United States v. Dunnington Dunnington v. United States

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation36 L.Ed. 996,13 S.Ct. 79,146 U.S. 338
Docket NumberNos. 51,52,s. 51
PartiesUNITED STATES v. DUNNINGTON et al. DUNNINGTON et al. v. UNITED STATES
Decision Date05 December 1892

Statement by Mr. Justice BROWN:

This was a petition to recover from the United States the sum of $12,644, the alleged value of lot 3, square 688, in the city of Washington, condemned for the enlargement of the capitol grounds. The following facts were found by the court of claims:

(1) Charles W. C. Dunnington, the ancestor of the claimants was, on April 2, 1852, and subsequently up to June 29, 1863, seised or well entitled in fee simple of and to lot No. 3, in square No. 688, on the plats of the squares and lots of the city of Washington, with the improvements, buildings, rights, privileges, appurtenances, and hereditaments, containing 5,572 square feet. Said Dunnington, the ancestor, died August 14, 1887, leaving as his sole heirs the claimants in this case, as set out in their petition.

(2) May 12, 1863, proceedings in rem, under the confiscation act of July 17, 1862, and joint resolution of the same date, (12 St. pp. 589, 627,) were begun by the defendants in the supreme court of the District of Columbia to confiscate said lot as the property of Dunnington, who was in rebellion against the United States. Under these proceedings the lot was duly condemned as enemy's property, and exposed to public sale, at which A. R. Shepherd became the purchaser and entered into possession.

(3) Under the act of May 8, 1872, (17 St. p. 83,) proceedings were commenced in the supreme court of the District of Columbia, at the instance of the defendant, for the acquisition of land to enlarge the grounds around the capitol, in which contemplated enlargement said lot No. 3 was included.

June 11, 1872, the secretary of the interior informed the court that he was unable to obtain the titles to said lands by mutual agreement with the owners. Thereupon the court appointed commissioners 'to make a just and equitable appraisement of the cash value of the several interests of each and every owner of the real estate and improve ments necessary to be taken for public use, and make return to said court.'

October 16, 1872, said commissioners filed their report, in which the cash value of said lot No. 3 is appraised at $1.50 a square foot, and the improvements thereon at $1,500. They also report that said lot contained 5,572 square feet, thus making the whole value of lot and improvements $9,858.

On the same day said appraisement was approved and adopted by the court, and the same was reported to the secretary of the interior.

March 15, 1873, the court made the following order:

'Whereas, it appears to the court that the owner or owners of each of said lots and parts of lots have failed and neglected to demand of the secretary of the interior the said appraised cash value of said lots and parts of lots, respectively, for fifteen days after the appraisement thereof by this court, it is therefore ordered that leave be, and is hereby, granted to said relator to deposit the said appraised values of said lots and parts of lots in this court, to the credit of the owners thereof, respectively, subject to be drawn therefrom only upon an order of this court for payment to the parties entitled; and it is further ordered that upon the depositing of the money by the relator as hereinbefore provided, and notice thereof filed with the clerk of this court, possession of the property for which said deposit is made may be taken by the United States.'

(4) March 31, 1873, in pursuance of the above order, a certificate of deposit for the amount of said appraisement was filed with the court by the secretary of the interior.

Thereupon defendants took possession of said lot, and the same is now embraced in the ornamental grounds about the capitol.

(5) April 3, 1873, upon the petition of the heirs of Martin King, deceased, the appraised value of said lot and improvements, amounting to $9,858, was, by order of the court, paid to William F. Mattingly, attorney of record for said heirs.

Said King was the vendee, through several intermediate conveyances, of said A. R. Shepherd.

(6) The cash value of said lot No. 3 on August 14, 1887, was, at the rate of $2 a square foot, $11,144; improvements, $1,500; making together, $12,644.

Upon the foregoing finding of facts the the court decided, as a conclusion of law, that the claimants were entitled to recover $9,858, for which judgment was entered. 24 Ct. Cl. 404. Both parties appealed to this court.

Chas. W. Hornor and Geo. A. King, for Dunnington and others.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 340-343 intentionally omitted] Sol. Gen. Aldrich, for the United States.

Mr. Justice BROWN, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court.

This was a proceeding by the heirs at law of a person formerly in rebellion against the United States to recover the value of a lot of land, which had first been confiscated as enemy's property, and then condemned, in the hands of the purchaser, for the use of the government and for the enlargement of the capitol grounds.

If the case were the simple one assumed by the claimants of a piece of private property taken for the public use without compensation to the owners, their right to recover its value would be beyond question; but there are other facts which put the case in a somewhat different light. Under the confiscation act of July 17, 1862, (12 St. p. 589,) the lot had been seized as the property of a public enemy and sold to Shepherd. By these proceedings the estate of Charles W. C. Dunnington, the ancestor of the claimants, was forfeited and vested in the purchaser. There remained, however, the reversionary interest, which upon his demise would become vested in these heirs.

During his life, and on May 8, 1872, congress passed an act for the enlargement of the capital grounds, by taking in square No. 688, which included the lot in question. 17 St. pp. 61, 83. By section 7 it was made 'the duty of the secretary of the interior to purchase, from the owner or owners thereof, at such price, not exceeding its actual cash value, as may be mutually agreed on, * * * such private property as may be necessary for carrying this act into effect.' By section 8 it was directed 'that if the secretary of the interior shall not be able to agree with the owner or owners * * * upon the price, * * * it shall be his duty to make application to the supreme court of the District of Columbia, which court is hereby authorized and required, upon such application, in such mode, and under such rules and regulations, as it may adopt, to make a just and equitable appraisement of the cash value of the several interests of each and every owner of the real estate,' etc. By section 9, 'that the fee simple of all premises so appropriated * * * shall, upon payment to the owner or owners, respectively, of the appraised value, or in case the said owner or owners refuse or neglect for fifteen days after the appraisement * * * to demand the same, * * * upon depositing the said appraised value in the said court to the credit of such owner or owners, respectively, be vested in the United States.' Section 11 provided 'that no delay in making an assessment of compensation, or in taking possession, shall be occasioned by any doubt which may arise as to the ownership of the property, or any part thereof, or as to the interests of the respective owners, but in such cases the court shall require a deposit of the money allowed as compensation for the whole property or the part in dispute. In all cases, as soon as the United States shall have paid the compensation assessed, or secured its payment, by a deposit of money, under the order of the court, possession of the property may be taken.'

The secretary of the interior, being unable to agree with the owners upon a price, on June 11, 1872, informed the court to that effect, and applied for the appointment of commissioners to make a just and equitable appraisement of the cash value of the several interests of each and every owner of the real estate and improvements, etc. On October 16, 1872, the commissioners filed their report, appraising the property at $9,858. This appraisement was approved, and on March 15, 1873, the court made an order in the terms of the act, reciting that the owners had neglected to demand of the secretary of the interior the appraised cash values of said lots for 15 days after the appraisement thereof by the court, and directing that leave be granted to deposit the appraised values in court to the credit of the owners, subject to be drawn therefrom only upon the order of the court for payment to the parties entitled, and that, upon the deposit of the money and notice to the clerk, possession of the property might be taken by the United States. In pursuance of this order the money was deposited, and the United States took possession of the lot, which is now embraced within the ornamental grounds of the capitol. Three days thereafter the entire appraised value of the lot, viz., $9,858, was paid to the heirs of Martin King, who had become vested, through several intermediate conveyances, with the title acquired at the confiscation sale.

1. It is insisted by the claimants, in this connection, that these proceedings in condemnation were a nullity as to them; that from the time the estate was forfeited under the confiscation act until August 14, 1887, neither Charles W. C. Dunnington nor his heirs retained any right, title, or interest in this property which could be asserted in a court of law or equity; that neither of them had any day in court; in the condemnation proceedings, nor was it in law possible for them in any way to intervene or assert any claim whatever. By the joint resolution accompanying the confiscation act, (12 St. p. 627,) no proceedings under such act could be considered 'to work a forfeiture of the real estate of the offender beyond his natural life.'...

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