Kirk v. Hamilton

Decision Date01 October 1880
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

ERROR to the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia.

This was an action of ejectment, brought Dec. 21, 1872, by George E. Kirk against Charles O. Hamilton and Catherine Hamilton, to recover parts of lots 7 and 9 in square 437 in the city of Washington. The defendants pleaded not guilty. A verdict was returned in their favor, and, a new trial having been refused, judgment was entered on the verdict. Kirk sued out this writ.

Six bills of exceptions were taken by Kirk. The nature and scope of the questions thereby raised will be understood from a statement of the principal facts appearing in the record of a suit in equity, commenced in the year 1859 by D. W. Moore & Co., in the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, against him, Walter Lenox, Henry Maylor, Naylor, Richard H. Clarke, A. Austin Smith, Hugh B. Sweeney, John Robinson, Major Garnett, John H. Goddard, Jr., Job W. Angus, Charles Stott, and William S. Martin, in order to obtain satisfaction of several unpaid judgments against him, amounting to less than $200, previously rendered in favor of the complainants by justices of the peace.

The bill alleged that the complainants did not know of any property belonging to Kirk upon which execution could be levied; that he was the owner of a large amount of real estate in Washington, which he had conveyed for the purpose of hindering, delaying, and defrauding them in the recovery of their judgment debts, to wit, lot 78 in the subdivision of sequare No. 465, and parts of lots 7, 9, 10, 11, and 12 in square No. 437; that by deed of August, 1853, he conveyed part of lots 7 and 9 to the defendants Lenox and Naylor, in trust to secure the Washington Building Association the sum of money therein mentioned; that by dead of March 24, 1856, he conveyed a portion of the same lots to the defendants Clarke and Smith, in trust to secure the defendant Sweeney in the payment of a promissory note for $1,600; that by deed of April 14, 1854, he had conveyed parts of lots 10 and 12 in square 437 to the defendant Robinson, in trust to secure the defendant Garnett in four promissory notes of $131.25 each; that by deed of Oct. 13, 1854, he had conveyed the west half of lot 11 in square 437 to the defendant Goddard, in trust to secure the defendant Angus in the payment of a promissory note for $500; that it was provided in the deeds that if the several debts respectively mentioned therein were not paid at maturity, then the several parcels of ground thereby conveyed should be sold, and the balance remaining after satisfying the several debts to be paid to Kirk; that Kirk had purchased of one William S. Martin lots 43, 44, 45, and 46 in square 465, and for the purpose of defrauding, hindering, and delaying his trustees had caused the latter, by deed of April 22, 1858, to convey the same to him, as trustee for his wife and children; that the several pieces of property largely exceeded in value the debts secured thereby, and that if the debts were genuine and still unpaid (which was denied), then the interest of Kirk therein was liable in equity for the payment of the judgments, after satisfying any sums due on the debts described in the conveyances.

The bill further alleged that on 22d March, 1856, Kirk, for the pretended consideration of $4,000, conveyed to the defendant Stott, his heirs and assigns, lot 78 in subdivision of square 465, and parts of lots 7, 9, 10, 11, and 12 in square 437; that the deed was purely voluntary and with the intent to defraud and delay the creditors of Kirk; and, in any event, if a consideration passed, it was upon a secret trust to reconvey to Kirk whenever the sum of $4,000 was repaid.

It also alleged that the several deeds were duly recorded, and prayed that the deed from Kirk to Stott be declared null and void as against the complainants, and that the parcels of ground mentioned in the several conveyances be sold for the payment, 'first, of such sums as were shown to be due on account of debts, and next, of the amount or amounts due to complainants on their judgments, and the costs' of suit.

Special interrogatories to the several defendants were embodied in the bill.

On 21st November, 1859, summons was issued, and returned 28th November, 1859, as served on all the defendants except Garnett and Martin.

At the May Term, 1860, a decree was, for want of an appearance and answer at rules, entered pro confesso against all of the defendants, except Garnett and Martin. It ordered that parts of lots 7 and 9 in square 437, and lot 78 in subdivision of square 465, 'be sold, or so much thereof as may be necessary, for the payment of said complainants' claim and others who may come in as creditors of the said George E. Kirk by petition, in the manner and form required by law and the practice of the court, and that Edward C. Carrington be and is hereby appointed trustee to make such sale,' &c.

After advertisement, as required by the decree, the trustee sold lot 78, with improvements, for $1,480. In his report of sale he says: 'Your trustee, having sold sufficient property to pay and satisfy the claims provided for in said bill and decree, discontinued the sale of the other property mentioned in said proceedings.'

On 28th October, 1862, the report of sale, no exception thereto having been filed, was confirmed, and the cause referred to the auditor to state the trustee's account and make distribution of the fund realized. After satisfying the claims of Moore & Co. and costs of suit, there was left a surplus in the trustee's hands of $1,008.52.

In an order entered Nov. 14, 1863, it is recited that certain creditors of Kirk had filed petitions, seeking the payment of numerous judgments and claims against him. Upon the ground that he was a non-resident living beyond the jurisdiction of the court, an order was made that notice of the character and object of the petitions be given him by publication, for six weeks, warning him to appear in person or by solicitor, on or before the second Monday of January, 1864, 'at rules to be held in the clerk's office' of the court, otherwise the petitions and claims would be taken as confessed against him. Due proof of publication of that order was filed Jan. 23, 1864. On 2d February, 1864, this order was entered: 'It appearing to the clerk that the defendants Geo. E. Kirk, Walter Lenox, Henry Naylor, R. H. Clarke, A. A. Smith, H. B. Sweeney, John Robinson, J. H. Goddard, Jr., Job W. Angus, and Charles Stott have failed to appear and answer in this suit, it is, this second day of February, 1864, on motion of A. Lloyd (by Fred. H. Norton), solicitor for complainants, ordered by the clerk that the bill and the matters thereof be taken for confessed against the above defendants.'

By an order of the 12th of February, 1864, the cause, with the said petitions and claims, was referred to the auditor of the court, with instructions to state the trustee's account and make distribution of the balance of the fund in his hands. A report of distribution was made showing that judgments and claims were proven in excess of the funds remaining in the trustee's hands upon the sale of lot 78. His report of distribution was approved April 9, 1864.

Thereupon the trustee, Carrington, without any further order, and by virtue of the original decree of May 30, 1860, advertised, and on the 19th of April, 1864, sold at public auction, the demanded premises, being the parts of lots 7 and 9 described in the bill, to Charles O. Hamilton for $950. The sale was subsequently confirmed, and by an order of Dec. 12, 1864, the cause was referred to the auditor to state the accounts of the trustee and report a distribution. In his report the auditor says: 'Pending this last reference of December, 1864, and before the case was confirmed, Kirk returned from the South, and has appeared by Mr. Laskey, his counsel, upon this reference. The simple-contract debts are not admitted by him, but he states that he has offsets in bar against some if not all of them.' Appended to the auditor's report there is the following paper: 'The defendant Kirk does not admit the simple-contract debts, but contests the same, and requires the said claims before they be allowed by the auditor to be established by competent proof. R. H. Laskey, atty. for deft.' The report was confirmed Feb. 5, 1865, and the purchase-money having been paid, Carrington, the trustee, by his deed of Dec. 14, 1865, conveyed the premises to Hamilton, who thereupon went into possession. The remaining facts are stated in the opinion of the court.

Mr. Albert Pike and Mr. Luther H. Pike for the plaintiff in error.

Mr. Richard T. Merrick and Mr. Martin F. Morris, contra.

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

It appears from the first bill of exceptions that, upon the trial of the cause, the plaintiff, to maintain the issue joined, gave evidence to the jury tending to prove title in himself to the land in dispute, as well as his actual possession of the premises under that title; that he had fully discharged the indebtedness secured by the two deeds of trust executed, one to Lenox and Naylor, and the other to Clarke and Smith; that Charles Stott, on the 14th of May, 1872, reconveyed to him all that portion of the premises which, on the 22d of March, 1856, he had conveyed to Stott; that he had never made nor authorized any other conveyances than those just named. He also introduced a deed from Carrington, as the supposed trustee in...

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