by the Carter county court. It further stated that court was 'authorized to be any and all things herein which the said United States Court for the Southern District of the Indian Territory, sitting at Ardmore, could have done.'

    The district court for Murray county heard the present cause without a jury upon an agreed statement of facts, and held-

    The William M. Patterson acquired a life estate by curtesy in the lands, which had been barred by the seven-year statute of limitations in force within Indian Territory October 5, 1907

    That by putting Joines into possession of the lands, and allowing him to retain this for 14 years without complaint, Patterson estopped himself from asserting any claim thereto.

    That the United States Court for the Southern District of Indian Territory had jurisdiction to authorize sale by the guardian of the minor's interest, and confirmation thereof by the county court, Carter county, Oklahoma, was not void.

    That the adult children and heirs are barred by the statute of limitations from asserting any claim to the lands.

    An appropriate decree adjudging the issues for Joines followed.

    Upon appeal, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma first upheld the trial court; but, after a rehearing, it disapproved all the abovestated conclusions, reversed the judgment, and directed final decree for respondents here. Patterson v. Joines, 114 Okl. 9, 244 P. 585.

    The Supreme Court accepted and acted upon at least two conclusions which we think are erroneous: (1) That the proceeding in the United States Court at Ard more [274 U.S. 544, 548]   to sell the lands was merely ancillary to the main guardianship matter at Durant, in the Central district, and therefore should have been transferred to Bryan, not to Carter, county. (2) That the Arkansas seven- year statute of limitations-section 4471, Mansfield's Digest-did not commence to run against William M. Patterson and in favor of Joines when the latter took possession, since no interest passed to him; the court proceedings and the guardian's deed being wholly insufficient to give even color of title. These conclusions were based upon questions of federal law wrongly determined. They were acted upon by the court below. We must therefore reverse its judgment and remand the cause for further proceedings. See Whitehead v. Galloway, 249 U.S. 79 , 39 S. Ct. 206.

    Section 30, Act of May 2, 1890, c. 182, 26 Stat. 81, 94, as amended by the Act of March 1, 1895, c. 145, 28 Stat. 693, divided Indian Territory into three judicial districts-Northern, Certral, and Southern- and defined their limits. Section 31 extended over it certain general laws of Arkansas as published in Mansfield's Digest. Among these were chapters 20, 49, 73, and 97, relating, respectively, to the common and statute law of England, descent and distribution, guardians, curators and wards, and limitations.

    Section 32 of the same act provided that 'county,' in the laws of Arkansas so extended, should mean judicial division (afterwards district), and 'Indian Territory' might be substituted for 'state of Arkansas.'

    Section 22, Act of Congress approved July 1, 1902, c. 1362, 32 Stat. 641, 643-the Choctaw-Chickasaw Supplemental Agreement-provided:

    When extended over Indian Territory, the specified laws of Arkansas Carried the settled constructions placed upon them by courts of that state. So construed, they became, in effect, laws of the United States as though originally enacted by Congress for government of the territory. Willis v. Eastern Trust & Banking Co., 169 U.S. 295, 307 , 18 S. Ct. 347; James v. Appel, 192 U.S. 129, 135 , 24 S. Ct. 222; Gidney v. Chappel, 241 U.S. 99, 102 , 36 S. Ct. 492. See also Byrd v. State, 99 Okl. 165, 226 P. 362.

    Oklahoma, with boundaries including Indian Territory, came into the Union November 16, 1907. The Enabling Act, approved June 16, 1906, c. 3335, 34 Stat. 267, 277, as amended by the Act of March 4, 1907, c. 2911, 34 Stat. 1286, 1287, directed:

    The Constitution of Oklahoma provides:

    Section 3509, Mansfield's Digest:

    Sections 3510 and 3511 prescribe the procedure for such causes.

    Reid et al. v. Hart, 45 Ark. 41, 46, 48 (1885), distinctly holds that the court of the county wherein lies real estate belonging to a ward is the proper tribunal to entertain an application for its sale by his guardian. The opinion declares:

    And see MaHarry v. Eatman, 29 Okl. 46, 53, 116 P. 935.

    Under the statute thus construed, the court for the Southern judicial district, Indian Territory, at Ardmore, had jurisdiction of the guardian's petition to sell. The cause there was not merely ancillary to the original guardian proceeding in the Central district, wherein Patterson was appointed. It had the status of an independent suit.

    The Enabling Act directed that causes pending in the United States Courts for Indian Territory should be proceeded with and determined by the successor courts of Oklahoma. As we understand the opinion below, the court recognized that, if the guardian's suit for sale, begun at Ardmore, was an original and independent one, transfer of it to the Carter county court for further action was proper. We think it was an original proceeding, and therefore was transferred to the proper court for further action according to the rights of the parties. See Dewalt v. Cline, 35 Okl. 197, 128 P. 121, and Bailey v. Jones, 96 Okl. 56, 220 P. 345.

    Joines went into open, peaceful possession of the allotted lands October 5, 1907, when the following parts of chapter 97, Mansfield's Digest, were in force:

    [274 U.S. 544, 553]   'Sec. 4471. No person or persons, or their heirs, shall have, sue or maintain any action or suit, either in law or equity, for any lands, tenements or hereditaments but within seven years next after his, her or their right to commence, have or maintain such suit shall have come, fallen or accrued; and all suits, either in law or equity, for the recovery of any lands, tenements or hereditaments shall be had and sued within seven years next after title or cause of action accrued, and no time after said seven years shall have passed. ...

    Under the settled construction given to the seven-year statute of limitations by the courts of Arkansas, it began to run against Patterson when Joines took possession. 'So long as a man is in possession of land, claiming title, however wrongfully, and with whatever degree of knowledge that he had no right, so long the real owner is out of possession, in a constructive as well as an actual sense. It is of the nature of the statute of limitation, when applied to civil actions, in effect, to mature a wrong into a right, by cutting off the remedy. To warrant its application in ejectment, the books require color of title, by deed or other documental semblance of right in the defendant, only when the defense is founded on a constructive adverse possession. But neither a deed nor any equivalent muniment is necessary, where the possession is indicated by actual occupation, and any other evidence of an adverse claim exists. The muniment is but one circumstance by which to make out an adverse possession.' Ferguson v. Peden, 33 Ark. 150, 155; Jacks v. Chaffin et al. (1879) 34 Ark. 534, 541; Logan et al. v. Jelks, 34 Ark. 547, 549. [274 U.S. 544, 554]   The Supreme Court of Oklahoma seems definitely to have approved the doctrine that rights of action arising in Indian Territory prior to statehood remained subject to the Arkansas statute of limitations. Patterson v. Rousney, 58 Okl. 185, 202, 159 P. 636; Davis v. Foley, 60 Okl. 87, 88, 159 P. 646. And see U. S. Fidelity, etc., Co. v. Fidelity Trust Co ., 49 Okl. 398, 408, 153 P. 195; Sandlin et al. v. Barker, 95 Okl. 113, 117, 218 P. 519.

    Considering our conclusions in respect of the two federal questions already dealt with and views long accepted by the court below, it seems unnecessary for us now to consider other points relied on by counsel.

    Reversed.

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