MR. JUSTICE GRAY delivered the opinion of the court.
This bill was filed against the trustees of the Harmony Society, an unincorporated association of persons living together as a community, by a former member of the society, claiming a share in property in the hands of the trustees.
The bill is sought to be maintained on the ground that the trust was not a charity, in the legal sense, and the members of the society were equitable tenants in common of the property held in trust. The learned counsel for the appellants differ in their views of the trust; the one insisting that it was unlawful because founded in fraud and against public policy, and should therefore be dissolved; and the other contending that it was a lawful and continuing trust. We have not found it necessary to consider which of these is the sound view, because we are of opinion that the plaintiff did not show himself to be entitled to invoke the interposition of a court of equity.
But this rule is, in accordance with the reason on which it is founded, and as has been clearly pointed out by Chancellor Kent and Mr. Justice Story, subject to this qualification, that time begins to run against a trust as soon as it is openly disavowed by the trustee, insisting upon an adverse right and interest which is clearly and unequivocally made known to the cestui que trust; as when, for instance, such transactions take place between the trustee and the cestui que trust as would in case of tenants in common amount to an ouster of one of them by the other. Kane v. Bloodgood, 7 Johns. Ch. 90, 124 (S.C. 11 Am. Dec. 417); Robinson v. Hook, 4 Mason, 139, 152; Baker v. Whiting, 3 Sumner, 475, 486; Oliver v. Piat, 3 How. 333, 411. This qualification has been often recognized in the opinions of this court, and distinctly affirmed by its latest judgment upon the subject. Willison v. Watkins, 3 Pet. 43, 52; Boone v. Chiles, 10 Pet. 177, 223; Seymour v. Freer, 8 Wall. 202, 218; Bacon v. Rives, 106 U.S. 99, 107; Phillippi v. Phillipe, 115 U.S. 151.
In the case of an implied or constructive trust, unless there has been a fraudulent concealment of the cause of action, lapse of time is as complete a bar in equity as at law. Hovenden v. Annesley, 2 Sch. & Lef. 607, 634; Beckford v. Wade, 17 Ves. 87. In such a case, Chief Justice Marshall repeated and approved the statement of Sir Thomas Plumer, M.R., in a most important case in which his decision was affirmed by the House of Lords, that "both on principle and authority, the laches and non-claim of the rightful owner of an equitable estate, for a period of twenty years, (supposing it the case of one who must within that period have made his claim in a court of law, had it been a legal estate,) under no disability, and where there has been no fraud, will constitute a bar to equitable relief, by analogy to the statute of limitations, if,
Independently of any statute of limitations, courts of equity uniformly decline to assist a person who has slept upon his rights and shows no excuse for his laches in asserting them. "A court of equity," said Lord Camden, "has always refused its aid to stale demands, where the party slept upon his rights, and acquiesced for a great length of time. Nothing can call forth this court into activity, but conscience, good faith and reasonable diligence; where these are wanting, the court is passive, and does nothing. Laches and neglect are always discountenanced, and therefore, from the beginning of this jurisdiction, there was always a limitation to suits in this court." Smith v. Clay, 3 Bro. Ch. 640, note. This doctrine has been repeatedly recognized and acted on here. Piatt v. Vattier, 9 Pet. 405; McKnight v. Taylor, 1 How. 161; Bowman v. Wathen, 1 How. 189; Wagner v. Baird, 7 How. 234; Badger v. Badger, 2 Wall. 87; Hume v. Beale, 17 Wall. 336; Marsh v. Whitmore, 21 Wall. 178; Sullivan v. Portland & Kennebec Railroad, 94 U.S. 906; Godden v. Kimmel, 99 U.S. 201. In Hume v. Beale, the court, in dismissing, because of unexplained delay in suing, a bill by cestuis que trust against a trustee under a deed, observed that it was not important to determine whether he was the trustee of a mere dry legal estate or whether his duties and responsibilities extended further. 17 Wall. 348. See also Bright v. Legerton, 29 Beavan, 60, and 2 D., F. & J. 606.
When the bill shows upon its face that the plaintiff, by reason of lapse of time and of his own laches, is not entitled to relief, the objection may be taken by demurrer. Maxwell v. Kennedy, 8 How. 210; National Bank v. Carpenter, 101 U.S. 567; Lansdale v. Smith, 106 U.S. 391.
The allegations of this bill, so far as they are material to the defence of laches, are in substance as follows:
The trust on which Rapp, and the defendants as his successors, held the common fund of the Harmony Society, is described in one place in the bill as "for the members of said families and the contributors of said fund and for their common benefit," that is to say, as is clearly explained by what goes before, in trust for their common benefit as a community, living together in the community, working for the community, subject to the regulations of the community, and supported by the community. This was the "said trust," which, as the bill afterwards alleges, Rapp, up to his death, and his successors, until the bringing of this suit, "always recognized and acknowledged." The constant avowal of the trustees that they held the trust fund upon such a trust is wholly inconsistent with and adverse to the claim of the plaintiff that they held the fund in trust for the benefit of the same persons as individuals, though withdrawn from the community, living by themselves, and taking no part in its work.
The plaintiff, upon his own showing, withdrew from the community in 1831, and never returned to it, and, for more than fifty years, took no step to demand an account of the trustees, or to follow up the rights which he claimed in this bill.
If he ever had any rights, he could not assert them after
It is proper to add that this decision does not rest in any degree upon the judgments of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and of this court, in the cases cited at the bar, in favor of the trustees of the Harmony Society in suits brought against them by other members, because each of those cases differed in its facts, and especially in showing that the society had written articles of association, which are not disclosed by this bill. Schriber v. Rapp, 5 Watts, 351 (S.C. 30 Am. Dec. 327); Baker v. Nachtrieb, 19 How. 126