112 U.S. 369 (1884)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided November 24, 1884.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. W. Willoughby, for appellant.

Mr. W.B. Webb and Mr. Enoch Totten, for appellee.

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the court. He stated the facts in the foregoing language, and continued:

The action of the court below directing the sale of only so much of lot 7 as lies south of a line running from a point 44 feet south of its northeast corner parallel with New York Avenue to the west line of the lot, leaving undetermined the question of the title to that part of the lot lying north of that parallel line, is subject to review, upon this second appeal, if, as appellant contends, the proceedings subsequent to the decision here are erroneous and prejudical to his substantial rights in respect of matters not concluded by the original decree. His claim is that the natural and established front of lot 7 is on New York Avenue, and that the sale of the piece south of the said parallel line, separately from the ground north of it, will materially, as well as needlessly, impair the value of both, especially the former. We are of opinion that this claim is, in all respects, well grounded; and that the appellant is entitled to a reversal, unless it appears from the record that the ground north of the said line running from Fourteenth Street parallel with New York Avenue — which ground was, in effect, withdrawn from the operation of the original decree — was embraced by the sale of the marshal to Richards. Unless sold heretofore by the marshal, it is covered by the original decree, which this court affirmed.

The question as to what part of lot 7 was not sold by the marshal to Richards is attended with difficulty and embarrassment. But it is one which the court below was bound, under the issues, to determine, in order that its decree of sale might be properly executed. Upon examination of the marshal's advertisement of the sale at which Richards purchased, and of the deed which the latter received, we find no such description of the property sold and conveyed as will certainly embrace that part of lot 7 which lies west and westerly of the building erected at the corner of New York Avenue and Fourteenth Street, and north of the line described in the final order as commencing from a point on Fourteenth Street 44 feet south of the northeast corner of said lot, and running thence parallel to the line of New York Avenue to the west line of said lot. The advertisement of sale thus describes that part of lot 7 then proposed to be sold: "Beginning at the northeast corner of said square [223] and running thence south 44 feet; thence west to the west end of the lot; thence, in a northerly direction with the west line thereof, to the north line of said lot; thence with said north line to the place of beginning." The description in the marshal's deed to Richards is the same as that in the advertisement of sale, except that, instead of the words "thence west to the west end of the lot," the call in the deed is "thence westerly to the west end of the lot." The line running south from the northeast corner of the lot along Fourteenth Street is aptly described. But what is meant by the words "west to the west end of the lot" in the advertisement of sale? If by "west end of the lot" is meant its northwest corner, where its west line meets New York Avenue, and if by "west" is meant due west, then a line running due west from Fourteenth Street will not strike the west end of the lot, but will intersect New York avenue some distance northeast of the northwest corner of the lot. Further: If "west to the west end of the lot," means "westerly to the northwest corner of the lot," then there would be left outside of the ground upon which the building stands, and north of the line thus drawn, a narrow, irregular slip of ground, diminishing in width as the line runs westerly, and which it cannot be supposed it was within the contemplation of the marshal or of any of the parties interested to sell.

But we do not suppose that by "west end of the lot" was meant its northwest corner, where its west line meets New York Avenue; because, the next call which appears in the levies, in the advertisement of sale, and in the marshal's deed — "thence in a northerly direction with the west line thereof to the north line of said lot" — would then be meaningless. We incline to think that by "west end of the lot" was meant "west line of the lot." Such, as we have seen, is the call in the mechanic's lien suits. This would make intelligible the succeeding call, "thence in a northerly direction with the west line thereof." But even this interpretation does not dissipate the confusion which arises from these inconsistent descriptions of the property; for, if the line starting from Fourteenth Street is run due west, it will not strike any point in the west line of the lot. And if it be run westerly, which may mean north of west or south of west, to what point on the west line of the lot must it be run? The appellee contends that it should be run parallel with New York Avenue. The answer to that suggestion is that the descriptions in the lien suits, in the levies, and in the marshal's advertisement and conveyance will be satisfied by running north or south of that parallel line to any one of numerous points on the west side or line of the lot.

We are here met with the suggestion that the sale was made in discharge of certain mechanics' liens, and that the description of the property in the marshal's advertisement and deed should be held to include all the ground which could have been included under the laws in force in this District on the subject of such liens. That law provides, in respect of a building in the city of Washington or Georgetown, that "the ground on which the same is erected, and a space of ground equal to the front of the building and extending to the depth of the lot on which it is erected, shall also be bound by the said lien," subject to the condition that the land, at the time of the erection or repair of the building, is the property of the person contracting for such erection or repairs. R.S. Dist. Col. § 704, 11 Stat. 377.

The argument implies that the statute gave a mechanic's lien upon so much of the lot as would constitute a parallelogram bounded on the east by the line of 44 feet on Fourteenth Street, on the south by a line parallel with New York Avenue, on the west by the west line of the lot, and on the north by the line of New York Avenue. But the inherent difficulty in this view arises from the description in the marshal's advertisement and in his deed for the property actually sold and conveyed. That description will not cover the ground included in the supposed parallelogram. Further: if the front of the building is conceded to be on Fourteenth Street, the lot over which the statute extended the mechanic's lien would not be the ground between New York Avenue and a line running parallel with, and 44 feet from, it. In such case, the ground covered by the lien would rather be that which lies north of a line commencing 44 feet south of the northeast corner of the lot, and extended at right angles from Fourteenth Street until it strikes New York Avenue. But a conclusive answer to the suggestion based upon the mechanic's lien law, is that, so far as the record discloses, Plant and Emory did not, when enforcing their claims, assert a lien upon the ground within the before-mentioned parallelogram.

We are of opinion, upon the whole case, that the record fails to show that any part of lot 7, outside of the piece upon which the building at the northeast corner of the lot stands, was sold or conveyed by the marshal to Richards; consequently, for the purposes of this suit, and as between the parties thereto, all of lot 7, except the part actually covered by the building, must be deemed to be embraced by the original decree, and to be subject to sale, as therein adjudged, in satisfaction of the demands of complainants.

Whether that part of the lot upon which the building stands is still the property of Mackall, that is, whether the sale and conveyance of the marshal is valid in respect, at least, of that part of the lot, we do not determine. We forbear any expression of opinion upon that question, because it is evident that the complainants did not seek, nor the court below intend, by the original decree, to subject to sale the ground on which the building stands; and, also, because the validity of the marshal's sale is directly involved, as we are informed by counsel, in a distinct suit upon our docket, not yet reached.

The decree must be reversed, and the cause remanded, with directions to the court below to set aside the decree from which this appeal is prosecuted, and to order the sale, in satisfaction of the complainants' demands, and in such mode as may be consistent with the practice of the court and with law, of lot 7 outside of the part upon which the building known as the Palace Market stands.


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