STATE v. SUPERIOR OIL COMPANY No. 937.
526 S.W.2d 581 (1975)
The STATE of Texas, Appellant, v. The SUPERIOR OIL COMPANY et al., Appellees.
Court of Civil Appeals of Texas, Corpus Christi.
Rehearing Denied August 29, 1975.
John L. Hill, Jr., Atty. Gen., J. Milton Richardson, Asst. Atty. Gen., Austin, John H. Flinn, Sinton, Richard D. Hatch, III, Aransas Pass, for plaintiff.
Anderson, Smith, Null & Stofer, Victoria, William J. Ayers, The Permian Corp., Houston,
W. Newton Barnes, Mockingbird Tower, W. S. Barron, Jr., Geary, Brice, Barron & Stahl, Dallas, Louis H. Beard, Wells, Duncan, Beard, Greenberg & Hunt, Beaumont, Marshall Boykin, III, Wood, Boykin & Wolter, Corpus Christi, Robert L. Bradley, Andrews, Kurth, Campbell & Jones, Houston, H. A. Burnett, Burnett & Burnett, Sinton, Butler, Binion, Rice, Cook & Knapp, Claude C. Roberts, William S. Clarke, Texaco Inc., Houston, J. W. Cooper, Jr., David M. Coover, Davis & Hale, Dyer, Redford, Burnett, Wray & Woolsey, Corpus Christi, Robert M. Ewing, Ewing & Gerger, Dallas, Samuel L. Fly, Forest Oil Corp., San Antonio, Foy, Cobb, Campbell & Gall, Clifford G. Campbell, Joe H. Foy, Houston, Ralph J. Graham, Corpus Christi, Graves, Dougherty, Hearon, Moody & Garwood, Austin, Head & Kendrick, Corpus Christi, Richard Henderson, Guittard & Henderson, Victoria, Frederic Johnson, Sinton, Allen S. Lawrence, Jr., Ellis, Andrews & Lawrence, Aransas Pass, Warren B. Leach, Jr., William H. Holloway, Marathon Oil Co., Thomas H. Lee, Lee & Babcock, Houston, Fritz L. Lyne, Lyne, Klein, French & Womble, Dallas, Dave McNeill, Jr., Harry M. Reasoner, David T. Harvin, Vinson, Elkins, Searls, Connally & Smith, Houston, Frank R. McWhorter, Tenneco, Inc., Houston, M. W. Meredith, Jr., Meredith & Donnell, Corpus Christi, John H. Miller, Jr., Sinton, Walter B. Morgan, Ezzon Co., U. S. A., B. W. Morris, Sinclair Oil & Gas Co., Houston, William E. Nicholas, Sinton, Clayton L. Orn, Anderson, Brown, Orn & Jones, Houston, D. Dean Patton, Morrill & Patton, Beeville, Roy E. Pitts, J. Harold Goode, Lone Star Gas Co., Dallas, Bernard W. Schrader, Coastal States Gas Producing Co., E. E. Shouse, Herbert W. Varner, R. T. Robberson, The Superior Oil Co., Houston, Milton W. Walton, M. Harvey Weil, Kleberg, Mobley, Lockett & Weil, Corpus Christi, David A. Witts, Dallas, Claude D. Bell, Jr., Dallas, R. J. Delahoussaye, Corpus Christi, J. P. Greve, Jr., Rufus N. McKnight, Jr., Sun Oil Co., Dallas, J. R. Keeling, Corpus Christi, Kliewer & Hood, Dallas, Fred A. Lange, Austin, Dabney, Northrop & Garwood, Houston, J. R. Sorrell, Sorrell, Anderson & Sorrell, Corpus Christi, Renfro Speed, Hexter-Fair Title Co., Dallas, R. F. Thompson, Fort Worth, Atwood McDonald, McDonald, Sanders, Ginsburg, Phillips, Maddox & Newkirk, Fort Worth, J. Patrick McGloin, Kleberg, Mobley, Lockett & Weil, Corpus Christi, Morrison, Dittmar, Dahlgren & Kaine, San Antonio, Perkins, Davis, Oden & Warburton, Alice, Hubert M. Preston, San Angelo, for defendants.
NYE, Chief Justice.
This is a vacancy case. The cause originated as a suit filed by an applicant, Walter C. Atchley, acting under article 5421c, section 6, Tex.Rev.Civ.Stat.Ann. seeking to purchase 12,068.4 acres of state land. Atchley's application had been rejected by the commissioner of the General Land Office before he filed suit. The State of Texas acting under the authority of article 5421c, section 6(j), Tex.Rev.Civ.Stat.Ann. intervened in the cause as an active plaintiff in trespass to try title, asserting ownership of the area of land claimed to be State lands by Atchley as well as other areas. The purpose of the vacancy suit was to claim the lands for the State of Texas and the public free school fund. Atchley, the individual claimant, was then given statutory priority to purchase the lands from the State of Texas, if he were successful in proving the vacancy. As a result, the State was required to intervene in the suit under Article 5421c, section 6(j). That article reads in part: "... When such litigation shall have been prosecuted to a final judgment, said judgment shall be binding upon the State of Texas. It shall be mandatory for the Attorney General to intervene in behalf of the State in such cases." Under the provision of section 6(j) of Article 5421c, the issues to be tried in a vacancy suit are "boundary, title and ownership".
The trial court ordered the issues and claims of the State asserted in its motion for summary judgment, be severed from Atchley's suit and tried as a separate suit, to be separately numbered and styled on the civil docket of the court as the State of Texas v. Superior Oil Company, Et Al, and tried after Atchley's suit had been tried.
The tract of land in question covers almost 5½ leagues of land and is known as the Portilla grant. The State of Coahuila and Texas, on October 23, 1834, in five separate grants, granted to Felipe Rogue Portilla and his six sons 5½ leagues as a part of the Power & Hewetson Colony pursuant to the colonization of this particular area by Mexico in 1834. The State's plea in intervention was in the form of a trespass to try title action naming the same defendants that were sued in Atchley's original suit.
The State filed its second amended petition in the severed cause in which it alleged that it was entitled to recover (in trespass to try title), the 5½ leagues of land known as the Portilla grants in San Patricio County, Texas. On June 24, 1971, the district court entered judgment in the Atchley case in favor of the defendants. Atchley appealled and the Beaumont Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, holding that the subject tract of land was within the boundaries of the 5½ league Portilla grants and therefore was not vacant land. The Supreme Court refused the application for writ of error, N.R.E. Atchley v. Superior Oil Company, 482 S.W.2d 883 (Tex.Civ.App.—Beaumont 1972, writ ref'd n. r. e.).
Following the affirmance of the judgment in the original Atchley case, the defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment along with the State's Motion for Summary Judgment. The motions were heard on August 23, 1974 by the District Court. The defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (which for all practical purposes answers the State's motion), included as its grounds the following: (1) that titles to the land in question originally granted to Portilla were vested in defendants under various conveyances; (2) that the course of conduct of the duly authorized officers of the State of Texas, with regard to ancient grants, have, by their failure to act for 130 years, raised a conclusive presumption that the grants were validly issued and that the Portillas have performed all conditions, precedent and subsequent, for ownership; (3) that the judgment rendered in Atchley v. Superior Oil Company in which the State had intervened is res judicata and thus, bars the claim the State now makes; (4) that Portilla and his sons did not abandon their land and establish themselves in Mexico because the law conclusively presumes at this late date that no such abandonment took place; (5) that the removal from the Republic of Texas to Mexico by the Portillas did not ipso facto vacate title to the land the Portillas acquired under the colonization laws; (6) the State's claim that the Portillas failed to occupy the land for six consecutive years is without merit; (7) the law presumes that the Portillas did not leave Texas to avoid participating in the Texas War; (8) that the Portillas were not aliens of the land; (9) the law presumes at this late date that all monies due and owing on the land in question were paid, and that the land did not escheat to the State of Texas; (10) the State's claim that two of Portilla's sons were not residents was without merit; and (11) the Courts of Texas have long accepted as valid the Portilla grants.
The District Court entered its judgment holding that the State's Motion for Summary Judgment be denied, and sustained the defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. The trial court adjudged that the
The trial court did not indicate upon which of the eleven grounds alleged in the defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment that it based its judgment, whether it be one or all. For that reason, the State of Texas argues in its brief against each ground asserted in defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment contending that each is without merit. The State contends that the trial court erred in granting the defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and contends alternatively that the State's Motion for Summary Judgment should have been granted. It prays that the judgment be reversed and rendered accordingly, or in the alternative that the case be reversed and remanded to the District Court for trial on the merits.
In Summary Judgment cases where the merits of the case have not been reached and the summary judgment rests upon the proof before the Court, the question on appeal as well as in the trial court is not whether the summary judgment proof raises fact issues with reference to the essential elements of the State's claim or cause of action, but whether the summary judgment proof establishes as a matter of law that there is no genuine issue of fact as to one or more of the essential elements of the State's cause of action. Gibbs v. General Motors Corporation, 450 S.W.2d 827 (Tex. Sup.1970). The provisions of Rule 166-A, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure are applicable to the State, as well as to the defendants who moved for summary judgment. The summary judgment for the defendants can stand only if it is apparent from the record that there are no genuine issues as to any material fact and that the defendants are entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Great American Reserve Insurance Company v. San Antonio Plumbing Supply Company, 391 S.W.2d 41 (Tex.Sup.1965).
At the outset we pause to mention the rule of law that was stated in Blaffer v. State, 31 S.W.2d 172, 191 (Tex.Civ.App.— Austin 1930, err. ref'd). The Court there said: "The public policy of this state, as announced in repeated decisions, demands the security of land titles emanating from the state, and, where ancient boundary lines have been recognized for long periods of years, they will not be lightly disturbed, to the detriment of those who have dealt upon the faith of them ... Property rights, extending into the millions of dollars, are based upon that location and its recognition."
The defendants have set out several theories as a basis for the granting of the summary judgment in the trial court. They can be summarized into four basic categories: (1) the prior decision of Atchley v. Superior Oil Company, 482 S.W.2d 883 (Tex. Civ.App.—Beaumont 1972, writ ref'd n. r. e.) is res judicata as to the issues of abandonment and forfeiture; (2) the State's course of conduct with regard to the failure of its duly authorized officers of the State of Texas to act with regard to ancient grants for a period of time in excess of 130 years, raises a conclusive presumption that the grants were validly issued and that the Portillas has performed all conditions, precedent and subsequent, for ownership; (3) there was no abandonment by the Portillas in that the removal from the Republic of Texas did not ipso facto vacate title to the lands that the Portillas acquired under the colonization laws; and (4) that even if there was an abandonment, the land did not escheat to the State, but went to the first taker.
The record before us is voluminous. It is virtually impossible to refer to all of the instruments, exhibits, maps and plats which make up the Summary Judgment proof. Exhibits number X and Z, for instance, contain the respective briefs of the parties in the Beaumont Court of Civil Appeals as well as the opinion of that Court. These exhibits also include the briefs of the parties in the Supreme Court and Atchley's and the State's joint application for writ of error.
Prior to 1967, when Atchley instituted his vacancy action and the State of Texas filed its intervention, the validity of the Portilla grants was never questioned by any authorized officer of the State of Coahuila and Texas, the Republic of Texas or the State of Texas, although the grants have been of record ever since they were issued on October 23, 1834. John Welder, the husband of a granddaughter of Felipe Rogue Portilla (who was also a daughter of the empresario), and John Welder's successors in title have been in exclusive and uninterrupted possession of the 5½ league grants for more than 115 years. Welder acquired the lands, except as to interest owned by his wife, from the surviving sons of Felipe Rogue Portilla and their devisee heirs and the devisee heirs of Felipe Rogue Portilla through numerous deeds executed between 1855 and 1859.
Although the State of Texas, from the day of its independence until the Atchley
In Atchley, the vacancy claimant alleged that the tract of land known as the Portilla grant was vacant land. At issue between the parties in Atchley was the true location upon the ground of the divisional line between the 7½ league Portilla grant and the 5½ league Power & Hewetson grant, both of which are located between the Aransas River on the north and the Chiltipin Creek on the south. The State in its petition of intervention contended, among other things, that the Portillas had abandoned their lands and had abandoned the Republic of Texas and established themselves in Mexico. In the State's Motion for Summary Judgment, it included these same grounds as a basis for recovery of the land in question. Likewise, in Atchley's boundary issue, Atchley made the same contentions. In the Atchley case, the State of Texas and Atchley filed a joint brief in the Beaumont Court of Civil Appeals to the effect that even if the Appellate Court were to sustain the defendants' contentions (relating to the boundary issue), the State was still entitled to the land involved because the Portillas had abandoned their lands with the intention of not claiming them afterwards. In the State's reply brief in the Beaumont Court, the State said, "It's very important that this Court (the Beaumont Court of Civil Appeals) rule upon the `abandonment' issues involved in this case..." The Beaumont Court did rule on the abandonment issues and decided the issues against the State of Texas and Atchley. The Beaumont Court stated that "This theory (abandonment) of the plaintiffs is advanced under their eighth point which we reproduce in the footnote. By a laborious process of sifting through the mass of pleadings and `summary judgment proof' we learn that one of the principal bases of the contention so advanced is that Dolores Portilla Power, the daughter of Felipe de la Portilla and mother of the first John Welder's wife, wrote a letter in July of 1836 to her husband wherein she said:
The issues presented with respect to abandonment and escheat in the above quoted portion of the Beaumont Court's opinion are the same that the State of Texas is now requesting that we decide for a second time.
Whenever the State of Texas enters a Court as a litigant in a case, the rule of res judicata applies to it with equal force as to a private litigant. Trigg v. Whittenburg, 129 S.W.2d 472 (Tex.Civ.App.—Amarillo 1939, writ ref'd). Article 5421c section 6(j) reads in part: "When such litigation shall have been prosecuted to a final judgment, said judgment shall be binding upon the State of Texas". The issue of abandonment and forfeiture and/or escheat were all considered and disposed of in Atchley v. Superior Oil Company, supra.
The Supreme Court was called upon to test the effect of a matter previously determined in Abbott Laboratories v. Gravis, 470 S.W.2d 639 (Tex.Sup.1971). The Court said with Chief Justice Greenhill writing: "The Latin phrase `res judicata' means that the matter has been adjudged; a thing judicially determined; or a matter settled by judgment.
In a similar suit to that which is before us, in which the State of Texas in a trespass to try title action was attempting to overturn a summary judgment in a vacancy case where the issues had been previously raised or could have been raised in a companion suit, this Court decided the case against the State based in part on the doctrine of res judicata. State v. Sunray DX Oil Company, 503 S.W.2d 822 (Tex.Civ.App. —Corpus Christi 1973, writ ref'd n. r. e.). This Court held that the doctrine of res judicata operates to preclude a litigant (the State of Texas) from relitigating an issue which had been previously raised or could have been raised and decided against it. We said there, as well as in Marange v. Marshall, 402 S.W.2d 236 (Tex.Civ.App.— Corpus Christi 1966, writ ref'd n. r. e.) that: "The general principal, announced in numerous cases, is that a right, question, or fact, distinctly put in issue and directly determined by a court of competent jurisdiction as a ground of recovery or defense cannot be disputed in a subsequent suit between the same parties or their privies, or with another so identified in interest with such person that he represents the same legal right, the same question, the same particular controversy or issue which has been necessarily tried and finally determined upon its merits by a court of competent jurisdiction in a judgment in personam in a former suit." (Citing authority.) Speaking of the effect and meaning of the rule of res judicata, the Supreme Court of Texas said in Houston Terminal Land Co. v. Westergreen, 119 Tex. 204, 27 S.W.2d 526 (1930), "It is a finality as to the claim or demand in controversy, concluding parties and those in privity with them, not only as to every matter which was offered and received to sustain or defeat the claim or demand, but as to any other admissible matter which might have been offered for that purpose."
We hold that the State of Texas is now barred from reasserting its claim with respect to all of those questions disposed of by the Beaumont Court in Atchley v. Superior Oil Company, supra. For that reason, the trial court's action in granting defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment was not error.
Notwithstanding the fact that the State's claims with respect to abandonment and escheat or forfeiture are barred by the doctrine of res judicata, the action by the trial court in granting defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment was correct for still another reason. The defendants contend that the course of conduct by the State of Texas for the past 135 years with regard to those ancient grants made to the colonies by a predecessor sovereign, including the failure of the officers to lay claims to the lands until Atchley filed this action, raises, as a matter of law, a conclusive presumption that the grants were validly issued and that there is no condition, either precedent or subsequent, imposed by law on the grants that were breached by the colonists that would give rise to a forfeiture of the grants or an escheat of the land to the State of Texas.
According to certain exhibits which are a part of the record, the validity of the Portilla grants prior to the Atchley suit has never been questioned by any authorized officer of the State of Coahuila and Texas, the Republic of Texas, or the State of Texas, although the grants have been of record since they were issued originally. In United States v. Devereux, 90 F. 182, 187 (Cir. C.A. 4th Cir. 1898), the Court was considering a claim by the United States to certain land which it claimed under an instrument executed in the year 1816. The land owners
This Court had occasion to discuss the law with respect to presumptions in Page v. Pan American Petroleum, 381 S.W.2d 949, 954 (Tex.Civ.App.—Corpus Christi 1964, writ ref'd n. r. e.), cert. denied, 382 U.S. 820, 86 S.Ct. 45, 15 L.Ed.2d 66. In discussing the question of presumption from the standpoint of the rule laid down by Judge Wheeler, in Baker v. Coe, 20 Tex. 429, 437 (1857), we quoted from the opinion wherein it stated: "Presumptions must be indulged in favor of those proceedings, especially when they are ancient, and titles have been acquired and transmitted under them, or it would indeed be true that time, instead of healing, as it should, the defects of these titles, would gradually undermine, and eventually destroy them." In summarizing, Judge Green of this Court said: "If the necessity for a legal presumption existed back in Justice Wheeler's time, it is many fold more essential today." We again adopt this language.
Ordinarily, such a presumption is one of fact, but as the court said in Clements v. Texas Co., 273 S.W. 993, 998 (Tex. Civ.App.—Galveston 1925, writ ref'd):
Stated in a different way the former great Chief Justice of the San Antonio Court of Civil Appeals, the Honorable W. O. Murray, said in State v. Indio Cattle Co., 154 S.W.2d 308 (Tex.Civ.App.—San Antonio 1941, err. ref'd, w. o. m.):
The law presumes that a public official has rightfully performed his duty. Anderson v. Polk, 117 Tex. 73, 297 S.W. 219 (1927). In the case of Harris v. O'Connor, 185 S.W.2d 993 (Tex.Civ.App.—El Paso 1944, writ ref'd w. o. m.), wherein the Court commented upon the legislative enactment making it the duty of the Attorney General to institute suits on behalf of the State to recover the public lands, the Court spoke of the illustrious men who had served in the office of the Attorney General of Texas, naming some 21 in number. The Beaumont Court in Atchley added to the 21 Attorney Generals, 6 additional men that the Court considered likewise to be "honored, distinguished and abled gentlemen", who, "are presumed to have discharged their official duty with fidelity and diligence." The
The State of Texas cites the following cases as its authority for its contention that such presumption is not applicable to them. Texas Company v. State, 154 Tex. 494, 281 S.W.2d 83 (1955); Humble Oil and Refining Co. v. State, 162 S.W.2d 119 (Tex.Civ.App. —Austin 1942, writ ref'd); Weatherly v. Jackson, 123 Tex. 213, 71 S.W.2d 259 (Tex. Comm'n App.1934, opinion adopted). These are the same cases that the State asserted in its application for writ of error in Atchley v. Superior Oil Company, supra, in which our Supreme Court refused the writ (no reversible error) considering as they must that such authorities were not controlling.
Subsequent to the time that the State of Coahuila and Texas granted to Portilla the lands in question, our Texas Courts have accepted the Portilla grants as valid existing grants. The Supreme Court of Texas has written twice on questions involving the validity of the Portilla grants and in both cases held that there were no vacant lands within the boundaries of such grants. Welder v. Carroll, 29 Tex. 317 (1867); Welder v. Hunt, 34 Tex. 44 (1870); and see Atchley v. Superior Oil Company, supra. We therefore hold that such presumptions are applicable here. However, we believe it should be specified to what extent such presumptions apply to the case at bar.
The State claims, among other things, that the Portillas failed to cultivate or occupy their land for six consecutive years; that Portilla forfeited his title for failure to pay the government dues owed on the land; and that two of Portilla's sons never became residents and thus had no power to receive any land grants. Applying the rule as stated in Devereux, supra, that: "after this great lapse of time, courts will presume anything and everything to have been done which, if done, would be a bar to the claim", against the claims stated above, we hold that the Portillas abandoned neither the land, nor the country. They did not fail to cultivate or occupy their land, as contended. They did not leave the country in order to avoid participation in the Texas War and they did not fail to become residents of the State of Coahuila and Texas. In summary, the Portillas did not breach any conditions expressed by law on their grant which would give rise to the forfeiture of the grant by a subsequent sovereign or that would cause their lands to escheat to the State.
Concerning abandonment, we have already held that the State is barred from reasserting its claim (res judicata) and that a presumption, exists which predisposes the State's theory. However there is still another reason for affirmance. The summary judgment evidence shows that as a matter of law the State has no claim to the lands in question. The State claims that the Portillas and their sons abandoned the land, which if true, according to the State, would cause the land to escheat to the sovereign. The doctrine of abandonment found its basis in "De Partidas", which was compiled and published under the provisions of a royal order made in 1255 A.D. See Allen v. West Lumber Company, 244 S.W. 499 (Tex. Comm'n App.1922, Judgment adopted). The work was not officially promulgated until the year 1515 when it received the royal sanction of the Cortes, held in the City of Toro. The work takes its name "De Partidas" from its division into seven parts and contains fundamental principals of the law of Spain. In 1819, the legislature of Louisiana authorized the translation and compilation of all that portion of the Partidas that was considered to have the force of
It has always been the law of this State that Spanish and Mexican grants are governed by the law in effect at the time when they were made. State v. Valmont Plantations, 346 S.W.2d 853 (Tex.Civ.App.—San Antonio 1961), aff'd, 163 Tex. 381, 355 S.W.2d 502 (1962); Miller v. Letzerich, 121 Tex. 248, 49 S.W.2d 404 (1932); Allen v. West Lumber Company, supra; Manry v. Robison, 122 Tex. 213, 56 S.W.2d 438 (1932); State v. Balli, 144 Tex. 195, 190 S.W.2d 71, 99 (1944). Thus, we are required to apply the law that was in effect at the time of the grants to the Portillas, and the law in effect at the time of the alleged abandonment. That being the case, we are governed by the law as incorporated in Las Siete Partidas as it was in effect at the time of the Portilla grants.
The above quoted provision clearly provided that upon abandonment title passes to the first entrant thereon without escheating to the sovereign. Sydeck v. Duran, 67 Tex. 256, 3 S.W. 264 (1887); Allen v. West Lumber Company, supra; Foster v. Gulf Oil Corporation, 335 S.W.2d 845, 848 (Tex.Civ. App.—Beaumont 1960, writ ref'd n. r. e.); Sena v. United States, 189 U.S. 233, 23 S.Ct. 596, 47 L.Ed. 787 (1902). In Harris v. O'Connor, 185 S.W.2d 993 (Tex.Civ.App.— El Paso 1944, writ ref'd w. o. m.), the Court in referring to the above quoted portion of the Partidas stated:
Thus, even if it is held that the Portillas did abandon their lands, John Welder, to whom they conveyed the lands, and his successors in title, would prevail, as he was the first person to enter of record after the alleged abandonment.
The Appellant State of Texas next asserts that because the Portillas abandoned the Republic of Texas in 1836 and established themselves in Mexico, their titles terminated ipso facto and the lands became vacant lands. The State bases its contention, with respect to the land escheating to the Sovereign, on Art. 30 of the Law of Colonization of the State of Coahuila and Texas of 1825, which reads as follows:
The appellant contends that the "State" referred to in Art. 30 was necessarily the Republic of Texas; and Mexico was necessarily a "foreign country" within the meaning of Art. 30, and any person who left Texas after March 2, 1836, and established himself in Mexico established himself in a "foreign country" within the meaning of Art. 30 of the colonization law of March 24, 1825, resulting in the automatic reversion of his land to the public domain. We do not agree. In Kilpatrick v. Sisneros, 23 Tex. 113 (Tex.Sup.1859), the Supreme Court having before it a similar question to that before us here, with respect to abandonment of the country, stated:
In Grassmeyer v. Beeson, 18 Tex. 753 (1875), the Court stated that the removal of the grantee from this to another of the states of the Mexican Confederacy in 1833 was not an abandonment of the country, within the inhibition of the 30th article of the colonization law of the 24th of March, 1825. See also Atchley v. Superior Oil Company, supra, 482 S.W.2d at 903, 904; Maxey v. O'Connor, 23 Tex. 234 (1859); Musguis v. Blake, 24 Tex. 461, 466 (1859); Harris v. O'Connor, supra. From the above authorities, it has been well settled that a removal to Mexico from Texas was not a removal to a "foreign country" as contemplated by Article 30 of the colonization law.
The State of Texas asserts as its primary authority, the case of Heirs of Holliman v. Peebles, 1 Tex. 673 (1846), in support of its contention that abandonment of the country ipso facto vacated the lands resulting in it being restored to the sovereign. In this case the government of Mexico, in 1824, granted to Holliman certain lands. Holliman remained most of the time in Mississippi in the United States and kept most of his property there. Upon the question of abandonment being asserted against Holliman, the court found that Holliman had in fact abandoned the country by "removing himself beyond the limits of the Republic of Mexico" to Mississippi in the United States. The court even refers to Mississippi as a foreign state. Such case is clearly not in point. The Portillas, by allegedly removing themselves to Mexico, were not beyond the limits of the Republic of Mexico.
It should be remembered that this precise question was presented to the Beaumont Court of Civil Appeals in Atchley, supra, 482 S.W.2d at 903, 904. The Court in summary held:
There has never been either a formal conveyance or a regular proceeding divesting the Portilla title to the land involved herein."
Even if an abandonment of the land or of the country had occurred, the land does not ipso facto escheat to the State. Some type of proceeding, in which the land is judicially divested, is a requisite. There is, therefore, no issue of fact as to abandonment of the land or removal to a foreign country in this case.
The State of Texas next asserts that the Portillas failed to cultivate or occupy their lands for a period of six consecutive years from October 23, 1834, to October 23, 1840, as required by Articles 26 and 27 of the colonization law of March 24, 1825, with the result, provided in such law, that their titles escheated and were forfeited. Articles 26 and 27 found in decree No. 19 of the colonization law of 1825 reads as follows:
As we have previously held, there necessarily exists a presumption that after a period of 135 years the Portillas did not breach any conditions expressed by law on their grants, which would give rise to a forfeiture of the grants by a subsequent sovereign. Notwithstanding such presumption, there are further reasons why the State's claim against the lands for the alleged failure of the Portillas to cultivate the same, causing an escheat, is without merit.
The summary judgment evidence shows that the Portillas received their land grant October 23, 1834. However, Article 38 (Decree No. 190) of the colonization law of April 28, 1832, stated: "Decree No. 16 of the 24th of March 1825, is hereby repealed." There does not appear to be any requirement that a settler must cultivate his property within 6 years, but on the contrary, it provides in one of the articles for disposal of one's land, although it has not been cultivated. That article, being article 31 states:
Article 19 of the colonization laws of 1832 provides that "No new settler, Mexican or foreigner, shall under any title or pretense sell or alienate the land or water that falls to his share, until after six years from the time of taking possession." However, the State is only complaining that the Portillas failed to cultivate their lands within six years. The obligation to cultivate the lands for a certain period did not exist at the time the Portillas received their grant. It also appears that this restriction upon alienation, contained in Articles 26 and 27 of the decrees of March 24, 1825, was removed by the thirty-sixth article of the Decree No. 272, Section 3, on March 26, 1834 (1 Gammel, Laws of Texas, p. 362). See also Sydeck v. Duran, supra, 3 S.W. at 266. The grants to the Portillas were executed in October of 1834 after said restrictions as to cultivation had already been removed; thus, the Portilla grants were not subject to these restrictions at the time of their execution.
Even if it could be said that the grants to the Portillas were subject to such conditions (cultivation and occupancy), such were removed by Section 24 of an Act of December 14, 1837, Laws of the Republic of Texas (1 Gammel, Laws of Texas, p. 1413). Section 24 provides in pertinent part:
We hold that the trial court was not in error in entering summary judgment for defendants. The Portillas breached no conditions causing a forfeiture of their land.
The State of Texas next claims that the Portillas left the country to avoid participation in the Texas War for Independence or refused to participate in such war, or gave aid or assistance to the Mexican side, as a result of which they forfeited their titles. Here too, there exists a presumption that after a period of approximately 135 years,
The State bases its right to a forfeiture on Article 13 § 1 of the Texas Constitution. This right of forfeiture accrued, if at all, to the Republic of Texas, at the revolution and to the State of Texas when it became a state.
Even if it can be alleged that the Portillas removed themselves to Mexico for the purpose of evading participating in the war, that allegation in and by itself would not cause a forfeiture of their lands without their "Day in Court". It is a rule that is as old as the law itself, and never more to be respected than now, that no one shall be personally bound until he has had his day in Court. Marange v. Marshall, supra. In fact, it is well that we recall the possible origin of the maxim as did the Court in In re: Cumberland Power Co., 147 Tenn. 504, 249 S.W. 818, 821. The Court said:
In Kilpatrick v. Sisneros, 23 Tex. 113, 125 (1859), the court in discussing a removal by a certain citizen to Mexico in order to avoid participation in the war, stated:
There is no summary judgment evidence that the Portilla's lands have been judicially forfeited. The defendants contend that there had not been even any "implementing legislation" providing a method for determining what lands may have been forfeited or escheated. In Swift v. Herrera, 9 Tex. 263, 279 (1852), the court stated:
See also Hancock v. McKinney, 7 Tex. 384, 455 (1851); Sabriego v. White, 30 Tex. 576, 589 (1868); Kilpatrick v. Sisneros, supra, 23 Tex. at 133; Wiederanders v. State of Texas, 64 Tex. 133, 138 (1885); Branham v. Minear, 199 S.W.2d 841 (Tex.Civ.App.— Eastland 1947, writ ref'd n. r. e.); Airhart v. Massieu, 98 U.S. 491, 25 L.Ed. 213 (1855).
There being no "ipso facto forfeiture" under Section 8 of the General Provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, nor under Art. 13, § 1, of the Texas Constitution, there would have to be some type of judicial determination, of which there is none. No prior proceeding has been taken in this case to declare the land forfeited. The State, however, contends that the Legislature did enact the necessary legislation such being in the form of Articles 4410
The State next contends that the Portillas forfeited their titles for failure to pay the government dues owed on the land as required by law. Notwithstanding the fact that we have already held that a presumption of payment exists after a lapse of approximately 130 years, the State's contention is without merit for still a further reason.
Under Article 22 of the Colonization Laws of March 24, 1825 (1 Gammel, Laws of Texas, p. 102), the law required that new colonist pay to the State (of Coahuila and Texas) the sum of $30.00 for each lot of pasture land. The payment for such was to be made in less than 6 years from the date of the grant in 3 equal installments, the first at the expiration of the fourth year, and the others at the expiration of the fifth and sixth years, under penalty of forfeiting their lands should they neglect the payment of any one of these installments. However, by Section 24 of the Laws of the Republic of Texas of 1837 (1 Gammel, Laws of Texas, p. 1413), said time for payment was extended to six months after the opening of the land office, by providing that such persons shall pay, or cause such payment to be made, to the president of the board of land commissioners of the county where such land is situated. By Section 39, the several land offices commenced operation in February 1838. The State now claims that the Portillas failed to satisfy this requirement in that no payment for their grants was
First, with respect to the payment being late, the State's summary judgment evidence shows that the land commissioner accepted James Power's promissory notes in 1845. There was no proceeding prior to 1845 by either the State of Coahuila and Texas or the Republic of Texas to forfeit the Portilla grants for non-payment of dues. In 1845 the land commissioner accepted payment for the Portilla lands from James Power. No proceedings by the State of Texas have been brought to forfeit the Portilla lands until the present time, after a lapse of 130 years. From such a lapse of time, the presumptions of payments arises against the state. See Harris v. O'Connor, supra, 185 S.W.2d at p. 1015.
With respect to the State's claim that Power's promissory notes were not proper currency, we find such is also without merit. By "An Act" (1 Gammel, Laws of Texas, pp. 1309-1310), the issuance of promissory notes by the President was authorized. The Act in Section 3 provides as follows:
See also 1 Gammel, Laws of Texas, pp. 1492, 1493; 2 Gammel, Law of Texas, pp. 81, 82; 2 Gammel, Laws of Texas, p. 310; 2 Gammel, Laws of Texas, p. 323. The State's exhibit No. 52, being a receipt from the chief clerk of the General Land Office, recites that the sum of thirty dollars in promissory notes from James Power was received for payment of one league of land granted to Felipe Rogue Portilla. Such promissory notes were recognized as a method of payment.
We have reviewed the entire summary judgment record, as voluminous as it is. We have carefully studied all of the State's claims that a vacancy exists. We are convinced that the trial court was correct in entering the second summary judgment, this time against the State of Texas.
The evidence, the law, and time itself, perfects the title to the lands under attack by the State of Texas. In United States v. Devereux, supra, the court said:
Judgment of the trial court is affirmed.
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