Suplee v. Eckert

Citation35 Del.Ch. 428,120 A.2d 718
PartiesNathan Walter SUPLEE, George J. Schulz and Mary D. Schulz, L. P. Faucett, Inc., a corporation of the State of Delaware, Madison M. Gray, Carl Springer, Inc., a corporation of the State of Delaware, suing in their own behalf and in behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. John P. ECKERT and Gail Bond Eckert, Defendants.
Decision Date23 February 1956
CourtCourt of Chancery of Delaware

James M. Tunnell, Jr. (of Tunnell & Tunnell), Georgetown, for plaintiffs.

Stewart Lynch, Alfred R. Fraczkowski, and Hiram W. Warder (of Hastings, Lynch & Taylor), Wilmington, and Peter P. Zion and Elihu A. Greenhouse, Philadelphia, Pa., for defendants.

SEITZ, Chancellor.

This is the decision on defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint seeking to remove a cloud on their title to real estate 1.

Plaintiffs allege that they own and are in possession of certain pieces of real estate in the area known as Fenwick Island. They claim title through an October 10, 1939, sheriff's deed resulting from a mortgage foreclosure. Defendants claim title to the same lands through a tax deed dated April 17, 1936.

Defendants say that the tax sale destroyed prior liens including the mortgage, the subsequent foreclosure of which forms the basis of plaintiffs' title 2. Plaintiffs argue that the tax sale did not destroy the mortgage lien and the subsequent mortgage foreclosure wiped out defendants' tax-sale title.

Plaintiffs request an order cancelling the recorded deeds through which defendants claim title. They thus seek to remove the cloud which such deeds cast on plaintiffs' title.

Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. Their reasons may be summarized as follows:

1. The Court of Chancery cannot try an action to remove a cloud on title unless the title has first been established at law.

2. The Court of Chancery cannot properly try an action to remove a cloud where the plaintiff has an adequate remedy at law.

Let us consider defendants' first ground that this action cannot be tried until the title has been established at law. Equity's jurisdiction over actions to remove a cloud on the title to real estate has long been recognized. However, as defendants argue, it is true in Delaware that when the alleged cloud arises from a matter of record as opposed to a circumstance which must be proved by extrinsic evidence, equity will leave the plaintiff to his law action, unless some other basis of equity jurisdiction appears. See Murphy v. Mayor, etc. of City of Wilmington, 6 Houst. 108; Catts v. Smyrna, 10 Del.Ch. 263, 91 A. 297. Although the rule adopted in the Murphy case has been forcefully criticized by Mr. Pomeroy (Vol. 4, 5th ed., § 1399), it is, as a decision of the old Court of Errors and Appeals, binding on this Court.

The issue involved in this case, equitable estoppel aside, clearly relates to a dispute concerning matters of record--did the tax sale wipe out the existing mortgage? Therefore, under the Murphy case the plaintiffs must first establish their title at law unless other grounds of equity jurisdiction appear.

Plaintiffs contend that they have no adequate remedy at law. Defendants argue that there are three adequate remedies at law available to these plaintiffs:

1. An action in ejectment.

2. An action for a declaratory judgment.

3. Intervention in the existing ejectment action at law.

Let us examine defendants' contentions in order. Plaintiffs allege that they are in possession 3. Historically an action of ejectment was only available to a plaintiff out of possession. Indeed his judgment, if successful, gave him the right to possession. It was not conclusive as to title. See 2 Woolley on Delaware Prac. § 1585-6, 1612. The so-called ejectment statute, 10 Del.C. § 6702, which now permits a determination of title, is in my opinion likewise only available to a plaintiff out of possession. Thus the statute says that title may be tried 'based upon a cause of action in ejectment'. One of the common law prerequisites to such an action was a plaintiff out of possession. The statute also provides that 'if the premises for which the action is brought are actually occupied by any person such actual occupant shall be named defendant in the action'. This strongly suggests that the statute was not designed for the use of a plaintiff in possession.

Since these plaintiffs allege that they are in possession, here taken to be true, I conclude that they would have no remedy at law under the ejectment statute.

Under their second argument defendants seem to imply that the declaratory judgment statute, 10 Del.C. § 6501, constitutes a blanket grant of jurisdiction to various state courts without relation to existing jurisdictional limitations. The declaratory judgment statute in my view did not increase or enlarge the jurisdiction of any of the courts mentioned therein. Thus ...

To continue reading

Request your trial
16 cases
  • Heathergreen Commons Condominium Ass'n v. Paul
    • United States
    • Court of Chancery of Delaware
    • November 13, 1985
    ...relief, nor did the Act change the jurisdictional relationship between the Superior Court and the Court of Chancery. Suplee v. Eckert, Del.Ch., 120 A.2d 718, 720 (1956). Jurisdiction under the Declaratory Judgment Act hinges upon whether law or equity would independently have jurisdiction, ......
  • Abbott Supply Co. v. Shockley
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Delaware
    • December 28, 1956
    ...of land but indirectly involved is the title of most of the property on the Island, including hundreds of residences. See Supplee v. Eckert, Del.Ch., 120 A.2d 718. The plaintiff claims title to the land here involved and brings this action against the Shockley defendants who are in possessi......
  • Burris v. Cross
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Delaware
    • July 23, 1990
    ...stated by the Delaware Supreme Court in Wilkes v. State, Del.Supr., 265 A.2d 421 (1970): "It is clear from the Murphy and Suplee v. Eckert, 120 A.2d 718 (Del.Ch.1956) opinions and the authority quoted therein that if an alleged cloud involved disputes which can be resolved only by extrinsic......
  • Robins v. Garvine
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • November 27, 1957
    ...found that appellant's complaint was in the nature of a bill quia timet, to quiet title, and held, under the ruling of Suplee v. Eckert, Del.Ch., 120 A.2d 718, that a Court of Chancery has jurisdiction of such cases. The Vice Chancellor determined, however, that the action in the Court of C......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT