Royston v. Horner

Decision Date16 March 1892
Citation24 A. 25,75 Md. 557
PartiesROYSTON ET AL. v. HORNER ET AL.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Appeal from circuit court of Baltimore city.

Suit by John W. Royston, a lunatic, and Campbell B. Royston, his committee, against Albert N. Horner and Victoria Royston, to set aside certain deeds. From a judgment for defendants plaintiffs appeal. Affirmed.

Argued before MILLER, ROBINSON, BRYAN, MCSHERRY, FOWLER, and IRVING JJ.

R S. Culbreth and H. P. & H. E. Jordan, for appellants.

John Prentiss Poe and H. C. Gaither, for appellees.

IRVING J.

The question in this case is not complicated with controverted facts. It is single and narrow, but very important. It is simply whether a decree in a former case, the effect of which was, it is claimed, to sustain the validity of certain deeds of John W. Royston, the equitable plaintiff in this case, to Albert N. Horner, one of the defendants in this case, is a bar to this suit, which is brought to get those deeds set aside. The bill in this case was filed by a lunatic and his committee under an order of court in the lunacy proceeding. It alleges that the plaintiff, John W. Royston, has been found a lunatic, without lucid intervals, by inquisition under a writ de lunatico inquirendo, and that he has been so for 20 years before the finding; and that during this period of lunacy, and while a lunatic, he conveyed by deed to one Albert N. Horner certain portions of the estate which he (Royston) acquired by the will of his father, a copy of which will is filed as an exhibit with the bill. It alleges that he was entitled to a life-estate under the will in two parcels of ground in the city of Baltimore, yielding an aggregate ground rent of $960 per annum; that on or about the 6th day of September, 1884, while in an unsound state of mind he executed a deed to Albert N. Horner for all his interest and estate in a lot on Camden street, which is particularly described in the bill, and also in the exhibit No. 2. The consideration of $2,000, as stated in the deed, is alleged to be false, and that only $780 was actually paid to the grantor; that, on the 7th day of July, 1887, the said John W. Royston, being in the same unsound mental condition, (of which the said Horner had full knowledge, and had been warned,) executed another deed to the said Horner for a consideration stated in the deed of $3,000, the truth of which is denied, for his interest in a lot of ground on Charles street, particularly described in exhibit No. 5, and that this lot of ground yielded an annual rental of $700, for which the grantor only received the sum of $675. The bill also charges that prior to the last-mentioned deed the said Royston had conveyed, viz., on the 4th of May, 1887, to the said Horner, for a consideration named as the loan of some small sums of money, and the further sum of $50 cash, all his interest and estate in expectancy or remainder under his father's will in the event of the death without issue of his brothers and sisters, as will appear by exhibit No. 3, which deed is alleged to have been made with the full knowledge of the grantee of the incompetency of the grantor to make it. It is also alleged that Horner afterwards granted this last-mentioned interest to Victoria Royston, a sister of John, a copy of which deed, duly recorded, is filed as exhibit No. 4. The bill charges that Horner, the grantee, after receiving those deeds, up to the time of filing this bill, has received in rent from said properties $4,315, (with other rents shortly falling due,) for which he only paid the grantor $1,400. The prayer of the bill is that these deeds may be set aside because of the lunacy of the grantor, and that Horner may be required to account for the rents which he has received from said property, and that a receiver may be appointed to collect the rents pending these proceedings. To this bill Albert N. Horner, one of the defendants, has interposed the following plea: "That heretofore, and before the filing of the bill in this case, to wit, on the 6th day of April, 1888, the plaintiff, John W. Royston, filed his bill in this court against this defendant and one Wm. A. Wade, making substantially the same averments as are contained in this bill, and praying for identically the same relief which is prayed by the bill in this case. That this defendant answered the said bill, and therein denied the material averments therein, and resisted and disputed the plaintiff's right to any relief in the premises. That subsequently the said Victoria Royston was, upon her own petition, made a party plaintiff in said case; and that such other proceedings were had that afterwards, to wit, on the 28th of August, 1889, by a decree passed in the cause, it was adjudged, ordered, and decreed that the plaintiff's said bill of complaint be dismissed, as by the said decree duly signed and enrolled in this court appears; all of which matters and things this defendant doth aver and plead in bar of the plaintiff's present bill of complaint, and prays the judgment of this court whether he shall be compelled to make any further answer to the said bill, and prays to be hence dismissed with his reasonable costs in this behalf sustained." This plea was properly verified by oath of the defendant Horner. This plea does not seem to have been traversed, as it ought to have been, and therefore no issue was joined on it, and no evidence appears to have been taken; yet the court says in his decree that it was heard and argued, and the court held this plea of res adjudicata good, and dismissed the bill. If the plea was good, and stated the truth, of course the decree was right, for there was nothing before the court to the contrary; but we suppose that the case was heard as upon bill and answer, treating the plea as an answer, and the record of the former proceeding, as exhibited with it, for in no way can we see that the court would have knowledge of what was done in that case by the parties or by the court. So treating it, we will also consider it.

On the 6th of April, 1888, John W. Royston filed his bill in the circuit court of Baltimore city against Albert N. Horner and William A. Wade, in which he alleged that by reason of disease his mind had been greatly weakened, and he had been disqualified and rendered unfit to attend to business, and made easily influenced and controlled by persons in whom he had confidence. He then sets up in his bill that while he was in this condition of mind he had been induced to sell to Albert N. Horner his life-estate in the Camden-Street lot and the Charles-Street lot, which together yielded a rental of $960 per year, for considerations falsely stated in the deeds, and only in fact for the gross sum of $1,455. With his bill he exhibits copies of the deeds which are the same deeds mentioned in the bill in this case. That bill charges that William A. Wade combined and conspired with Horner to cheat and defraud Royston to procure those deeds. He also charged that on the 4th of May, 1887, through various fraudulent statements and promises, they induced him to execute a deed to said Horner for all his contingent interest in the estates of his brothers and sisters in the event of their dying without issue. The bill prayed that all these deeds might be declared void, and might be set aside, and that a receiver might be appointed to collect the ground rents and that Horner might be enjoined from selling or incumbering the property. The defendant Horner answered the bill, denying the weakness of mind which was alleged by the plaintiffs, and his inability to attend to business, and the allegations of the bill of insufficient consideration. He also denied that Wade committed any fraud; and Wade answered to the same effect. It appears by the record that Victoria Royston filed an interlocutory petition averring that on the 31st of March 1885, John W. Royston conveyed to one E. George Mathews the Charles-Street property on certain trusts, and that afterwards, with the consent of the trustee, Mathews, John W. Royston assigned to Victoria Royston the right to collect the ground rent of $700 on the property, and claimed that she was the bona fide owner of that property, which is the same property claimed by A. N. Horner, as mentioned in the bill, and asked to be made party plaintiff in the case, which was done. Horner and Wade afterwards filed a petition by John P. Poe, their solicitor, alleging that pending the suit John W. Royston, the plaintiff, had assigned his interest to one Mrs. Duncan, and asked for process against her. This was ordered, and Prudence A. Duncan appeared and answered, by Joseph P. Merriman, her solicitor, alleging that the plaintiff's claim was bona fide, and that Horner had committed the wrongs alleged against him, and that, so believing, she had paid Royston the money named for his equitable interest. No testimony appears to have been taken, and on the 28th of August, 1889, the court, Judge EDWARD DUFFY presiding, filed the following decree: "This case being submitted on bill, answers, and exhibits, by agreement of counsel, it is this 28th day of August, 1889, by the circuit court of Baltimore city, and by and with the consent of all parties to the cause, adjudged, ordered, and decreed that the bill be, and...

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