Pratt v. Carroll
12 U.S. 471

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U.S. Supreme Court

Pratt v. Carroll, 12 U.S. 8 Cranch 471 471 (1814)

Pratt v. Carroll

12 U.S. (8 Cranch) 471




After a lapse of seven years, the Court will refuse to decree a specific performance of a contract in the part execution of which the complainants or those under whom they claim have expended large sums of money, although the first default was on the part of the defendant and although it be probable that the failure of the defendant in that respect has prevented the completion of the execution of the contract on the part of the complainants, circumstances having so changed that neither party could derive from the execution of the contract all the benefits which were at first expected.

MARSHALL, Ch. J. delivered the opinion of the Court as follows:

This is an appeal from a decree of the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia whereby a bill brought by the plaintiffs for the specific performance of a contract was dismissed. The material facts are these:

Daniel Carroll, the defendant, was, previous to the establishment of the City of Washington, proprietor of a large tract of land, part of which lies within its present limits. This part was conveyed to trustees, one moiety for the use of the public and the other moiety for the use of the said Carroll.

After the place for the seat of government had been selected and the boundaries of the city marked out, the Legislature of Maryland authorized the appointment of commissioners to superintend the affairs thereof, and among other powers authorized them to divide the lots in the said city between the public and the original proprietors, and declared that such divisions made in a specified form and certified by them should revest in the original proprietors the legal estate whereof they were formerly seized in the lots and squares assigned to them respectively. The commissioners were also authorized to sell the lots retained for the public use, and on receiving the purchase money, to convey to the purchasers. On 23 September, 1793, James Greenleaf purchased from the commissioners three thousand lots lying in that part of the city which had been conveyed by Carroll, and on 24 December, 1793, James Greenleaf and Robert Morris made from the commissioners an additional purchase of three thousand lots. Neither the purchase money being then paid nor a division made, the legal title remained in the trustees, and was a security for the purchase money. These contracts, if executed by conveyances, would

Page 12 U. S. 472

have vested in Greenleaf and Morris all the public lots which were intermingled with those hereinafter stated to have been purchased by Greenleaf from Carroll.

On 26 September, 1973, the said Daniel Carroll and James Greenleaf entered into articles whereby Daniel Carroll covenanted in, consideration of

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