Late Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Saints v. United States Romney v. Same, LATTER-DAY

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtF. S. Richards; BRADLEY; FULLER
Citation34 L.Ed. 478,10 S.Ct. 792,136 U.S. 1
Decision Date19 May 1890
Docket NumberLATTER-DAY
PartiesLATE CORPORATION OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF SAINTS et al. v. UNITED STATES. ROMNEY et al. v. SAME

136 U.S. 1
10 S.Ct. 792
34 L.Ed. 478
LATE CORPORATION OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF
LATTER-DAY SAINTS et al.
v.
UNITED STATES.
ROMNEY et al.
v.
SAME.
May 19, 1890.

[Statement of Case from pages 1-6 intentionally omitted]

Page 7

On the 19th of February, 1887, another act of Congress was passed, and became a law by not being returned by the President, 24 Stat. 635, c. 397, which made additional provisions as to the prosecution of polygamy, and in the 13th, 17th, and 26th sections, as follows: 'Sec. 13. That it shall be the duty of the attorney general of the United States to institute and prosecute proceedings to forfeit and escheat to the United States the property of corporations obtained or held in violation of section three of the act of congress approved the first day of July, eighteen hundred and sixty-two, entitled 'And act to punish and prevent the practice of polygamy in the territories of the United States and other places, and disapproving and annulling certain acts of the legislative assembly of the territory of Utah,' or in violation of section eighteen hundred and ninety of the Revised Statutes of the United States; and all such property so forfeited and escheated to the United States shall be disposed of by the secretary of the interior, and the proceeds thereof applied to the use of the use and benefit of the common schools in the territory in which such property may be: provided, that no building, or the grounds appurtenant thereto, which is held and occupied exclusively for purposes of the worship of God, or parsonage connected therewith, or burial-ground, shall be forfeited.' 'Sec. 17. That the acts of the legislative assembly of the territory of Utah incorporating, continuing, or providing for the corporation known as the 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,' and the ordinance of the so-called general assembly of the state of Deseret incorporating the Church of Jeses Christ of Latter-Day Saints, so far as the same may now have legal force and validity, are hereby disapproved and annulled, and the said corporation, in so far as it may now have, or pretend to have, any legal existence, is hereby dissolved; that it shall be the duty of the attorney general of the United States to cause such proceedings to be taken in the supreme court of the territory of Utah as shall be proper to execute the foregoing provisions of this section, and to wind up the affairs of said corporation conformably to law; and in such proceedings the court shall have power, and it shall be

Page 8

its duty, to make such decree or decrees as shall be proper to effectuate the transfer of the title to real property now held and used by said corporation for places of worship, and parsonages connected therewith, and burial-grounds, and of the description mentioned in the proviso to section thirteen of this act, and in section twenty-six of this act, to the respective trustees mentioned in section twenty-six of this act; and for the purposes of this section said court shall have all the powers of a court of equity.' 'Sec. 26. That all religious societies, sects, and congregations shall have the right to have and to hold, through trustees appointed by any court exercising probate powers in a territory, only on the nomination of the authorities of such society, sect, or congregation, so much real property, for the erection or use of houses of worship, and for such parsonages and buriai-grounds, as shall be necessary for the convenience and use of the several congregations of such religious society, sect, or congregation.' 24 St. 637, 638, 641.

In pursuance of the thirteenth section, above recited, proceedings were instituted by information on behalf of the United States in the third district court of the territory of Utah, for the purpose of having declared forfeited and escheated to the government the real estate of the corporation called the 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,' except a certain block in Salt Lake City used exclusively for public worship. On the 30th of September, 1887, the bill in the present case was filed in the supreme court of the territory, under the seventeenth section of the c t, for the appointment of a receiver to collect the debts due to said corporation, and the rents, issues, and profits of its real estate, and to take possession of and manage the same for the time being; and for a decree of dissolution and annulment of the charter of said corporation, and other incidental relief. The bill is in the name of the United States, and was brought by direction of the attorney general against 'the late corporation known and claiming to exist as the 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints," and John Taylor, 'late trustee in trust,' and 11 other persons, late assistant trustees of said corporation.

Page 9

The bill states, further, that John Taylor, (since deceased,) on and prior to the 19th of February, 1887, was trustee in trust, and the other individual defendants were the assistant trustees, of the corporation.

That the corporation acquired and held large amounts of real and personal property in the territory of Utah after the 1st of July, 1862,—the value of the real estate being about $2,000,000, and the value of the personal property about $1,000,000, as held and owned on the 19th of February, 1887, and which the defendants still claim to hold in violation of the laws of the United States.

That the corporation was a corporation for religious or charitable purposes.

That by the third section of the act of July 1, 1862, re-enacted as section 1890 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, any corporation for religious or charitable purposes was forbidden to acquire or hold real estate in any territory, during the existence of the territorial government, of greater value than $50,000; and that more than this value of the property of the said corporation has been acquired since July 1, 1862, which is not held or occupied as a building or ground appurtenant thereto for the purpose of the worship of God, or a parsonage connected therewith, or burial-ground.

That, therefore, the real estate referred to, owned by the corporation, is subject to escheat to the United States.

That on the 19th day of February, 1887, (by the said act of that date,) the charter and act of incorporation of the corporation aforesaid was disapproved, repealed, and annulled by congress, and the corporation was dissolved, and all the real estate owned and occupied by it, in excess of $50,000, not held or occupied for the worship of God, etc., was subject to escheat to the United States.

That the said corporation, and the successor of said John Taylor as trustee in trust, (whose name is unknown, and who is asked to be made a party to the bill,) and the other defend-

Page 10

ants, assistant trustees, wrongfully, and in violation of the laws of the United States, still claim to hold and exercise the powers which were held and exercised by said corporation, and are unlawfully possessing and using the said real estate, and claim the right to sell, use, and dispose of the same. That since the 19th of February, 1887, there is no person lawfully authorized t take charge of, manage, preserve, or control said property, and the same is subject to irreparable and irremediable loss and destruction. The bill prays that a receiver may be appointed to receive and hold all the property of the corporation; that a decree be made declaring the dissolution and annulment of the charter of the said corporation; that the court appoint a commissioner to select and set apart out of the real estate which was held and occupied by the corporation such real estate as may be lawfully held for religious uses, make necessary orders, and take proceedings to wind up the affairs of the said corporation, and grant such other and further relief as the nature of the case may require.

On the 7th of November, 1887, the court appointed a receiver, and on the 8th William B. Preston, Robert T. Burton, and John R. Winder, claiming to have an interest in a portion of the property, were made parties to the suit. Demurrers to the bill having been overruled, the defendants severally answered.

The corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in its answer, after stating the granting of its charter by an ordinance of the assembly of Deseret, and its confirmation by the legislature of the territory of Utah, contended that this charter was a contract between the government and the persons accepting the grant, and those becoming corporators; and that the corporation had the power to hold real and personal property, without limit as to value and amount, for the purposes of its charter; that it never acquired property in its own name, but under the powers granted by the ordinance it did acquire and hold certain real and personal property, in the name of a trustee, in trust for said corporation; that the act of July 1, 1862, expressly provided that existing vested

Page 11

rights in real estate should not be impaired; that the defendant has ever been and still is a corporation or association for religious or charitable purposes; that so much of the act of congress which took effect March 3, 1887, (referring to the act passed February 19, 1887,) as attempts to dissolve the defendant corporation, or to interfere with or limit its right to hold property, or to escheat the same, or to wind up its affairs, is unconstitutional and void; that the United States has not the power to do this by reason of said contract; that when the act of March 3, 1887, took effect the said corporation, through its trustees, held and owned only three parcels of real estate, namely: (1) All of block 87, in plat A, Salt Lake City survey; (2) part of block 88, plat A, of said survey, containing 2 157-160 acres; (3) part of lot 6, in block 75, plat A, of same survey; that the defendant corporation had acquired the first two of...

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