No. 1151.

134 U.S. 241 (1890)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided March 10, 1890.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. Walter J. Lamb, Mr. Arnott C. Ricketts and Mr. Henry H. Wilson for plaintiff in error.

Mr. John F. Dillon, Mr. Samuel Shellabarger, Mr. R.S. Hall and Mr. Joseph R. Webster for defendant in error.

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

It is contended that the Circuit Court erred in entering judgment on the special verdict because the citizenship of the parties was not found by the jury. But that fact stood admitted on the record. The plaintiff averred in her petition that she was "a citizen and resident of the State of Ohio," and that the defendant was "a citizen and resident of the State of Nebraska." The answer set up three defences: (1) An affirmative claim of title under a tax deed; (2) Ten years' adverse possession; (3) "And this defendant, further answering, denies that the said plaintiff is the owner of the premises described in her petition; and this defendant also denies that the plaintiff is entitled to the possession of the said premises, and prays to be hence dismissed with his costs, to be taxed." The averment of diverse citizenship was not controverted by the answer, and as the petition would have been insufficient without that allegation, the averment must be taken as true under the practice in the courts of record in Nebraska. Neb. Code Civ. Proc. §§ 134, 135; Comp. Stat. 1885, p. 645.

Clearly, where the jurisdictional allegation is not traversed, no question involving the capacity of the parties in the cause to litigate in the Circuit Court can be raised before the jury, Railroad Co. v. Quigley, 21 How. 202, 214; or treated as within the issues they might be impanelled to determine. The Circuit Court properly proceeded to judgment, although the special verdict contained no finding upon this point.

After the case had been twice tried on its merits, and stood on the special verdict upon motions by the parties for judgment in their favor respectively, the defendant assailed the jurisdiction of the court by petition, upon the ground that the title had been placed in the plaintiff collusively and with the view of enabling suit to be brought in the United States Court, when in fact the plaintiff did not own the property and had accepted the title only for the collusive purpose aforesaid. Prior to the passage of the act of 1875, such a question could only be raised by a plea in abatement in the nature of a plea to the jurisdiction; but the fifth section of that act provided that if "it shall appear to the satisfaction of said Circuit Court at any time after such suit has been brought that such suit does not really and substantially involve a dispute or controversy properly within the jurisdiction of said Circuit Court, or that the parties to said suit have been improperly or collusively made or joined, either as plaintiffs or defendants, for the purpose of creating a case cognizable under this act, the said Circuit Court shall proceed no further therein, but shall dismiss the suit; but its order dismissing the cause shall be reviewable by the Supreme Court on writ of error or appeal, as the case may be." 18 Stat. 472. The application here was made more than a year and a half after the second trial, and although the petitioner avers that he "did not have knowledge of the above facts before the trial of this cause," we remark in passing that such an objection ought to be raised at the first opportunity, and delay in its presentation should be considered in examining into the grounds upon which it is alleged to rest.

The issue of fact raised upon this petition was tried by the Circuit Court without a jury, and the application denied. No question of law was reserved by the defendant during the hearing, but he entered an exception to the final order, and now asks us to hold that it was the duty of the Circuit Court to dismiss the case because collusively brought. We do not care to enter upon a discussion as to how far in an action at law, where there are no special findings upon an issue of fact such as this, a party has the right to demand a review of the final order of the Circuit Court on the merits, as, upon the evidence in this record, we are content with the conclusion arrived at. In Barry v. Edmunds, 116 U.S. 550, it was held that a suit cannot properly be dismissed by a Circuit Court of the United States, as not involving a controversy within the jurisdiction of the court, unless the facts when made to appear on the record create a legal certainty of that conclusion. "Nothing less than this," said Mr. Justice Matthews, "is meant by the statute when it provides that the failure of its jurisdiction, on this account, `shall appear to the satisfaction of said Circuit Court.'"

The question was whether the conveyance by Jane Y. Irwin to Rowena Young was colorable merely. The plaintiff testified positively that she was the real owner of the land, and that it was conveyed to her by her sister, Mrs. Irwin, partly in consideration of what Mrs. Irwin owed her, and partly because she herself had a share in it; that "the land was entered with money coming out of my father's estate belonging in part to me, being the joint fund of Jane and myself." And her testimony is corroborated by that of her brother, William P. Young.

We have carefully examined the evidence and especially the matters urged as constituting badges of colorable transfer, but do not find any substantial ground for overthrowing the deed, or questioning the passing of the title. Such conflict as exists has been determined by the Circuit Court, and it would subserve no useful purpose to restate the circumstances in detail, as we think the facts fell far short of establishing petitioner's contention.

Upon the rendition of the special verdict the defendant moved to set aside the 10th, 17th and 19th findings as not supported by the evidence, and for judgment upon the verdict as so amended, but the court overruled the motion, and entered judgment for the plaintiff upon the special verdict as returned. We cannot review the action of the court in reference to the findings objected to, and, no exceptions having been saved, are restricted to the question whether there was error in giving judgment for the plaintiff upon the facts as found.

From the first finding it appears that Jane Y. Irwin "obtained title to said lands by patent from the United States December 15, 1862, and on the 9th of August, 1867, conveyed the same to William P. Young, who, on the 5th of February; 1874, reconveyed the same to Jane Y. Irwin, who, on the 11th day of June, 1884, conveyed said lands to the plaintiff, Rowena Young." This made out the title of defendant in error, and to prevent her recovery the plaintiff in error was obliged to sustain one or more of his affirmative defences, in respect to which he had the burden of proof.

These defences were: Claim under two tax deeds, coupled with ten years' adverse possession; conveyance by Jane Y. Irwin, by William T. Donavan as her attorney-in-fact; sheriff's deed on execution sale to Curson, deed of Curson to Little, and of Little to plaintiff in error.

As to the tax deeds, it was found that one was issued upon a sale made for the taxes of a year when the land was not assessed for taxes, and that neither of them was "sealed by the county treasurer with his official seal, nor did the county treasurer then have an official seal." The Circuit Court held that under the decisions of the Supreme Court of Nebraska, these tax deeds were void for want of the seal, and cited many decisions of that court to that effect. In Gue v. Jones, 25 Nebraska, 634, 637, January term, 1889, the court say: "At the trial the defendant produced a tax deed covering the premises in question, issued to Smith by the treasurer of Douglas County, August 4, 1865, for the taxes of 1862. This deed was objected to by the plaintiff on several grounds, among others, that it was not executed under the official seal of the treasurer. The act of 1861, under which the deed was executed, provides, at section 60, `that such conveyance shall be executed by the county treasurer, under his hand and seal;' then follows the statutory form of such deed, concluding with the words of attestation, `In testimony whereof the said ... treasurer of said county has hereunto set his hand and seal, on the date and year aforesaid. [Seal.]' The statute has been substantially carried forward throughout all the changes of the revenue laws to the present day. Under its provisions it has been held by this court in cases too numerous for citation, of which several are cited by counsel for defendant in error, that a tax deed not executed by the treasurer under his seal of office is void. It will not be expected that this line of decision can be departed from now. The deed introduced in the case at bar, if legal and proper in all other respects, as to which we pass no opinion, is open to the fatal objection that it does not purport to have been executed by the county treasurer under his seal of office."

No title, therefore, was transmitted by these deeds; but a tax deed, though void upon its face, is sufficient color of title in Nebraska to support an adverse possession to the property therein described; Gatling v. Lane, 17 Nebraska, 77; while a tax certificate is not. McKeighan v. Hopkins, 14 Nebraska, 361, 364. The possession, however, which bars a recovery, must be continuous, uninterrupted, open, notorious, actual, exclusive and adverse. Armstrong v. Morrill, 14 Wall. 120, 145. From the findings it appears that Little was holding in January, 1875, which was within ten years prior to the commencement of this suit, under a tax certificate; that up to the year 1876 the possession of the land in dispute was "mixed," but it "was open, vacant and unoccupied except by the city pest-house, and was used as a common;" that some portions of the whole tract were in possession of squatters, some portions in possession of parties holding under Mrs. Irwin, and a part in the possession of the grantee in the tax deeds or under him; and the jury find the possession of the premises delivered to the defendant and held by him to have been only a mixed possession. Where the rightful owner is in the actual occupancy of a part of his tract, he is in the constructive and legal possession and seisin of the whole, unless he is disseised by actual occupation and dispossession; and where the possession is mixed, the legal seisin is according to the legal title, so that in the case at bar there could be no constructive possession on the part of the defendant or his grantors, even if that might exist if he had had actual possession of a part, and no one had been in possession of the remainder. Hunnicutt v. Peyton, 102 U.S. 333, 368; Barr v. Gratz, 4 Wheat. 213, 223. Nothing is clearer upon the face of this record than that the jury refused to find the possession relied on by defendant to have been actual, undisputed, exclusive, open, notorious and adverse, but found, on the contrary, that the possession was mixed. The judgment cannot be reversed on the ground of error in this regard.

The plaintiff in error also asserted title under a conveyance by Donavan as her attorney-in-fact. The 2d, 3d, 4th, 13th, 14th, 16th, 28th, 29th, 30th, 37th and 40th findings present the facts on this branch of the case, and establish that on the 31st day of March, 1874, Jane Y. Irwin entered into a contract with Scott, Boyd and La Master for the subdivision and sale of this and other land, and that they entered upon, platted and surveyed it by the last of May, 1875; that, (4th and 28th,) "on the 12th of August, 1875, Jane Y. Irwin and her husband executed a power of attorney to William T. Donavan, to enable him to make conveyances to purchasers when sales were made by Scott, Boyd and La Master, and to facilitate their operations under their contract of March 31, 1874;" that on the 25th day of October, 1879, a deed was executed by Donavan, as attorney-in-fact, for tracts which included that in dispute, to one Lantz, for "the purported consideration, as expressed upon the face of said deed, of $1000," and on the same day Lantz, "for the consideration of $1000, as expressed in said deed, paid by Samuel W. Little to said John P. Lantz," conveyed the same to Little; that these deeds were parts of one transaction, and the entire property conveyed was worth over $100,000; that the conveyance by Donavan to Lantz "was a fraud upon the power held by said Donavan, and was given by Donavan and taken by Lantz with the intention of defrauding Jane Y. Irwin, and that Samuel W. Little had full knowledge of such fact, and procured such conveyance to be made with such knowledge and design;" that the defendant had full knowledge of the revocation of the power of attorney aforesaid upon the record by Jane Y. Irwin and of the facts therein stated prior to any purchase by him, that Little and wife, for the recited consideration of $10,500, sold and conveyed to Deputron, who was a brother-in-law of Little, "and that there is no proof of any consideration paid by Deputron to Little for such conveyance." It is not pretended that the deed to Lantz was made to carry out or effectuate any sale of the property which had been made by Scott, Boyd and La Master, and the findings show that it was made in fraud of the power of attorney and with the intention of defrauding Jane Y. Irwin. We cannot agree with the counsel for plaintiff in error that it is to be inferred that the power to Donavan was a power to convey generally and at discretion. We do not understand the language of the fourth and twenty-eighth findings, which are identical, as merely indicating the purpose for which the power of attorney was given, but regard it as expressing the limitations of the power. It was the scope of the power that the jury must have had in mind in stating that it was executed to enable Donavan to make conveyances to purchasers "when sales were made by Scott, Boyd and La Master, and to facilitate their operations under their contract of March 31st, 1874." We think it sufficiently clear that it was only a naked power to convey when a sale had been made. The deed by Donavan was a fraud upon the power, because it was in violation of the authority thereby vested. The rule is well settled that "in the case of a naked power, not coupled with an interest, the law requires that every prerequisite to the exercise of that power should precede it. The party who sets up a title must furnish the evidence necessary to support it. If the validity of a deed depends on an act in pais, the party claiming under it is as much bound to prove the performance of the act as he would be bound to prove any matter of record on which the validity of the deed might depend." Williams v. Peyton's Lessee, 4 Wheat. 77; Ransom v. Williams, 2 Wall. 313, 319. It behooved the plaintiff in error to have the power made part of the findings, if the conclusion we have reached as to its contents was open to dispute, and not to have accepted the fourth and twenty-eighth findings without objection. In the language used in Williams v. Peyton's Lessee, the power was a link in his chain which was essential to its continuity, and which it was incumbent on him to preserve. The findings in reference to this power not only do not justify the contention of plaintiff in error, but are inconsistent with it, for the Donavan deed was not simply found fraudulent in fact, but "a fraud upon the power." This, coupled with the finding that the power was to enable Donavan to convey when sales were made by Scott, Boyd and La Master, shows that Donavan's act, when compared with the words of the power, was not warranted by the terms used. Nor under those findings is there any ground for the assumption that Deputron believed that Scott, Boyd and La Master had made sale of the property to Lantz or Little.

Even if the power had been general the conveyance was found fraudulent, and no estoppel arises in favor of plaintiff in error in the absence of finding that he paid value without notice.

It is impossible to conclude that the Circuit Court erred in putting aside this attempt to bolster up the title by the deed of Donavan.

In addition to the Donavan deed and the tax deeds, it is urged on behalf of the plaintiff in error that he made out title under a sale on execution. One Sessions on May 19, 1877, recovered a judgment in the District Court of Lancaster County, Nebraska, against Jane Y. Irwin, upon which execution was issued and levied on forty acres, of which the premises in controversy were a part, and sale made to one Curson for $30, which sale was confirmed October 10, 1877, and a deed of the forty acres made by the sheriff and recorded on the same day, the land being worth at that time $20,000. The order confirming the sale was set aside by the court November 3, 1877, before Curson "had made any conveyance to any one, and was never afterwards confirmed." On the 9th of November, 1877, Curson conveyed this land for $30 to S.W. Little, which deed was recorded on the 26th day of November.

The opinion of the Circuit Court upon this point is as follows: "It is the settled law of Nebraska that the title of a purchaser at an execution sale depends not alone upon his bid or payment of the purchase money, but upon the confirmation of the sale; also that one purchasing at an execution sale submits himself to the jurisdiction of the court as to matters affecting that sale, and that a court has power during the term to vacate or modify its own orders or to rescind decrees. Phillips v. Dawley, 1 Nebraska, 320; Bank v. Green, 10 Nebraska, 134; Volland v. Wilcox, 17 Nebraska, 50; Gregory v. Tingley, 18 Nebraska, 318, 322. It follows from these facts and decisions that the sale, though temporarily confirmed, was finally set aside, and that no rights of a third party accrued during the time that the sale was apparently confirmed. Hence this chain of title presented by defendants must fail." We are entirely satisfied that this expresses the law on the subject in the State of Nebraska. In State Bank v. Green, 10 Nebraska, 130, 134, the Supreme Court of Nebraska says: "Under our law governing sales of real property on execution the title of the purchaser depends entirely upon the sale being finally confirmed by the court under whose process it was made, and until this is done the rights of the execution debtor are not certainly divested." The final order confirming is subject to review as the confirmation of a sale in equity is, Parrat v. Neligh, 7 Nebraska, 456, 459; and the purchaser submits to the jurisdiction of the court as to all matters connected with such sale or relating to him in the character of purchaser. This order of confirmation was vacated before there was any change in the relation of the parties, and the sheriff's deed fell with it. Counsel for plaintiff in error refers to section 508 of the Civil Code, which reads as follows: "If any judgment or judgments, in satisfaction of which any lands or tenements are sold, shall at any time thereafter be reversed, such reversal shall not defeat or affect the title of the purchaser or purchasers; but, in such case, restitution shall be made by the judgment creditor, of the moneys for which such lands or tenements were sold, with lawful interest from the day of sale." Comp. Stat. 1885, p. 695. This section relates to the judgment, as to which the purchaser is not affected by irregularity or error, and to which he is not a party; but we are considering the order of confirmation, which may be reviewed on appeal; Parrat v. Neligh, ubi sup.; though the merits of the original case are not open to reëxamination. Bank of Lincoln v. Scofield, 9 Nebraska, 499.

The cases cited by the circuit judge show that the purchaser can move for confirmation or to set the sale aside, and can appeal from the order thereon; that he may be compelled to perform his bid, and that he is concluded by the result of the proceedings to confirm or annul the same. And see Faulett v. Peabody, 3 Nebraska, 196, 197; Shann v. Jones, 4 C.E. Green (19 N.J. Eq.) 251; Requa v. Rea, 2 Paige, 339; Barker v. Richardson, 41 N.J. Eq. (14 Stewart) 656. That such is the rule in Nebraska is quite convincingly shown by the case of Sessions v. Irwin, 8 Nebraska, 5, which was an appeal by Curson from the order setting aside the confirmation and the sale under consideration here, which order was, however, affirmed. If Sessions, the judgment creditor, received $30 from Curson, respecting which there is no finding, he became Curson's debtor to that amount, and, as argued for defendant in error, Curson might have a right to be compensated out of the moneys collected upon the judgment, but the operation of the order setting aside the confirmation was to defeat any claim of title on the part of Curson or his grantee. This accords with the decisions and settled practice of the state courts in reference to sales under process issuing out of them.

Finally, it is said that the judgment embraces property not described in the petition. The description was "the west half of the northeast quarter of the southwest quarter of section twenty-four."

The jury found title thereto in defendant in error, and also by the 37th finding described what was stated to be "the premises in dispute" by metes and bounds, as conveyed to Deputron. The judgment, though using somewhat different language, conforms to the finding. There was no motion to set aside the verdict and for a new trial, nor can we discover that any suggestion of mistake in its terms was made below.

The governmental subdivision would be, if accurate, eighty rods long by forty rods wide, and the finding and judgment describe a tract fourteen hundred feet in length by seven hundred and fifty feet in width, less a parcel in the southwest corner, but excess in acreage frequently occurs in government surveys, and as the finding is that the description there given and followed in the judgment is the description of the premises in dispute, we perceive no ground for interference.

There being no error, the judgment is



1000 Characters Remaining reserves the right to edit or remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

User Comments

Listed below are the cases that are cited in this Featured Case. Click the citation to see the full text of the cited case. Citations are also linked in the body of the Featured Case.

Cited Cases

  • No Cases Found

Listed below are those cases in which this Featured Case is cited. Click on the case name to see the full text of the citing case.

Citing Cases