Mr. Justice FIELD delivered the opinion of the court.
The act of June 14th, 1860, gives to a survey and plat of land claimed under a confirmed Mexican grant, when approved by the District Court, the effect and validity of a patent of the United States. It so declares in express terms.
To meet the case thus presented the defendants contend, 1st. That the Board of Land Commissioners had no jurisdiction to consider the claim of the plaintiffs under the grant of Figueroa, and as a consequence, that the action of the District Court, in hearing the appeal from the board, and in revising and approving the survey of the claim, was without authority and void; and 2d. That if the board had such jurisdiction, the defendants possess an older and superior title to the premises under the ordinance of the city of San Francisco, adopted in June, 1855, and the subsequent legislation of the State and of the United States respecting the same.
The objection to the jurisdiction of the board arises from
This position is founded upon the language of the 14th section of the act of Congress, but is not, in our opinion, supported by its meaning. A previous section of the act requires every person claiming lands in California by virtue of any right or title derived from the Spanish or Mexican government, to present his claim to the commissioners for examination. The 14th section qualifies this general language, and declares that the provisions of the act shall not extend to lots held under grants from any corporation or town, to which lands have been granted for the establishment of a town by the Spanish or Mexican government; nor "to any city or town, or village lot, which city, town, or village existed on the 7th of July, 1846;" and provides that the claims for such lots shall be presented by the corporate authorities of the town, or if the land upon which the town, city, or village is situated, was originally granted to an individual, shall be presented in the name of such individual.
The second clause of this section does not apply to all lots situated within the limits of a city, town, or village, which existed on the 7th of July, 1846, but only to the lots owned or claimed by such city, town, or village.
The object of the section was to give to lotholders deriving title from a common source — from the authorities of a pueblo or town, or from an individual who was originally the grantee of the land upon which the pueblo or town is
The section has no application to lots held adversely to the corporation or town by independent titles. The confirmation of a claim, whether made to corporations or individuals, could not enure to the benefit of parties holding adversely to them.
The claim of the Bernals, not being derived from the pueblo of San Francisco, or by any action of its authorities, but directly by grant from the political chief of the department, was adverse to the claim of the city. It was, therefore, properly presented to the Board of Commissioners for examination, and jurisdiction over it was rightfully taken by that tribunal.
The board having jurisdiction of the claim, its validity and title to recognition and confirmation were subjects for that tribunal's determination; and its adjudication, however erroneous, cannot be collaterally assailed on the ground that it was made upon insufficient evidence. The rule is as applicable to inferior and special tribunals as it is to those of superior or general authority, that where they have once acquired jurisdiction their subsequent proceedings cannot be collaterally questioned for mere error or irregularity. The provision of the fifteenth section of the act of March 3d, 1851, declaring that the final decrees of the commissioners, or of the District Court, and patents following them, in these California land cases, shall be conclusive between the United States and the claimants only, and shall not affect the interests of third persons, does not change the operation
The decree of the District Court upon the claim necessarily involved an adjudication that the grant under which it was made was valid; and the decree approving the survey settled the location and boundaries of the land. As neither of these determinations can be collaterally assailed for any matter which might have been corrected on appeal, had it been brought to the attention of the appellate court, the plaintiffs must recover unless the defendants have a superior title to the premises.
Such title they claim to possess, as we have already mentioned, under the ordinance of the city of San Francisco, passed in June, 1855, and the subsequent legislation of the State and of the United States.
Whilst the claim of the city of San Francisco to her municipal lands was pending before the District Court of the United States, on appeal from the Board of Commissioners, the ordinance of June 20th, 1855, commonly known, from the name of its reputed author, as the Van Ness ordinance, was passed. By its second section the city relinquished and granted all the title and claim which she held to the lands within her corporate limits, as defined by the charter of 1851, with certain exceptions, to the parties in the actual possession thereof, by themselves or tenants, on or before the 1st of January, 1855, provided such possession was continued up to the time of the introduction of the ordinance into the common council, or if interrupted by an intruder or trespasser, had been or might be recovered by legal proceedings.
The claim of the city was confirmed in May, 1865, by the decree of the Circuit Court of the United States, to which court the hearing of the claim had been transferred; and subsequently, with some modifications, by the act of Congress of March 8th, 1866.
The position of the defendants is that by the possession of the party through whom they claim, and the operation of the Van Ness ordinance, they acquired an older and superior title to that ceded to Bernal by the grant of Figueroa. This position assumes that the city possessed a title to the promises in controversy at the time the ordinance was passed, whereas, though the city was then asserting, in the courts of the United States, her claim to four square leagues, the boundaries of the tract were not defined, nor was it known what exceptions and reservations might be made from the claim when it should be considered and finally determined. Whoever received deeds from the city, or asserted title to parcels of land under the Van Ness ordinance, whilst the claim of the city to the land was thus pending, necessarily held whatever they took subject to the final determination of the claim. Their title stood or fell with the claim.
Now, when the final decree upon the claim was made there were excepted from the tract confirmed such parcels of land as had been, by grants from lawful authority, vested in private
The exception excludes, therefore, from confirmation to the city the land granted to Bernal, and the Van Ness ordinance did not operate to pass any right or interest in the demanded premises to the party through whom the defendants claim.
As, by the doctrine of relation, the decree confirming the title of the city took effect as of the day when her petition was presented to the board in July, 1852, it is contended that the exception is to be construed as referring only to grants, which had been confirmed previous to that date, or which might subsequently be confirmed in proceedings then pending. But the position is not tenable. Such a construction is not required from any application of the doctrine of relation. That doctrine is applied only to subserve the ends of justice, and to protect parties deriving their interests from the claimant pending the proceedings for the confirmation of his title. It gives effect to the confirmation of the title