Kirby v. Tallmadge, 96

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation40 L.Ed. 463,160 U.S. 379,16 S.Ct. 349
Docket NumberNo. 96,96
PartiesKIRBY et al. v. TALLMADGE
Decision Date06 January 1896

This was a bill in equity filed by Maria E. Tallmadge against the appellants to set aside and remove, as a cloud upon her title, a deed made by the appellants Richard H. Miller, Elizabeth Houchens, and Ella A. Goudy, claiming to be heirs at law of one John L. Miller, deceased, dated August 30, 1888, and purporting to convey to the appellant Kirby the property therein described. The bill further prayed for the cancellation of a trust deed executed by the appellant Kirby and his wife to the defendants Willoughby and Williamson, and for an injunction against all the defendants except Kirby, restraining them from negotiating certain notes given by Kirby for the purchase of said lots, etc.

The facts disclosed by the testimony show that in 1882 Mrs. Tallmadge, the appellee, purchased of one Bates, for a home, lots Nos. 77 and 78, in square 239, in the city of Washington, with the improvements thereon, for the sum of $10,000, $5,000 of which were paid in cash, the residue to be paid in five installments of $1,000 each. Instead of taking the title to the property in herself, she furnished the money to John L. Miller, a friend of the family, who paid the $5,000 cash with the money thus furnished, and at her request took the title in his own name, and executed notes for the deferred payments, which he secured by a deed of trust upon the property. Subsequently, and in June, 1883, Miller also purchased with the funds of Mrs. Tallmadge the adjoining lot, No. 76, taking title in his own name, and executing a deed of trust for the deferred payments, amounting to $1,266.

Mrs. Tallmadge took immediate possession of the premises, and has occupied them as her own from that day to the time the bill was filed; paying taxes, improvements, and interest on incumbrances, reducing the principal $2,266, and holding open and notorious possession under her claim of title.

Mr. Miller, who claimed no title or right to the premises in himself, on December 27, 1883, by a deed signed by himself and wife, conveyed the legal title to Mrs. Tallmadge; but this deed, through inadvertence or otherwise, was not recorded until October 4, 1888. Mr. Miller died in February, 1888, and by his will, which was dated December 1, 1880, devised his estate to his widow.

On June 16, 1888, defendants Miller, Houchens, and Goudy, collateral heirs of John L. Miller, who had made a contract with the defendants Willoughby and Williamson to give them one-quarter of whatever they could get for them out of the estate of Miller, filed a bill in the supreme court of the District against the widow and executor of Miller, the holders of the notes given by him, and the trustees in one of the deeds of trust; praying for a partition or sale of the property, the admeasurement of the widow's dower and for a charge upon the personal estate of Miller for the unpaid purchase money of the property.

To this bill the widow of John L. Miller made answer that her husband never had any interest in the property in question; that the title was taken in his name for Mrs. Tallmadge, and that long before his death he had, by deed, duly conveyed it to her; and that neither she nor his estate had or ever had any interest in the property. In August, 1888, the pendency of this suit coming to the knowledge of Mrs. Tallmadge, she sent the original deed from Miller to her, then unrecorded, by Mr. Tallmadge, to Willoughby and Williamson, solicitors for Miller's heirs, who examined and made minutes from it.

On August 30, 1888, Houchens, Goudy, and Miller, who had filed the bill for partition, executed a deed conveying the property to the appellant Kirby, subject to the dower rights of Mrs. Miller, for a consideration of $12,000, $3,000 of which was said to have been paid in cash, and $9,000 by notes secured by a mortgage or trust deed upon the property, to Willoughby and Williamson, as trustees. Kirby thereupon claimed the property as an innocent purchaser without notice of the prior deed. He at once gave notice to Mr. Tallmadge that he would demand rent for the property at the rate of $1,000 per annum.

On receipt of this notice, Mrs. Tallmadge filed this bill to cancel and set aside the deed and deed of trust. Answers were filed by the defendants, and testimony taken by the plaintiff tending to show the facts alleged in her bill. Neither of the appellants took proof, nor did they, or either of them, offer themselves as witnesses, but stood upon their answers.

Upon final hearing the court below, in special term, rendered a decree in accordance with the prayer of the bill, setting aside the deed and deed of trust as fraudulent and void, from which decree defendants appealed to the general term, which affirmed the decree of the court below, and further directed that Miller, on the demand of Kirby, return to him the $3,000 which Kirby claimed to have paid, and which Miller admitted to have received.

From this decree, defendants appealed to this court.

John T. Morgan and W. Willoughby, for appellants.

John C. Fay, for appellee.

Mr. Justice BROWN, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court.

The controversy in this case arises from the fact that the deed from John L. Miller to Mrs. Tallmadge, which was given December 27, 1883, was not put upon record until October 4, 1888. In the meantime, and in February, 1888, Miller, in whose name the property had been taken for the benefit of Mrs. Tallmadge, died; and on August 30, 1888, Houchens, Goudy, and Richard Henry Miller, collateral heirs of John L. Miller, executed a deed of the property, subject to the dower rights of Miller's widow, to defendant Kirby, for an expressed consideration of $12,000, of which $3,000 are said to have been paid down in cash, and $9,000 in notes payable to Willoughby and Williamson. Kirby now claims to be an innocent purchaser of the property, without notice of the prior deed from John L. Miller to Mrs. Tallmadge.

There are several circumstances in this case which tend to arouse a suspicion that Kirby's purchase of the property was not made in good faith. Within three months after the probate of the will of John L. Miller, his collateral heirs, Houchens, Goudy, and Richard H. Miller, who had made a contract with Willoughby and Williamson to give them one quarter of whatever they could get for them out of the estate of Miller, filed a bill for the partition of real estate, and to set off the widow's dower. His widow, Lola, answered, admitted that her husband did not purchase the lands described in the bill, and alleged that he had conveyed them away in his lifetime.

Mrs. Tallmadge, hearing of this suit, instead of appearing formally therein, submitted her deed from Miller to the solicitors for the complainants in the partition suit, who did not amend their bill, or make her a party, but apparently allowed the suit to drop, inasmuch as the complainants, being heirs of John L. Miller, took only his actual interest in the land, of which, owing to his deed to Mrs. Tallmadge in his lifetime, nothing remained at his death. Shortly thereafter the com- plainants in that suit, who must have been well aware that they had no title to the property, executed a deed to Kirby of all their interest in the land for a consideration of $12,000, subject to the dower right of Mrs. Miller, the debts of John L. Miller, and so much of the notes of $5,000 as were unpaid, after applying his personal estate. Kirby alleges in his answer that he examined the premises twice, and approached the house, but never seems to have entered it, and apparently took up with the first proposition made to him to buy it, without any of the bargaining that usually precedes the consummation of a sale of property of that value. While he avers in his answer, and Miller admits, the payment of $3,000 in cash, defendants introduced no testimony whatever in support of their case, but relied solely upon their answers. As they had it in their power to explain the suspicious circumstances connected with the transaction, we regard their failure to do so as a proper subject of comment. 'All evidence,' said Lord Mansfield in Blatch v. Archer, 1 Cowp. 63, 65. 'is to be weighed according to the proof which it was in the power of one side to have produced, and in the power of the other side to have contradicted.' It would certainly have been much more satisfactory if the defendants, who must have been acquainted with all the facts and circumstances attending this somewhat singular TRANSACTION, HAD GONE UPON THE STAND, AND given their version of the facts. McDonough v. O'Neil, 113 Mass. 92; Com. v. Webster, 5 Cush. 295, 316. It is said by Mr. Starkie, in his work on Evidence (volume 1, p. 54): 'The conduct of the party in omitting to produce that evidence in elucidation of the subject-matter in dispute, which is within his power, and which rests peculiarly within his own knowledge, frequently affords...

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