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November 29, 1915



White, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Hughes, Van Devanter, Lamar, Pitney, McReynolds

Author: Pitney

[ 239 U.S. Page 284]

 MR. JUSTICE PITNEY delivered the opinion of the court.

This suit was commenced by the present appellant in the District Court of San Juan to set aside as null and void certain possessory proceedings instituted by Paula Chaves in the year 1895 with respect to an estate containing 50 cuerdas of land, situate at a place known as Honduras, in the ward of Sabana Llana, in the Municipality of Rio Piedras, Porto Rico, and the resulting entry of possession in the Registry of Property of San Juan, and to require the defendants (the present appellees), who are children and heirs of Paula Chaves, to vacate the property and deliver up possession to the plaintiff as the lawful owner. The District Court rendered judgment in his favor; but the Supreme Court of Porto Rico reversed this judgment and

[ 239 U.S. Page 285]

     dismissed the complaint. 19 P.R. Sup. Ct. 162. The present appeal was taken under § 244, Jud. Code (Act of March 3, 1911, 36 Stat. 1087, 1157, c. 231), it appearing that the estate in question exceeds five thousand dollars in value.

The transcript contains, in addition to the evidence, a "statement of facts in the nature of a special verdict," made up for the purposes of the present appeal in the manner contemplated by § 35 of the Foraker Act (of April 12, 1900, ch. 191, 31 Stat. 77, 85). See Rosaly v. Graham, 227 U.S. 584, 589; Ochoa v. Hernandez, 230 U.S. 139, 143. But that practice was superseded by § 244, Jud. Code, which subjected appeals taken from the Supreme Court of Porto Rico to the same regulations as appeals from the District Courts of the United States, thus extending our review so as to include questions of fact.*fn1

Plaintiff asserted that the 50 cuerdas were part of a tract of 112 cuerdas, and this in turn part of a tract containing between 140 and 150 cuerdas formerly owned by Alonso Hernandez, who acquired it in the year 1854; that Hernandez hypothecated this property to the Spanish Government as security for the faithful performance of his duties as collector of internal revenue; that because of an embezzlement of public funds by him the property was seized by the Government in the year 1875; that about 20 years later, on June 5, 1895, it took possession of the land, and on September 14, in that year, possession was recorded in the Registry in favor of the Government, without prejudice to third parties who might have a better title; and that on October 15, 1897, the tract of 112 cuerdas was sold at auction to one Cuadrado, who transferred his right to plaintiff, and thereafter, by deed of

[ 239 U.S. Page 286]

     October 17, 1898, the proper public official conveyed the land to plaintiff. As to the source of the title of Hernandez, plaintiff claims to have shown by evidence that prior to the year 1819 the whole tract was inherited by Eugenia de la Cruz and her brother, Jose, from their grandparents, and the brother conveyed his share to the sister; that in that year Eugenia sold the land without deed to Juana Maria de Otero; and that after the death of Eugenia, and in the year 1836, her son and testamentary executor instituted proceedings to prove the inheritance of the estate by his mother and the sale of it to Mrs. Otero. In these proceedings, which were in evidence, several witnesses testified that Eugenia de la Cruz was the owner of the property then in question for many years prior to the sale of it to Mrs. Otero in 1819, but agreed in saying that at the time of testifying and for some years before one Juan Caneti was in possession of it under some title unknown to them. The testimony having been forwarded to the court of San Juan, it was ordered that the owners of the adjacent properties and the Sindico Procurador be heard. The property owners waived hearing. It does not appear that Caneti was either summoned or heard. The Sindico made no objection to approving the investigation, "for although the witnesses say that said property is possessed by Juan Caneti, this does not annul the ownership had by Eugenia, and Juana may have leased or sold it to Caneti." The investigation was thereupon approved by the court. Hernandez' title was derived in the year 1854 under a public deed made by a brother and four sisters named Otero, in their own name and for two other brothers named, for "an estate in the barrio of Honduras, Rio Piedras, which is bounded by lands belonging to the Marchioness de Leon and to Jose de la Cruz, and is composed of 140 or 150 cuerdas, the exact number of which will be stated in the deed to be executed for the purpose,

[ 239 U.S. Page 287]

     as well as the demarcation thereof, when the same is surveyed."

Defendants (the present appellees) alleged that Juan Caneti was the true owner at least of the tract of 50 cuerdas now in dispute; that from him it passed to his son, Santos Caneti, who in the year 1867 sold it on installments to Ramon Clemente, the husband of Paula Chaves, from whom it descended to Paula and the defendants, who are her lawful children by Clemente. There was substantial evidence tending to support these allegations. It was also shown quite clearly that Paula Chaves was in continuous possession from the year 1875 until her death in 1899, after which event defendants held continuous possession down to the time of the suit. In the year 1895 Paula instituted proceedings for the recording of her possession, in ...

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