Patterson's ex'Rs v. Patterson

Decision Date14 January 1926
Citation144 Va. 113
CourtVirginia Supreme Court

1. DECLARATORY JUDGMENTS ACT — Constitutional Law — Declaratory Judgments Act Held Constitutional. — The declaratory judgments act (Acts 1922, page 902, sections 6140a-6140h of the Code of 1924), providing that in cases of actual controversy courts of record within the scope of their respective jurisdictions shall have power to make binding adjudications of right, whether or not consequential relief is, or at the time could be, claimed, and no action or proceeding shall be open to objection on the ground that a judgment or order merely declaratory of right is prayed for, is constitutional.

2. DECLARATORY JUDGMENTS ACT — Actual Controversy — Actual Antagonistic Assertion and Denial of Right — Case at Bar. — In the declaratory judgments act (Acts 1922, page 902, sections 6140a-6140h of the Code of 1924) the words "actual controversy," and "actual antagonistic assertion and denial of right," were intended to prevent the consideration of moot questions by the court, and not to deprive the courts of jurisdiction to enter a declaratory decree where, as in the instant case, there is actual antagonistic assertion and denial of right. In the instant case, the bill avers that the purchasers of the lots in question had a right to retain them in their possession and have their titles to them confirmed, while the cross-bill of the infant defendants asserts that the purchasers had no right to the lots, and asked that these defendants' ownership of an undivided one-half interest in the lots should be established by the court.

3. DECLARATORY JUDGMENTS ACT — Purpose and Effect of the Act. — The effect of the declaratory judgments act (Acts 1922, page 902, sections 6140a-6140h of the Code of 1924) is to increase the usefulness of the courts and remove doubt and uncertainty as to the final result of legal controversies, by empowering the courts to enter declaratory judgments and decrees touching the rights of the parties in such cases.

4. DECLARATORY JUDGMENTS ACTEffect of Act — Res Adjudicata — Advisory Opinions Only. — The declaratory judgments act (Acts 1922, page 902, sections 6140a-6140h of the Code of 1924) contemplates that the parties to the proceeding shall be adversely interested in the matter as to which the declaratory judgment is sought and their relation thereto such that a judgment or decree will operate as res adjudicata as to them. It authorizes the entry of such judgment before the right is violated, and even though no consequential relief is or could be asked for or granted. It does not, however, confer upon the courts the power to render judicial decisions which are advisory only.

5. DECLARATORY JUDGMENTS ACT — Purchasers of Land from ExecutorsBill to Establish Title as Against the Children of a Devisee — Case at Bar. — Construing the declaratory judgments act (Acts 1922, page 902, sections 6140a-6140h of the Code of 1924) liberally, it is clear that in the instant case complainants had a right to maintain their bill. Complainants were purchasers of land from executors who under the will had no right to sell the land. Defendants were infant heirs of a devisee of the land. This devisee had assented to the sale. To hold that the purchasers could not avail themselves of the statute, and have their rights adjudicated and settled, until such time as the infant defendants might see fit to sue to recover possession of the land, would be to defeat the object and purpose of the act.

6. EXECUTORS AND ADMINISTRATORS — Sale of Land of Testator by Executors Without Authority — Ratification by Devisee — Case at Bar. — A devisee of land which had been sold by the executors without authority acquiesced in the opinion of the executors, honestly entertained by them, that they had the right to sell the land. He was present at the public sale of the land which was devised to him and encouraged those present to bid on it. He saw the purchasers buy the land and take possession of it and subsequently receipted to the executors for his portion of the purchase money.

Held: That such action on his part constituted ratification and is conclusive on all who claim under him. He was estopped by his conduct from contesting the title of the purchasers, and his children as his heirs at law could occupy no higher position than their father, but held their father's interest in the land in trust for the purchasers thereof.

7. TRUSTS AND TRUSTEES — Constructive Trusts. — Constructive trusts have been said to arise through the application of the doctrine of estoppel, or under the broad doctrine that equity regards and treats as done what in good conscience ought to be done. Their forms and varieties are practically without limit, being raised by courts of equity whenever it becomes necessary to prevent a failure of justice.

8. ESTOPPEL — Vendor and Purchaser — Owner of Land Holding Out Another as Owner. — Where the true owner of property, for however short a time, holds out another, or, with knowledge of his own right, allows another to appear as the owner of, or as having full power of disposition over the property, the same being in the latter's possession, and innocent third parties are thus led into dealing with such apparent owner, they will be protected. The rule applies to heirs who assent to and encourage the sale of land by an executor who has no authority under the will to make such a sale.

Appeal from a decree from the Circuit Court of Rockingham county. Decree for defendants. Complainants appeal.

The opinion states the case.

Chas. A. Hammer, for the appellants.

Ward Swank, for the appellees.

WEST, J., delivered the opinion of the court.

This is a chancery suit in which C. L. Weast, G. K. Foster, executors of William C. Patterson, deceased, and Verdie P. Weast are complainants, and Edith Patterson, Jacob F. Patterson, Blanche A. Leap, Kathleen Patterson, Craig Patterson and William C. Patterson, Jr., are defendants.

The bill alleges the death of William C. Patterson and the probate of his last will and testament, a copy of which is filed with and made a part of the bill.

Among the other allegations contained in the bill are the following: That the complainant, Verdie P. Weast, Blanche A. Leap, Jacob F. Patterson and Floyd A. Patterson are all of the children of the testator, and are named as beneficiaries in his will; that Floyd A. Patterson departed this life since the death of the testator, leaving surviving him his widow, Edith Patterson, and his three children, Kathleen, Craig and William C. Patterson, Jr., who are infants under the age of fourteen years; that the lots of land in controversy located in the town of Grottoes, were disposed of by the eighth paragraph of the testator's will, by which they were devised to Floyd A. Patterson and Verdie P. Weast, in equal shares; that the executors, being of the opinion that they had the power, under the will, to sell these lots, sold them at public auction to the highest bidders, at which sale Verdie P. Weast purchased seven lots, J. S. Pirkey two lots and J. E. Eutsler two lots; that the executors executed deeds to the purchasers and placed them in possession of the lots; that the purchasers have made valuable improvements upon the lots; that the proceeds of the sales, with the knowledge and consent of Floyd A. Patterson and Verdie P. Weast, who were present at the sale, went into the hands of the executors and by them were distributed as a part of the testator's estate, Floyd A. Patterson receiving his portion of the fund; that the executors made final settlement before the commissioner of accounts in which they accounted for the proceeds of the sale of lots sold by them, and showed payment of the fund to Floyd A. Patterson and Verdie P. Weast; that Floyd A. Patterson thereafter died intestate, leaving surviving him his widow and three infant children above mentioned; that Floyd A. Patterson having seen the purchasers buy the lots and seen them in possession, and having received his portion of the purchase money was bound to carry such sales into effect, and he having died intestate, his heirs at law, upon whom the title to the lots descended, are estopped from questioning the title of the purchasers and will be required to carry out said purchases.

The prayer of the bill is that the will of William C. Patterson be construed and that the sales made by the executors be ratified, approved and confirmed, and that a commissioner be appointed to convey the interests of the infant defendants in the lands on those entitled thereto, by deeds in which Edith Patterson may unite, and that the titles of the vendees to the lots sold them may be declared firm and stable; and for general relief.

Jacob F. Patterson and Blanche A. Leap filed answers saying they had no interest in the lots sold, and therefore had no objection to the confirmation of the sales to the purchasers. The purchasers, who were also parties, filed answers saying they had put valuable improvements on the lots purchased by them in good faith and as Floyd Patterson received his portion of the purchase price his heirs are estopped from claiming title to the lots. Edith Patterson filed her answer saying her husband, Floyd A. Patterson, was paid his proportion of the purchase money received from such sales, and that she does not claim dower in the lots, or any of them, and is willing to unite in any conveyance which may be necessary to make the title of the grantees of the executors and those claiming under them firm and stable. The infant defendants, Kathleen Patterson, Craig Patterson and William C. Patterson, Jr., filed their answer and cross-bill, by Ward Swank, their guardian ad litem, in which they deny that the executors were authorized by the will to sell or convey any of the real estate of which William C. Patterson died seized, and aver that the acts of ...

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