Stuart v. Strickland

Decision Date27 November 1919
Docket Number4 Div. 800
Citation83 So. 600,203 Ala. 502
PartiesSTUART v. STRICKLAND et al.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Appeal from Circuit Court, Coffee County; A.B. Foster, Judge.

Bill by George Stuart, as trustee of the bankrupt estate of J.M Strickland, against J.M. Strickland and others, to correct an error in a final decree formerly rendered, and to correct the descriptions of the lands therein as to the location of land or to require a proper conveyance. From a decree sustaining demurrers to the bill, complainant appeals. Affirmed.

See also, 76 So. 867.

The case made by the bill is that on May 11, 1915, orator filed his bill against J.M. Strickland and Grover Strickland setting up in effect that J.M. Strickland was a bankrupt by adjudication and that orator was regularly appointed as trustee; that J.M. Strickland had conveyed to his son Grover Strickland, in fraud of his creditors, certain lands which were described in the original bill as lying in section 30, township 7, range 20, but that said lands were incorrectly described, as in fact they were located in section 34, and were so described in the deed; that the error was mutual on the part of both parties, as the respondents answered the bill, admitting the execution of the conveyance, but denying that it was fraud on creditors, and that the mistake was clerical and not judicial; that on the 11th day of December, 1916, chancellor rendered a final decree, in which it was ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the particular deed from J.M. Strickland to Grover Strickland, conveying the identical land as described in the bill, be declared fraudulent and void, and devesting all title out of them and investing the same in complainant. The demurrers assert that the mistake set up is unilateral; that the decree is a final decree, and cannot be changed or modified, and cannot be reformed; that the mistake is one of pleading of the complainant, and is not mutual.

W.W. Sanders, of Elba, for appellant.

J.A. Carnley, of Elba, for appellees.


There is but one assignment of error. It is based upon the decree of the court sustaining demurrer to the bill as last amended. The prayer of the bill is "that the error in the bill of complaint and in the final decree in said chancery proceedings be corrected or reformed so as to make the description embrace and include the 80 acres of land described as in the original bill and decree, except to locate the lands in section 34, instead of in section 30; or, if that be not the proper mode of relief, that said Grover Strickland be required to convey and surrender *** all his right, title, and interest in said lands, or that he be forever enjoined from setting up or asserting a title to said lands under said deed." There is likewise a prayer for general relief. Lyons v. McCurdy, 90 Ala. 497, 501, 8 So. 52.

The "deed" referred to in the prayer of the instant bill is that of date May 13, 1914 (recorded January 13, 1915), by which J.M. Strickland purported to convey to his son, Grover Strickland, 80 acres of land, alleged in former bill to have been in fraud of his creditors. Strickland v. Stuart, 76 So. 867; McCrory v. Donald, 192 Ala. 312, 68 So. 306. The "bill of complaint" in question, wherein the error in description occurred and now sought to be corrected was filed in the chancery court May 11, 1915, by George Stuart, as trustee, against the respondents, and averred that J.M. Strickland had been adjudicated a bankrupt; that the deed from J.M. Strickland, conveying certain of grantor's lands to Grover Strickland was without consideration, fraudulent, and void as to creditors, and described the lands as being in section 30. The final decree in said cause, pursuant to the prayer of the bill and the description of the property therein contained was rendered on the 11th day of December, 1916.

It is averred in the instant bill that the mistake was mutual; that the lands were described as the N.W. 1/4 of N.E. 1/4 and the N.E. 1/4 of N.W. 1/4 of section 30, township 7, range 20, in Coffee county, Ala., containing 80 acres, more or less, and by mistake of the draftsman (in the former bill) were incorrectly described "as being in section 30, when as a matter of fact they were situated in section 34, and so described in said deed; and *** that the error was mutual on the part of" complainant "and of the respondents, because they filed answer to the bill admitting the execution of the conveyance as charged, *** but denying that the conveyance was a fraud upon creditors, and in all other respects than this the substantial allegations of the bill were admitted, so that neither the respondents nor" complainant "detected the error in the description of the lands, or, if the error was detected by respondents, they raised no question or issue regarding the same, but permitted the case to go to final decree without making the error known to the court. *** " It is further averred that said decree was to the effect that, the conveyance " 'being dated May 13, 1914, conveying the N.W. 1/4 of N.E. 1/4, and N.E. 1/4 of N.W. 1/4 of section 30, Tp. 7, of range 20, Coffee county, Alabama, containing 80 acres, more or less,' and recorded in the probate office of said Coffee county, Ala., be, and the same is hereby, declared fraudulent and void, and all right, title, claim and interest of Grover Strickland and J.M. Strickland in and to said land is hereby divested out of them, and each of them, and vested in George Stuart, as trustee in bankruptcy of J.M. Strickland; and your orator avers that the lands referred to and intended to be described in said decree was the 80 acres of land in Coffee county, Ala., which was conveyed, or attempted to be conveyed, by the said J.M. Strickland to his son, Grover Strickland, on the said 13th day of May, 1914, and that the mistake which occurred in the drafting of the bill of complaint in said cause and which was participated in by the respondents when they answered the bill, and therefore became mutual, was the mistake which influenced the chancellor in the final decree, and caused the chancellor to describe said lands as being in section 30, when as a matter of fact they are in section 34. ***"

The demurrer sustained by the circuit court, in equity, challenged the sufficiency of the bill on the grounds, among others, that the original and amended bill seeks to correct, reform, or modify a final decree of the chancery court, rendered more than 30 days before the filing of the instant suit; that the court was without jurisdiction to correct, reform, or modify said final decree; and that no mistake or intention of counsel for the parties to the former suit can be charged to respondents so as to show said mistake as to the description of said lands was mutual between said parties.

This court recently declared in Goulding v. Blanchard, 178 Ala. 298, 306, 59 So. 485, 488, that it was well settled "that a purchaser at a judicial sale--that is, a sale founded on and pursuant to a judgment or decree-- cannot have corrected an alleged error in his deed, if the correction would work a variance from the judgment or proceedings from which alone the deed draws its life; and, of course, he cannot, after the lapse of the term at which the judgment is rendered, have altered the decree itself, where the record does not furnish the evidence of the alleged mistake. Reddick v. Long, 124 Ala. 260, 27 So. 402; Henderson v. Hosfeldt, 124 Ala. 391, 27 So. 415; Stephenson v. Harris, 131 Ala. 470, 31 So. 445; Stewart v. Wilson, 141 Ala. 405, 37 So. 550, 109 Am.St.Rep. 33." In each of the aforecited cases the bill was for reformation of a conveyance of land; as the correction of the description contained in sheriff's deeds (Reddick v. Long, supra; Henderson v. Hosfeldt, supra), in a mortgage (Stephenson v. Harris, supra), and in mortgage and the decree of its foreclosure (Stewart v. Wilson, supra). The denial of relief was rested on the fact that the reformation attempted was not a mere correction of description in a conveyance, but a substitution of other land.

The former bill by George Stuart, as trustee in bankruptcy, was, as we have observed, against the Stricklands for cancellation of the deed by the father to his son. In their answer the respondents admitted "the execution of the conveyance as charged," and denied that it "was a fraud upon creditors." Thus was made the issue for decision, the litigable question of which was whether that conveyance was fraudulent as to creditors represented by the trustee. It was averred in said bill to be lands in section 30, and the legal effect of that decree was to invest said trustee with the title to said lands, and not of lands in section 34.

Appellant urges the application of the decision in Sims v. Riggins, 77 So. 393, 395. It was there pointed out the "distinction between the mere correction of a mistake and the setting aside of a judgment." It is said:

"Where *** a distinct question has been presented to a court, and a ruling has been made thereon, and that ruling passed into a judgment, it is one thing for a party to apply thereafter to have that judgment set aside and a different ruling made by the court upon that question; but an entirely different thing, when a party avers that, by some mistake, the judgment which was entered does not in fact express the intention of the court in respect to its adjudication of the rights of the parties, or that by a mistake a matter has been by the language of the decree apparently adjudicated by the court, to which the court's attention was not called, and upon which it did not intend to make any ruling."

That Sims v. Riggins, supra, is different from the case at bar is indicated by the observation made that it is "averred in complainants' bill that, after...

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