Stevens v. Smoker

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation80 A. 788,84 Conn. 569
Decision Date31 July 1911
PartiesSTEVENS v. SMOKER.

Appeal from Superior Court, New Haven County; Gardiner Greene, Judge.

Action in the nature of ejectment by Charles C. Stevens against John Smoker. From a judgment for plaintiff, defendant appeals. No error.

Walter J. Walsh, for appellant.

John Elliott and Frank S. Bishop, for appellee.

THAYER, J. To one of the two pieces of land in controversy the plaintiff claimed title by inheritance as one of the heirs at law of his mother, who died intestate in 1900; to the other he claimed to have acquired title by deed from one Hull, who had acquired it by deed from the plaintiff's mother. He claimed to have proved that his mother had acquired title to both parcels from the trustees in bankruptcy of her husband, Robert Stevens, who, prior to his bankruptcy, had owned both, as well as other adjoining land, and who, in 1866, had conveyed a piece of the adjoining land to one Catherine Howard, from whose grantee the defendants acquired it. The first parcel is the southerly end of a narrow strip of land known as Stevens' lane, extending southerly from Congress avenue, in New Haven. The other is a small triangular piece of land west of and adjoining the first piece. The defendant in his answer denied the plaintiff's allegations of title and possession, and set up as separate defenses that the first tract was a public highway, and that the defendant and his grantors had acquired title to the other tract by adverse possession.

The court having called the jury's attention to the deeds from Robert Stevens' trustees in bankruptcy to Mrs. Stevens, conveying both tracts, and to those from Mrs. Stevens to Mrs. Hull, and from Mrs. Hull to the plaintiff, of the second tract, and to the fact that no administrator had been appointed on Mrs. Stevens' estate, said to them: "So far as title by deed and inheritance is concerned, the plaintiff has therefore made out a title to both parcels claimed sufficient to maintain an action, unless and until the defendant has by evidence, under one or more of his defenses, shown something to defeat such right. You may therefore consider that the plaintiff has made out a prima facie case; that is, such a state of facts as would entitle him to recover, if the defendant had offered no evidence to sustain his defenses." The defendant excepts to this, in the first place, as changing the burden of proof and imposing upon him the burden of overthrowing the title thus established. Read by itself, it is open to this criticism. The court was speaking after the case was closed and all the evidence was in, and the question for the jury was not, whether at the close of the plaintiff's case in chief he had made out a prima facie case, but whether upon the" entire evidence he had made out a case.

The defendant had offered evidence tending to show title by adverse possession in Mrs. Howard, and that she was in possession of the land in dispute, claiming title, at the time Mrs. Stevens received her deed from the husband's trustees in bankruptcy, and at the time she conveyed the parcel to Mrs. Hull. This evidence could have been offered without pleading the special defense. Practice Book 1908, p. 250, § 160. Its effect was to discredit the plaintiff's deeds as pieces of evidence, because, if true, those deeds were void; the grantors being at the time ousted of possession. While, therefore, the deeds, together with proof of original ownership in Robert Stevens, might have withstood a motion for a nonsuit when the case in chief was closed, that circumstance was of no consequence, after the defendant had introduced evidence tending to prove that the deeds were void.

The burden of proof remained with the plaintiff throughout the case. But the court was here speaking of the plaintiff's claim only. In other portions of the charge the jury were told that a deed by a party ousted of possession, unless made to the person in possession, is void, and were also told that the question for them was whether, in view of all the evidence, the plaintiff had established his case, and that if they should find that any of the deeds introduced in evidence by the plaintiff purport to convey title to any portion of land of which the grantor was ousted by the entry and possession of another, such deed was void as to such land. In view of these instructions, we think the defendant could not have been harmed by the unnecessary statement that the deeds made out a prima facie ease.

It is claimed that the instruction that the deeds made out a prima facie case was wrong, because ownership of land cannot be made out upon a paper title alone. It is true that a mere chain of deeds alone will not establish ownership in land. Foote v. Brown, 81 Conn. 218, 226, 70 Atl. 699. It must connect back to some one as a source of title, who, at...

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24 cases
  • Roche v. Town of Fairfield
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 23, 1982
    ...claim of right by an open, visible and exclusive possession of the claimant without license or consent of the owner. Stevens v. Smoker, 84 Conn. 569, 574, 80 A. 788 (1911). The use is not exclusive if the adverse user merely shares dominion over the property with other users. Short Beach Co......
  • 1525 Highland Associates, LLC v. Fohl, (AC 19990)
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • April 10, 2001
    ......In ruling to allow the amendment, the court properly noted that although the defense of ouster need not be specially pleaded; see Stevens v. Smoker, 84 Conn. 569, 573, 80 A. 788 (1911); evidence of ouster may be admitted to defeat the plaintiffs claim. We therefore conclude that the ......
  • Cortes-Prete v. Ghiroli, NNHCV155037703S
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Connecticut
    • September 26, 2019
    ...201, 204, 164 A. 386. If a defendant desires to controvert their truth, he may do so by denying them in his answer. Stevens v. Smoker, 84 Conn. 569, 573, 80 A. 788; cf. Robinson v. Meyer, 135 Conn. 691, 693, 68 A.2d 142. "One cannot create a title in himself merely by proof of a set of deed......
  • Helming v. Norris, No. CV00 02715778 (CT 8/22/2005), CV00 02715778
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 22, 2005
    ...without the license or consent of the owner." Robinson v. Myers, 156 Conn. 510, 517, 244 A.2d 385 (1968), quoting Stevens v. Smoker, 84 Conn. 569, 574, 80 A. 788 (1911). "An ouster is a wrongful dispossession or exclusion of a party from real property, who is entitled to the possession. Lik......
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