ERROR TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR PORTO RICO.
MR. JUSTICE MOODY delivered the opinion of the court.
The plaintiffs in error brought in the District Court of the United States for Porto Rico an action for the recovery of certain parcels of land held by the defendants in error. There was judgment for the defendants in the court below, and the case is here upon writ of error. We need pay attention only to such facts as will make clear the question which we think is decisive of the case.
One of the plaintiffs once owned the lands in dispute, but they were sold upon an execution issued upon a judgment rendered against him by the United States Provisional Court. The defendants, by mesne conveyances, hold the title conveyed by the execution sale. The plaintiffs attack that title solely upon the grounds that the United States Provisional Court had no lawful existence, and if lawfully constituted was entirely without jurisdiction to render the judgment which it did, and that for the one reason or the other the judgment is a nullity everywhere.
The ratifications of the treaty of peace by which Porto Rico was ceded to the United States were exchanged April 11, 1899. 30 Stat. 1754. The act of Congress establishing a civil government in Porto Rico, passed April 12, 1900, 31 Stat. 77, c. 191, took effect on May 1 of that year. Between these two dates,
on June 27, 1899, the United States Provisional Court, here in question, was established by military authority, with the approval of the President, by General Order, No. 88, series of 1899. The parts of the order material here follow:
"I. In view of the existing and steadily increasing legal business requiring judicial determination, which does not fall within the jurisdiction of the local insular courts, such as smuggling goods in evasion of revenue laws, larceny of United States property, controversies between citizens of different States and of foreign States, violation of the United States postal law, etc., etc., and pursuant to authority from the President of the United States, conveyed by endorsement of April 14, 1899, from the Acting Secretary of War, and after full conference with the Supreme Court and members of the Bar of the Island, a United States Provisional Court is hereby established for the Department of Porto Rico.
"II. The judicial power of the Provisional Court hereby established shall extend to all cases which would be properly cognizable by the Circuit or District Courts of the United States under the Constitution, and to all common law offenses within the restrictions hereinafter specified."
"X. In civil actions when the amount in controversy is fifty dollars ($50.00) or over, and in which any of the classes of persons above enumerated in paragraph VIII are parties, or in which the parties litigant by stipulation invoke its jurisdiction, shall be brought in the Provisional Court: Provided, That in the determination of all suits to which Porto Ricans are parties, or of suits arising from contracts which have been or shall be made under the provisions of Spanish or Porto Rican laws, the court shall, as far as practicable, conform to the precedents and decisions of the United States courts in similar cases which have been tried and determined in territory formerly acquired by the United States from Spain or Mexico. In all other civil actions the case shall lie within the jurisdiction of the proper insular court as now provided by local law."
By paragraph XI, the losing party is afforded an opportunity
to apply to this court for a "writ of certiorari or other suitable process to review such judgment or decree." At the time this order was issued peace prevailed in Porto Rico and the ...