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Opinion of the Court.
By 408; 40 Stat. 1100, "If any part of the gross estate consists of proceeds of policies of insurance upon the life of the decedent receivable by a beneficiary other than the executor, the executor shall be entitled to recover from such beneficiary such portion of the total tax paid as the proceeds, in excess of $40,000, of such policies bear to the net estate." By § 409 a personal liability is imposed upon the beneficiaries if the tax is not paid when due. The defendants in error say that if these policies are covered by the statute these sections show that the beneficiaries are taxed upon their own property, under the guise of a tax upon the transfer of his estate by Mr. Frick, and that this is taking their property without due process of law, citing Matter of Pell, 171 N. Y. 48, and other cases. In view of their liability the objection cannot be escaped by calling the reference to their receipts a mere measure of the transfer tax. The interest of the beneficiaries is established by statutes of the States controlling the insurance and is not disputed. It also is strongly urged that the tax would be a direct tax. In view of our conclusion it is not necessary to state the position of the defendants in error more in detail.
We do not propose to discuss the limits of the powers of Congress in cases like the present. It is enough to point out that at least there would be a very serious question to be answered before Mrs. Frick and Miss Frick could be made to pay a tax on the transfer of his estate by Mr. Frick. There would be another if the provisions. for the liability of beneficiaries were held to be separable and it was proposed to make the estate pay a transfer tax for property that Mr. Frick did not transfer. Acts of Congress are to be construed if possible in such a way as to avoid grave doubts of this kind. Panama R. R. Co. v. Johnson, 264 U. S. 375, 390. Not only are such doubts avoided by construing the statute as referring only
to transactions taking place after it was passed, but the general principle "that the laws are not to be considered as applying to cases which arose before their passage" is preserved, when to disregard it would be to impose an unexpected liability that if known might have induced those concerned to avoid it and to use their money in other ways. Schwab v. Doyle, 258 U. S. 529, 534. This case and the following ones, Union Trust Co. v. Wardell, 258 U. S. 537, Levy. v. Wardell, 258 U. S. 542, and Knox v. McElligott, 258 U. S. 546, go far toward deciding the one now before us. They also indicate that the Revenue Act of 1924, c. 2, § 302(h); 43 Stat. 250, 305, making (g) (the equivalent of (f) above) apply to past transactions, does not help but if anything hinders the Collector's construction of the present law. Smietanka v. First Trust & Savings Bank, 257 U. S. 602.
STATE OF OKLAHOMA v. STATE OF TEXAS, UNITED STATES, INTERVENER.
No. 13, Original. Argued April 20, 1925. Decided May 11, 1925.
1. Description of a boundary in field notes and patent as "up the river ", construed, in the light of connected surveys and a plat, as calling for the river as a boundary. P. 255.
2. A natural boundary like a river controls courses and distances. Id.
3. A river bank boundary, whether private or public, changes with erosion and accretion. P. 256.
4. Only where conduct or statements are calculated to mislead a party and are acted upon by him in good faith to his prejudice can he invoke them as a basis of an estoppel; and if they relate to a real property title the condition of which is known to both parties, or both have the same means of ascertaining it, there can be no estoppel. Id.
ON exceptions to the special master's report on conflicting claims to royalty interests in proceeds held by the receiver in this cause derived from oil wells in a parcel of land on Red River in Texas. Exceptions overruled.
Mr. C. F. Greenwood for Durfee Mineral Company, in support of exceptions.
Mr. A. H. Carrigan for Roberts and Britain, contra. MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.
As an incident of the receivership in this cause it becomes necessary to determine conflicting claims to the royalty interest in the impounded proceeds of the oil taken from wells Nos. 152, 153 and 154. 258 U. S. 574, 581. These wells are immediately south of the south bank of Red River, and therefore in the State of Texas. 261 U. S. 340. The claimants are T. P. Roberts and A. H. Britain on the one hand and the Durfee Mineral Company on the other. Both claims are founded on Texas surveys that of Roberts and Britain on the Lewis Powell survey made in 1861 and patented in 1868, and that of the Durfee Mineral Company on the A. A. Durfee survey made in 1886 and patented in 1889.
The principal question is whether the Powell survey extended northward to the south bank of Red River, leaving nothing between it and the bank, or stopped short of the bank, leaving a narrow wedge-shaped strip between it and the bank. The Durfee survey was made 25 years later on the assumption that the Powell survey left such a strip there. The three wells are in the wedge-shaped strip or land accreted to it. A secondary question is whether, if the Powell survey included this strip, the present owners of that survey are estopped from claiming the strip, and therefore the royalty interest, as against the Durfee Mineral Company.
Opinion of the Court.
January 19, last, the conflicting claims were referred to a special master with directions to take the evidence and report the same with findings of fact, conclusions of law and recommendations for a decree. 267 U. S. 7, par. 8. The master made his report with findings, conclusions and recommendations favorable to the claim of Roberts and Britain; the Durfee Mineral Company excepted; and both claimants have been heard in briefs and oral argument on the report and exceptions.
The master found that the Powell survey fronted on the river and had the south bank as its northerly boundary. In the exceptions it is insisted that this finding rests on an erroneous interpretation of the survey. For reasons which will be explained, we think it rests on a right interpretation.
The Powell was one of five surveys made.by the same surveyor on the same day-May 8, 1861. These surveys were contiguous and were in the form required of surveys fronting on a stream like Red River.' They were also so tied together that the interpretation of one involves an examination of the others.
The surveyor began with the easterly one and proceeded westerly until he had finished all five. His field notes described all as "on the south bank of Red River," and the drawings or plats accompanying the field notes represented all as fronting on the river and having its irregular line as a northerly boundary. The field notes of all, excepting the Powell, also described the northerly line as beginning at the northwest corner of the adjoining survey on the east and running "thence up the river with its meanders" in a stated direction a given distance to a stake or mound" in the bottom" or " on the bluff" at the other end. The Powell was the fourth survey in the line, and so was between others the field notes of which said
'Vernon's Sayles' Civ. Stat. §§ 5338, 5339.
Opinion of the Court.
"thence up the river with its meanders." The field notes of the Powell transmitted to the state land office, and on which the patent issued, were like the others, save that they said "thence up the river" and omitted "with its meanders." But the field notes entered in the appropriate local records said " thence up the river with its meanders." Doubtless the discrepancy resulted from a clerical error in preparing the duplicate sent to the state land office.
We put aside the question of the effect to be given to the entry in the local records; for the phrase "thence up the river" in the field notes sent to the state land office and in the patent evidently mean up the natural course of the river. Schnackenberg v. State, 229 S. W. 934, 937; Stover v. Gilbert, 247 S. W. 841, 843; Brown v. Huger, 21 How. 305, 320. Of course, that phrase must be read with the declaration that the survey was on the south bank of the river and in the light of the drawing or plat representing the river as the northern boundary.
We think it apparent that the survey was intended to call, and did call, for the river as a boundary and that controlling influence must be given to that call rather than to the course and distance given for that boundary. The courts of Texas, in common with other courts, recognize and apply this rule of interpretation. Anderson v. Stamps, 19 Tex. 460, 465-466; Stafford v. King, 30 Tex. 257, 271-272; Schnackenberg v. State, supra; Stover v. Gilbert, supra, and cases there cited; Cordell Petroleum Co. v. Michna, 276 Fed. 483. The evidence, as pointed out by the master, does not admit of the conclusion that the surveyor mistook a bayou or other body of water for the river, or that the river was not in immediate proximity to the upper corners of the survey when it was made (see United States v. Lane, 260 U. S. 662); so authorities rejecting an obviously mistaken call for a river or lake are not in point. See Jeems Bayou