Kingsbury v. Buckner

Decision Date07 April 1890
Citation33 L.Ed. 1047,134 U.S. 650,10 S.Ct. 638
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 650-651 intentionally omitted] This suit involves the title to real estate of considerable value in the city of Chicago, of the possession of which the appellant, who was the plaintiff below, claims to have been deprived by certain proceedings in the courts of Illinois, to which Simon B. Buckner, his wife, and others were parties. The relief sought is a decree declaring those proceedings to have been erroneous, fraudulent, and void as to the plaintiff, and adjudging not only that such estate be restored to him, but that Buckner and wife be held as trustees ex maleficio, with liability to account for the income of the property.

The history of the plaintiff's claim to the property, as well as of the proceedings in the state courts, the integrity and legal effect of which are assailed in the present suit, must be given before examining the grounds on which he seeks a reversal of the decree.

Maj. Julius J. B. Kingsbury, of the United States army, died, intestate, on or about the 25th of June, 1856, seised of lots designated 5 and 6 in block 35 on the original map of the town of Chicago, and also of that part of the E. 1/2 of the N. W. 1/4 of section 9, in township 39 N. of range 14 E. of the third principal meridian, which lies east of the North branch of the Chicago river, and south of the center of Ontario street, in Cook county; excepting, however, a small portion of the last-named tract, previously conveyed by him to Buckner.

The intestate left surviving him his widow, Jane C. Kingsbury, and two children, Mrs. Buckner and Henry W. Kingsbury, the father of the appellant. These children were his only heirs at law.

By deed duly executed and acknowledged on the 15th of May, 1861, Buckner and wife, 'in consideration of the sum of one dollar, and of the natural love and affection' of the grantors for the grantee, conveyed to Henry W. Kingsbury, the brother of Mrs. Buckner and at that time a lieutenant in the United States army, one undivided half of the above lots 5 and 6, and all their right, title, and interest in the 'Kingsbury Tract,' containing 35 acres, more or less, being the S. 1/2 of what then remained of the N. W. 1/4 of section 9, township 39, range 14, in Cook county, after deducting therefrom the town of Wabansia to have and to hold the same to the grantee, his heirs and assigns, forever; the grantors covenanting that they would warrant the property conveyed. The deed recited that the other undivided half of the land and tenements formerly owned by Maj. Kingsbury belonged to the grantee as one of his heirs, and that the entire property was subject to the dower rights of his widow.

On the 25th of March, 1862, the plaintiff's father executed an instrument which, upon proof that it was wholly in his handwriting and signed by him, was ordered by the corporation court of the city of Alexandria, Va., to be recorded as his last will and testament; and under an order of that court, passed May 10, 1870, Ambrose E. Burnside qualified as his executor. On the 11th of July, 1870, that writing, with the proof thereof, was presented by Burnside, as executor, to the county court of Cook county, Ill., for record; and by the latter court it was ordered 'that the said will, and proof thereof, certified as aforesaid, be recorded, and that the same be treated and considered as good and available in law, in like manner as wills executed in this state.'

The writing referred to is asf ollows:

'Expecting soon to start upon a military expedition where death may overtake me, I leave this as a record of my wishes respecting the disposition of my property:

'To my mother, Jane C. Kingsbury, I leave twenty thousand dollars, or so much of my Chicago property as, upon fair appraisal, may be valued at that amount.

'To my sister, Mary J. Buckner, I leave as much of the Chicago property held in my name as shall amount to one-third of the property in the city of Chicago, Illinois, held by my father, Julius J. B. Kingsbury, deceased.

'To my cousin, John J. D. Kingsbury, I leave my property at Waterbury, Conn., and in addition thereto five thousand dollars. I trust he will expend it in completing his education.

'The remainder of my property, of every description, I leave to my devoted wife, Eva. I desire, moreover, that the provisions of this will be so carried out that the yearly income of my wife for her own personal support shall never be less than two thousand dollars.

'As executors, I name Ambrose E. Burnside, of Rhode Island, and Capt. John Taylor, commissary department, U. S. army.

'Signed at Fortress Monroe, Va., March 25, 1862.


'First Lieutenant 5th Regiment Artillery, U. S. Army.'

Lieut. Kingsbury was killed at the battle of Antietam, on the 17th of September, 1862.

On the 18th of July, 1870, the plaintiff herein, suing by Corydon Beck with, his next friend, instituted an action in the circuit court of Cook county, sitting in equity, against Simon B. Buckner, Mrs. Buckner, Ambrose E. Burnside, Jane C. Kingsbury, John J. D. Kingsbury, Albert G. Lawrence, and Eva Lawrence. The lastnamed defendant, as Eva Taylor, intermarried with Lieut. Kingsbury on the 4th of December, 1861. The only child of that marriage was the plaintiff, who was born December 16, 1862, after the death of his father. His mother subsequently, September 26, 1865, intermarried with Albert G. Lawrence.

It was alleged in that bill that the plaintiff's father died intestate, seized in fee-simple of the estate conveyed by the above deed of May 15, 1861, and that upon his death it passed to the plaintiff, subject only to the dower rights of his mother and grandmother, and to certain incumbrances outstanding against the property or some portions of it; and that by a decree rendered in a suit instituted in 1868 by Jane C. Kingsbury in the same court against Eva Lawrence, Albert G. Lawrence, himself, and one David J. Lake, (who assumed to act as the plaintiff's guardian,) John Woodbridge was appointed receiver of the entire income of the premises, accruing and to accrue, with power to lease and manage the property under the orders of the court, and with direction to pay out of such income to his grandmother, Jane C. Kingsbury, and to his mother, the sums to which they were respectively en- titled; to provide for the maintenance and support of the plaintiff; and to pay the interest upon certain mortgages upon the property, as well as other expenses incident to its care and management.

Referring to the writing executed at Fortress Monroe, Va., on the 25th of March, 1862, the bill alleged that it was delivered to John McLean Taylor for safe-keeping; that neither at the time of his death, nor at any time thereafter, was his father an inhabitant or resident of Virginia, nor did he have any property in that state; that the corporation court of the city of Alexandria had no jurisdiction to admit said will to probate or record; that neither of the proceedings in that court, nor of those in the county court of Cook county, Ill., had Jane C. Kingsbury, Eva Lawrence, John McLean Taylor, or himself any notice that the plaintiff's father did not sign said paper in the presence of any attesting witness, nor was the same attested by any witness in his presence; that it was not executed with the requisite forms and solemnities to make the same available for the granting and conveying of the property therein mentioned, according to the laws of Connecticut, the place of his domicile, oro f Maryland, where he died, or of the state in which any of his property was situated; that it was not entitled to probate in Illinois; that, nevertheless, Burnside, combining with the other defendants in that suit, alleged and pretended that it was a valid will for passing the title to property in Illinois, and said Jane C. Kingsbury, Mary J. Buckner, John J. D. Kingsbury, and Eva Lawrence, named in said pretended will as devisees or legatees, claim under it, but without right, some interest in the said estate of the plaintiff.

The prayer for relief was that said instrument be declared invalid and of no legal force and effect as a last will and testament; that the proceedings relating to it in the county court of Cook county be reversed and set aside, or declared to be null and void, as constituting a cloud upon plaintiff's title to the real estate hereinbefore described; that his right and title by inheritance to that estate as the post-humous son and only heir at law of the said Henry W. Kingsbury, deceased, be confirmed and established; that in the meantime Burnside, Buckner and wife, and John J. D. Kingsbury be enjoined and restrained from intermeddling with the said estate, or with the rents, issues, or profits thereof, and from attempting in any way to obstruct or interfere with Woodbridge in the performance of his duties as receiver; and that on the final hearing of the cause the injunction be made perpetual.

On the 31st of October, 1870, Buckner and wife filed their joint and several answer to the bill. Answers were also filed by Jane C. Kingsbury, Burnside, and John J. D. Kingsbury, which put in issue all the material allegations of the bill.

Buckner and wife also filed, October 31, 1870, a cross-bill against the plaintiff and their co-defendants Eva Lawrence, Albert G. Lawrence, and Jane C. Kingsbury, which, after setting out all the material averments both of the bill and of their answer, alleged that the real estate of which Maj. Kingsbury died seised included all the lands described in the original bill; that while the legal title to the strip along the east branch of the North branch of the Chicago river, 70 feet in width for the full length of the tract, was vested in Simon B. Buckner by deed of January 22, 1855, he had no beneficial interest therein, and Maj. Kingsbury was at his death its real owner; that the title to the real estate of...

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