United States v. Union Pacific Railroad Company

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Union Pacific Railroad Company
LOCATION: Military Stockade

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 353 US 112 (1957)
ARGUED: Jan 23, 1957
DECIDED: Apr 08, 1957

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Union Pacific Railroad Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 23, 1957 in United States v. Union Pacific Railroad Company

Earl Warren:

Number 97, United States of America versus Union Pacific Railroad Company.

Mr. Solicitor General.

J. Lee Rankin:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This is an action where the United States seeks an injunction against the Union Pacific Railroad Company for its taking gas and oil from under the right of way in a small area of an 80-acre section in the State of Wyoming.

The question that is presented is whether the grant by the United States to the respondent in the year 1862 under the terms of “the right of way through the public lands for the construction of said railroad and telegraph line” conveyed the title to oil and gas deposits underlying the right of way so that respondent may remove or dispose of such deposits.

The issue in the case entirely turns upon the construction of the statute.

The statute is set out on pages 2 and 3 of the Government's brief.

I'd like to call to your attention briefly the terms which we think the controversy turns upon.

You will note in Section 2 that -- that there is a grant of the right of way and a provision for materials for the railroad's construction.

And, the right of way grant, like that in the Great Northern case, is of “the” right of way, not “a” right of way, and also includes the right to take from lands adjacent to the land of the road earth, stone, timber, and other materials for construction thereof.

The grant is to the extent of 200 feet on each side of the line of the road.

And, Section 3 is the section in regard to what is generally called place lands.

It involves the section that provides for the financing of the road, providing the lands by means of which it was thought the railroad would be induced and able to finance the construction necessary to complete it.

And, in that section, there is a proviso, after providing the large number of acres that would be allowed to the railroad if it accomplished the construction provided, about halfway down on page 3, that all mineral lands shall be excepted from the operation of this Act.

And, I dwell upon the word “Act” because the legislative history in regard to that is quite important in the eyes of the Government.

There are several rules of construction that apply to the statute or in the grant in this case and are generally recognized.

One of them is that any grant of this type by the sovereign must be strictly construed that it shall be liberally construed in regard to accomplishing the purpose by which the grant was made.

And, if all, you are trying to determine the rights that will pass under the grant, that it must be strictly determined in accordance with the explicit and clear terms of conveyance in the Act of grant.

Now, the legislative history of this particular proviso was that, in the House, they first had a provision for Act, that is, that the mineral lands that were not to be covered by the grant would be limited to the Act generally.

And then, it was amended in the House to apply only to that particular section which would have the effect of applying the reservation of the mineral lands under the grant of the Act only to the place lands in Section 3.

Then, when the bill got to dissent without any explanation, we were able to discover the Senate changed and put back in the word “Act,” so that the reservation of the grant of the entire Act should not apply -- should apply to the entire Act, all sections and not merely to the Section 3 in which the proviso was contained.

Now, there's a difference between the Government and the respond in regard to the purpose of that change.

It's contended by the respondent that the change was made so that subsequent sections of the same Act, which provided for other railroads to be or to have certain place lands and have certain financing assistance through such lands, would have the provisions of that section apply to it and that, therefore, the word “Act” was inserted for that purpose.

But, the Act provided that these subsequent grants should, in all cases, be upon the same terms and conditions in all respects as provided in this Act for the construction of the railroad and telegraph line first mentioned.

The Government contends that you don't have to insert the word “Act” in the proviso at all to make that, the whole provision in regard to the prior sections of the right of way grant and the Section 3 place lands grant, apply.

That the only purpose that Congress could have had was to carry out its purpose of withholding mineral lands from the grant involved under this Act.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

In -- in the House that -- that word was “section”?

J. Lee Rankin:

It was, first, “section” and then it was changed -- it was, first, “Act” and then it was changed to “section” in the House.

Then, in the Senate, it was changed to “Act” and the House agreed to “Act” change, so that the bill as finally passed was “Act.”

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

No discussion of it at all?