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Opinion of the Court.

244 U.S.

taken on the report until after the expiration of the twoyear period. But in that case the entry was held to be confirmed under the statute while here the ruling was the other way. Of the situation which prompted the enactment of the statute it was said in the decision in that case:

“The records of this Department disclose that, during several years preceding 1891, a very large number of entries were suspended by the General Land Office on vague and indefinite suggestions of fraud or noncompliance with law, to await investigation by special agents of that bureau. These suspensions were so numerous and the force available for investigation was so insufficient as to create a practical blockade in the issuance of patents to the serious prejudice of bona fide claimants under the public land laws. In many instances, the charge or suggestion upon which the suspension was ordered had no foundation of fact other than the proximity of the land to other tracts embraced in entries alleged to be fraudulent or otherwise illegal. The reports of this Department to the public land committees of the Senate and House of Representatives, concerning this legislation, and the debates of those bodies thereon, leave no doubt of the purpose of Congress that said proviso should correct the hardship of this situation and provide against a repetition thereof.”

And it was also said:

"Passed, primarily, to rectify a past and to prevent future abuses of the departmental power to suspend entries, the proviso is robbed of its essential purpose and practically repealed by the decision in the Traganza case.

“Upon mature consideration, the Department is convinced that a contest or protest, to defeat the confirmatory effect of the proviso, must be a proceeding sufficient, in itself, to place the entryman on his defense or to require of him a showing of material fact, when served with notice thereof."

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That decision was followed in George Judicak, 43 L. D. 246; Joseph Crowther, ibid. 262; Instructions, ibid. 294 and 322.

Looking, then, at the statute in the light of all that bears upon its purpose and meaning, we think it certainly and unmistakably lays upon the Secretary of the Interior, as the head of the Land Department, a plain duty to cause a patent to be issued to a homestead entryman whenever it appears, as concededly it did in this instance, that two years have elapsed since the issue of the receiver's receipt upon the final entry and that during that period no proceeding has been initiated or order made which calls in question the validity of the entry. In the exercise of its discretion Congress has said, in substance, by this statute that for two years after the entryman submits final proof and obtains the receiver's receipt the entry may be held open for the initiation of proceedings to test its validity, but that if none such be begun within that time it shall be passed to patent as a matter of course. Thus in a case like this, where according to the conceded facts no proceeding was begun within the prescribed period, there is no room for the exercise of discretion or judgment, but on the contrary a plain duty to see that the entryman receives a patent.

True this court always is reluctant to award or sustain a writ of mandamus against an executive officer, and yet cases sometimes arise when it is constrained by settled principles of law and the exigency of the particular situation to do so. Kendall v. United States, 12 Pet. 524; United States v. Schurz, 102 U. S. 378; Roberts v. United States, 176 U. S. 221; Garfield v. Goldsby, 211 U. S. 249; Ballinger v. Frost, 216 U. S. 240. And see Noble v. Union River Logging Railroad Co., 147 U. S. 165; American School of Magnetic Healing v. McAnnulty, 187 U. S. 94. This, we think, is such a case. As quite apposite we excerpt the following from the unanimous opinion in Roberts v. United States, supra, p. 231:

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“Unless the writ of mandamus is to become practically valueless, and is to be refused even where a public officer is commanded to do a particular act by virtue of a particular statute, this writ should be granted. Every statute to some extent requires construction by the public officer whose duties may be defined therein. Such officer must read the law, and he must therefore, in a certain sense, construe it, in order to form a judgment from its language what duty he is directed by the statute to perform. But that does not necessarily and in all cases make the duty of the officer anything other than a purely ministerial one. If the law direct him to perform an act in regard to which no discretion is committed to him, and which, upon the facts existing, he is bound to perform, then that act is ministerial, although depending upon a statute which requires, in some degree, a construction of its language by the officer. Unless this be so, the value of this writ is very greatly impaired. Every executive officer whose duty is plainly devolved upon him by statute might refuse to perform it, and when his refusal is brought before the court he might successfully plead that the performance of the duty involved the construction of a statute by him, and therefore it was not ministerial, and the court would on that account be powerless to give relief. Such a limitation of the powers of the court, we think, would be most unfortunate, as it would relieve from judicial supervision all executive officers in the performance of their duties, whenever they should plead that the duty required of them arose upon the construction of a statute, no matter how plain its language, nor how plainly they violated their duty in refusing to perform the act required.”

We therefore conclude that the Court of Appeals rightly directed that the writ be granted.

Judgment affirmed.

244 U. S.

Opinion of the Court.




No. 194. Argued April 20, 1917.—Decided May 21, 1917.

An employee is not engaged in interstate commerce, within the meaning

of the Federal Employers' Liability Act, when his work at the time of injury consists in placing cars owned by the carrier, containing its supply coal, upon an unloading .trestle within its yards, and when the interstate movement of the cars carrying the coal occurred as long as seventeen days previously and the cars, with the coal, in the meantime, have remained upon sidings and switches in the yards.

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy R. R. Co. v. Harrington, 241 U. S. 177. 214 N. Y. 116, reversed.

THE case is stated in the opinion.

Mr. Peter F. McAllister, with whom Mr. F.O. McCleary was on the briefs, for plaintiff in error.

Mr. Clayton R. Lusk for defendant in error.

MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the court.

Basing his claim upon the Federal Employers' Liability Act, defendant in error sought damages for personal injuries. The New York Court of Appeals affirmed a judgment in his favor, 214 N. Y. 116, and the question now presented is whether there is evidence tending to show that he was injured while engaging in interstate commerce. The accident occurred July 27, 1912, when, as member of a switching crew, he was assisting in placing three cars containing supply coal for plaintiff in error on an unloading trestle within its yards at Cortland, New York. These

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cars belonged to it and with their contents had passed over its line from Sayre, Pennsylvania. After being received in the Cortland yards—one July 3 and two July 10– they remained there upon sidings and switches until removed to the trestle on the twenty-seventh.

We think their interstate movement terminated before the cars left the sidings, and that while removing them the switching crew was not employed in interstate commerce. The essential facts in Chicago, Burlington & Quincy R. R. Co. v. Harrington, 241 U. S. 177, did not materially differ from those now presented. There we sustained a recovery by an employee, holding he was not engaged in interstate commerce; and that decision is in conflict with the conclusion of the Court of Appeals. The judgment under review must be reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.






No. 214. Argued April 24, 25, 1917.-Decided May 21, 1917.

Where lands, allotted as part of a Mexican community grant and for

many years occupied, improved and claimed in good faith under color of such allotments and mesne conveyances, were excluded from the grant by a decree of the Court of Private Land Claims determining its boundaries, Held, that a continuance of such occupancy under the same and later mesne conveyances, with knowledge of the decree, was not a trespass of the character forbidden by the act to prevent unlawful occupancy of public lands (February 25, 1885, c.

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