Lafayette St. Church Soc'y of Buffalo Buffalo v. Norton

Decision Date13 June 1911
Citation95 N.E. 819,202 N.Y. 379
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals


Appeal from Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department.

Action by the Lafayette Street Church Society of Buffalo against Herbert F. J. Norton. From a judgment of the Appellate Division (134 App. Div. 994,119 N. Y. Supp. 1132) affirming a judgment for plaintiff, defendant appeals. Reversed, and new trial granted.

This action was brought to impress a trust in favor of the plaintiff upon a mortgage for $52,000 held by the defendant, to compel the transfer thereof to the plaintiff, with an accounting for all moneys paid thereon, and to enjoin the defendant from assigning or incumbering said mortgage during the pendency of the action. The answer, after admitting certain allegations of the complaint, denied the remainder, and pleaded the statute of limitations for the period of six years. After a trial at Special Term, judgment was rendered in favor of the plaintiff, substantially in accordance with its prayer for relief, as to an undivided half of the mortgage held by the defendant when the action was commenced; the other half having been previously assigned to a bona fide purchaser. The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed, and the defendant appealed to this court.

The facts found, some details being omitted, are substantially as follows: The plaintiff is a religious corporation, and the defendant is a practicing lawyer, the brother and law partner of Nathaniel W. Norton, who was one of the trustees of the church, and had been for a long time prior to the transaction in question. In January, 1901, the plaintiff owned two church structures, one known as the ‘Old Church Property,’ which was no longer used for religious worship, and the other with a new and valuable edifice thereon, which was in constant use for church purposes. The society was heavily in debt, and the expense of holding the ‘Old Church Property’ was so great that ‘it was imperatively necessary’ to lease or sell it ‘in order to secure present revenue.’ It was subject to a mortgage for $60,000, and, while the carrying charges for interest and taxes amounted to a large sum annually, the income was but nominal. For a long time efforts had been made to sell it without success, and it was impossible to lease it at a satisfactory rental, except for use as a theater, and some of the members of the congregation were unwilling that it should be leased for that purpose. At the annual meeting held on the 8th of January, 1901, a resolution was passed authorizing the trustees to sell, lease, or otherwise dispose of it, and to execute the necessary instruments to carry the resolution into effect. Thereafter at a meeting of the board of trustees the defendant's brother, one of their number, stated that after various negotiations, ‘in view of the difficulty of making a lease direct because of the opposition of the people in the church to its leasing, an arrangement was proposed by which the property should be transferred at a price stated to some person who should take the property subject to the present Erie County Bank mortgage, and himself give back a mortgage upon the property for the balance of the purchase price, as agreed upon. If such price could be agreed upon with such person, then that person to whom the property was transferred would be at liberty to enter into a lease with the party.’ Thereupon a resolution was adopted directing application to be made to the court for authority to sell the property for a sum not less than $120,000, of which $60,000 was to be represented by the old mortgage and the balance by a new mortgage upon such terms and conditions as should be agreed upon. The application was accordingly made, and leave was granted by the court authorizing the sale on the terms specified. Thereafter a deed of the property was made to the defendant for the sum of $120,000, which the trial court found was the full value of the property, and a mortgage executed by him to the plaintiff for the sum of $60,000, but without any bond or personal obligation for the payment of said sum, and a lease was made by the defendant to the theater people for the term of five years. Just before the expiration of the demised term, in April, 1906, the defendant wrote to the plaintiff offering to pay $20,000 on his mortgage then past due, and asking for an extension of time for the payment of the balance. The request was granted, and the defendant paid to the plaintiff the sum of $20,000 on account of the mortgage. Thereupon the defendant sold and conveyed the premises for the sum of $172,000 . Subsequently the plaintiff brought this action claiming that the defendant held the property conveyed to it as its trustee and for its benefit, and asking judgment that he account for what he had received on the sale.Moses Shire, for appellant.

George Clinton, for respondent.

CULLEN, C. J. (after stating the facts as above).

I am of opinion that the facts found by the trial court do not support the judgment. The foundation of the plaintiff's right to relief are the two findings: ‘That it was not the understanding of the trustees that the transfer to a third person should deprive the plaintiff of its real ownership of the property. That it was the understanding and intent of the trustees that the property should be conveyed to a third person to hold for the church and lease to the theater people, in order to cover up and conceal from the church members the fact that it was in reality leasing to them.’ There is no finding that the defendant ever agreed to hold the lands conveyed to him in trust for the plaintiff, and, on the contrary, there is an express finding, to which I shall hereafter allude, which negatives any such promise or agreement. And even had such a promise been made, it not being in writing, the promise with the two findings I have quoted would be insufficient to establish the trust and entitle the plaintiff to relief. Wood v. Rabe, 96 N. Y. 414, 48 Am. Rep. 640.

[1] It is the settled law of this state that parol evidence is inadmissible to limit the effect the law attributes to the delivery of a deed to a grantee. Hamlin v. Hamlin, 192 N. Y. 164, 168,84 N. E. 805, 806, was an action by the wife to set aside a deed made by her to her husband on the claim that she delivered the deeds ‘simply to help him temporarily, in case he needed the money for his business.’ This court said, through Gray, J.: ‘If we should give full effect to the plaintiff's claim, it would be to hold the delivery by her of the deeds to have been conditional and not absolute; but that would be violative of the settled rule in this state that a delivery cannot be made to the grantee conditionally. Any oral condition accompanying the delivery in such case would be repugnant to the terms of the deed, and parol evidence to prove that there was such a condition attached to the delivery is inadmissible’-citing Souverbye v. Arden, 1 Johns. Ch. 240;Worrall v. Munn, 5 N. Y. 229, 55 Am. Dec. 330;Wallace v. Berdell, 97 N. Y. 13;Blewitt v. Boorum, 142 N. Y. 357, 37 N. E. 119,40 Am. St. Rep. 600. There can be no distinction as to this element between the case at bar and that cited. There it was attempted to show the title was to pass to the husband by the deed merely temporarily; here, that it was not to pass at all. As to such a claim it is said in Wallace v. Berdell, supra: ‘The General Term in their opinion say that they are of the opinion that the evidence leads to but one conclusion, namely, that the trust deed was made for a temporary purpose only. * * * If this be the correct view of the facts, the conclusion that the deed was invalid is clearly erroneous. * * * The delivery having been to the grantee himself, neither party would have been permitted to show, for the purpose of defeating the rights of the cestuis que trustent, that the delivery was with intent that the deed should not take effect, or that it should not take effect unless again delivered, or unless the grantor should afterward determine that it should take effect, or upon any other contingency whatever, contrary to the terms of the instrument.’...

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6 cases
  • Marans v. Newland
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • 10 Octubre 1962
    ...S.E. 237, 39 L.R.A. (N.S.) [1026] 1028, Ann.Cas.1915D, 647. See, also, numerous citations in Lafayette Street Church Society of Buffalo v. Norton, 202 N.Y. 379, 95 N.E. 819, 39 L.R.A. (N.S.) 906. The Supreme Court of Oregon, in the case of Taylor v. Miles, supra, considering a similar quest......
  • Kravetz v. United Artists Corp.
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court
    • 25 Julio 1955
    ... ... to liability at law at the most, Lafayette Street Church Society of Buffalo v. Norton, 202 ... ...
  • Clary v. Fleming
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • 31 Mayo 1921
    ...39 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1028, Ann. Cas. 1915D, 647. See, also, numerous citations in Lafayette Street Church Society of Buffalo v. Norton, 202 N. Y. 379, 95 N. E. 819, 39 L. R. A. (N. S.) 906. The Supreme Court of Oregon, in the case of Taylor v. Miles, supra, considering a similar question, us......
  • Clary v. Fleming
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • 31 Mayo 1921
    ... ... See, also, numerous citations in ... Lafayette Street Church Society of Buffalo v ... Norton, ... ...
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