No. 227.

145 U.S. 141 (1892)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided May 2, 1892.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. John McClure for appellants in Nos. 302 to 315 inclusive.

Mr. Thomas B. Martin and Mr. George W. Murphy filed a brief for the appellant in No. 227, claiming that that case differed from the others in some essential features.

Mr. U.M. Rose (with whom was Mr. G.B. Rose and Mr. R.M. Davies on the brief) for appellees.

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

It is unnecessary to enter upon a history of the "Hot Springs litigation," as detailed in Rector v. United States; Hale v. United States; Gaines v. United States, 92 U.S. 698; and Rector v. Gibbon, 111 U.S. 276.

As to the title of the lots in question, we repeat what was said in Lawrence v. Rector, 137 U.S. 139, "that nothing was developed in answer or testimony to disturb the conclusions of law heretofore reached by this court." The argument for appellants has been elaborate and exhaustive, but does not convince us that these cases can be taken out of the rule laid down in Rector v. Gibbon.

The estoppel which prevents a tenant who has acquired possession as such from claiming title adversely to his landlord, does not depend on the validity of his landlord's title. And the assertion in the bills that the right to remove the buildings put upon the lots by the tenants was abandoned, and the fact that, while appellees made improvements upon the land claimed by them, they were not shown to have made such on the specific lots, do not affect the operation of the estoppel. Belding's heirs claimed under a paper title, and if there had been no tenants, the improvements made by themselves would have given them the "possessory right of occupation" of the tract within the meaning of the act of Congress; and the tenants cannot be allowed to object that the improvements which they made, and which, strictly speaking, they abandoned by their conduct in the premises, gave them rights superior to their landlord.

The decision of this court in 92 U.S. 698 was rendered April 24, 1876, and the receiver was appointed and took possession of the property for the United States in June of that year. The act of March 3, 1877, "in relation to the Hot Springs reservation in the State of Arkansas," (19 Stat. 377,) creating the commission, provided that "no claim shall be considered which has accrued since the twenty-fourth day of April, eighteen hundred and seventy-six," and referred to claims to the land, or parts thereof, then existing, and not to independent claims acquired thereafter. But there is no merit in the suggestion that George, Henry, and Albert Belding could not lawfully assign their interest in the Belding claim to Gaines after that date, for the language of the act relates to claims that had then accrued, and not to the subsequent acquisition of claims so situated. It may be that after the title was adjudged to be in the United States the tenants could not remove the buildings; but the commissioners found that the buildings belonged to them, and the decrees here gave the value of them to appellants. No appeal was prayed by appellees in this regard and no question arises in respect of it. Inasmuch as the tenants set up claims to the lots in hostility to the leases, they cannot complain of decrees in their favor for the value, and whether under some of the leases the buildings were to become the property of the lessor, while in other cases they might have remained the property of the lessees, does not control the principle upon which Rector v. Gibbon rests. As to the contention that the act of Congress of June 16, 1880, (21 Stat. 288,) was not given due weight because not referred to in the opinion in Rector v. Gibbon, it is to be observed that that suit was brought July 12, 1880, argued here March 19, 1884, and decided April 7, 1884. It is not, therefore, to be assumed that the act of 1880 was overlooked at that time, but that the court was of opinion that it did not affect the questions under consideration; and in that view we concur.

We are not satisfied, however, with the directions to the master in the interlocutory decrees, in respect of the accounting, and with the results thereupon finally adjudged. While, by reason of the original leases, appellants must be decreed to hold the several parcels in controversy in trust for appellees, and to surrender possession thereof, yet it is to be borne in mind that they were not knavish or fraudulent possessors, and that they claimed title, in moral good faith, under the awards of the commission. The evidence disclosed that a large number of lots were awarded to appellees; that Gaines expressed himself as contented with the awards, stating that they were just and equitable; and that no steps in further litigation were taken, on appellees' behalf, until after the announcement of the decision of this court in Rector v. Gibbon, which was on April 7, 1884, when (in May following) these bills were filed. In the meantime appellants had paid the government, and obtained patents, under the awards in their favor, and had remained in possession upon the belief that their title was good, seeking no other location, making no other arrangements, and acting in expenditure as if these lots were their own. While this acquiescence on appellees' part has not taken away their right of action to recover the property, we think it operates upon the right to equitable relief, in the matter of permitting a recovery, by way of accounting, which they have themselves applied for to a court of equity, for the period of time from the date of the awards to the date of the filing of these bills. Appellees permitted appellants to go on in the exercise of ownership over the property, not only unmolested and without question, but with affirmative encouragement to them to do so, and, under the peculiar circumstances which characterize these cases, we do not feel compelled to award a measure of relief, which, in our judgment, would operate harshly and oppressively upon appellants, even though specific prejudice, because of appellees' laches, may not be clearly made out upon these records.

In seeking equity, appellees must do equity, and as a result has been reached which gives the awards of the commission a direction contrary to that which appellees had accepted as substantially equitable, we think equity requires that they should not be treated as occupying the same position as if they had maintained with vigor and promptness the rights which they found on April 7, 1884, they could assert.

In No. 227, Goode v. Gaines, considerable stress is laid by counsel upon evidence which it is urged makes out an estoppel against appellees as to the title, but we agree with the Circuit Court that it falls short of doing so, and this case must be disposed of in the same way as the others.

We are of opinion that the accounting between the parties should be stated both as to debit and credit from the 23d of May, 1884, with the exception of the credit for the amounts paid to the government for the lots, of which payments we regard appellees as getting the entire benefit, and that no increased rent should be allowed on account of the improvements, as appellees are only to be held to their value as of the date of the decrees. In other words, appellants should be charged with rental value from the date of the filing of the bills to the rendition of the decrees, with interest, and should be credited with taxes, etc., paid after the date of the filing of the bills, with interest, and also with the amounts paid the government for the different parcels, with interest from the dates of payment, as well as with the value of the improvements, in each instance, at the time of the rendition of the decrees.

The decrees are severally reversed, and the causes remanded to the Circuit Court, with a direction for further proceedings in conformity with this opinion, the costs in this court to be equally divided.


1. With this case were argued at the same time No. 302, SMITH v. GAINES; No. 303, DUGAN v. GAINES; No. 304, COHN v. GAINES; No. 305, ALLEN v. GAINES; No. 306, MADISON v. GAINES; No. 307, RUGG v. GAINES; No. 308, GARNETT v. GAINES; No. 309, GARNETT v. GAINES; No. 310, RUGG v. GAINES; No. 311, GRANGER v. GAINES; No. 312, NEUBERT v. GAINES; No. 313, SUMPTER v. GAINES; No. 314, LATTA v. GAINES; No. 315, LATTA v. GAINES; all Appeals from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Arkansas. The opinion of the court is entitled in all the cases.


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