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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Percheman - 32 U.S. 51 (1833)


The Act of May 26, 1824, § 4 makes it the duty of the keeper of any public records who may have possession of the records and evidence of the different tribunals which have been constituted by law for the adjustment of land titles in Missouri, as held by France, upon the application of any person or persons whose claims to lands have been rejected by such tribunals or either of them, or on the application of any person interested, or by the attorney of the United States for the district of Missouri, to furnish copies of such evidence, certified under his official signature, with the seal of office thereto annexed, if there be a seal of office. 


Juan Percheman claimed 2,000 acres of land lying in the territory of Florida, by virtue of a grant from the Spanish governor, made in 1815. His title consisted of a petition presented by himself to the Governor of East Florida, praying for a grant of 2,000 acres, at a designated place, in pursuance of the royal order of the 29th of March, 1815, granting lands to the military who were in St. Augustine during the invasion of 1812 and 1813; a decree by the governor, made 12th December, 1815, in conformity to the petition, in absolute property, under the authority of the royal order, a certified copy of which decree and of the petition was directed to be issued to him from the secretary's office, in order that it may be to him in all events an equivalent of a title in form; a petition to the governor, dated 31st December, 1815, for an order of survey, and a certificate of a survey having been made on the 20th of August, 1819, in obedience to the same. This claim was presented, according to law, to the register and receiver of East Florida, while acting as a board of commissioners to ascertain claims and titles to lands in East Florida. he Superior Court for the District of East Florida confirmed the title of petitioner to the land that petitioner claimed by virtue of the royal grant. The United States sought further review in the United States Supreme Court.


Whether the royal grant exceeded the Governor's authority




The United States argued that the royal grant exceeded the Governor's authority since the board of commissioners was required to examine and report claims that exceeded 1,000 acres to determine whether such claims would be confirmed.  After review, the Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that the limitation did not apply to petitioner. Because petitioner's military service was the foundation of the grant, petitioner was entitled to royal bounty for his military service and the royal order only showed that the Spanish King had directed favorable attention to petitioner.

The Supreme Court further noted that papers translated from a foreign language, respecting the transactions of foreign officers, with whose powers and authorities the court are not well acquainted, containing uncertain and incomplete references to things well understood by the parties, but not understood by the court; should be carefully examined, before the Court pronounces that an officer, such as the Governor of Florida, holding a high place of trust and confidence, has exceeded his authority.

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