199 U.S. 142 (1905), 6, McGuire v. Blount

Docket Nº:No. 6
Citation:199 U.S. 142, 26 S.Ct. 1, 50 L.Ed. 125
Party Name:McGuire v. Blount
Case Date:October 30, 1905
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 142

199 U.S. 142 (1905)

26 S.Ct. 1, 50 L.Ed. 125

McGuire

v.

Blount

No. 6

United States Supreme Court

October 30, 1905

Submitted January 18, 1905

Restored to docket January 30, 1905

Orally argued October 1 and 13, 1905

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES CIRCUIT

COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

While courts will guard against any attempt of an interested judge to force himself upon litigants, if the record does not clearly establish the disqualification relied upon, this Court will not disturb the judgment on that ground.

The plaintiff in ejectment must recover on the strength of his own title, which must be sufficiently established to warrant a verdict in his favor, and in the absence of that open, notorious and continuous adverse possession necessary to prove a title by prescription, he may be defeated if the defendant is not a mere trespasser or interloper and shows an outstanding and subsisting title in a stranger.

Spanish documents coming from official custody and bearing on their face every evidence of age and authenticity and which otherwise are entitled to admissibility as ancient documents will not be excluded because subjected to various changes of possession during the transition of the government of Florida from Spain to the United States and during the Civil War, where it does not appear that they were ever out of the hands of a proper custodian, that the originals were lost, or there had been any fraudulent substitution.

Proceedings had many years ago to convey title under Spanish laws are not to be scrutinized with a view to discovering defects, and, if sufficient under the Spanish system, they will not be upset on technical objections to their regularity even if such objections might have been successfully urged in the forum where, and at the time when, the proceedings were had.

Where the court would be bound to set a verdict aside for want of testimony to support it, it may direct a finding in the first instance and not await the enforcement of its view by granting a new trial.

The facts are stated in the opinion.

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DAY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DAY delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case was begun in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Florida to recover in ejectment certain lands described in the declaration. The defendants answered, and issues were joined [26 S.Ct. 2] as to the right of possession of the lands in question.

Upon the trial, after the testimony was submitted and the cause argued, the court instructed the jury to find for the defendants. Upon writ of error, this judgment was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals, 121 F. 1020.

The plaintiffs, when the case was called for trial, filed a written motion or petition challenging the right of the presiding judge to hear the case, and praying that he "recuse" himself. The petition was denied, and the judge presided at the trial of the case. The ground of the petition for recusation was that the wife of the judge had acquired an interest in the property which was the subject matter of the litigation. The petition was not sworn to, and while a statement was made of the desire of the plaintiffs to offer testimony in support thereof, the names of witnesses were not furnished, no affidavits were filed, and no definite statement made of what witnesses would say if permitted to testify. The judge overruled this motion, stating that his wife had no interest in the property, and, with a view to convey an interest, the vendor had tendered a quitclaim deed to his wife, which had been declined, and no delivery ever made thereof or title vested in her. Later, the judge placed on file an affidavit of a real estate agent stating substantially the same facts.

While the courts cannot too carefully guard against any attempt of an interested judge to force himself upon litigating parties, and should scrupulously maintain the right of every litigant to an impartial and disinterested tribunal for the determination of his rights, we find in this record nothing establishing or offering to establish, in any legitimate way, the disqualification relied upon because of a pecuniary interest in the

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controversy resulting from his wife's alleged ownership of a part of the land in question.

The petitioners, who were plaintiffs in the original case, sought to recover the tract of land as the heirs of one Gabriel Rivas. The tract originally owned by him consisted of about 300 "arpents" of land near the City of Pensacola, Florida.

The defendants at the trial undertook to defeat the plaintiffs' right of recovery not by establishing a perfect title in themselves, but relied upon showing the divestiture of the plaintiffs' title as heirs of Gabriel Rivas. It is elementary law that the plaintiff in ejectment must recover upon the strength of his own title, which must be sufficiently established to warrant a verdict in his favor. McNitt v. Turner, 16 Wall. 352, 362; Watts v. Lindsey, 7 Wheat. 158.

A defendant in ejectment who is not a mere trespasser...

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