Whitehead v. Shattuck
138 U.S. 146 (1891)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Whitehead v. Shattuck, 138 U.S. 146 (1891)

Whitehead v. Shattuck

No. 128

Argued and submitted January 6, 1891

Decided January 26, 1891

138 U.S. 146

Syllabus

The bill alleged that the plaintiff was the owner in fee of the premises, but held the title as trustee; that notwithstanding his ownership of the property and his right to its immediate possession and enjoyment, the

Page 138 U. S. 147

defendants claimed title to it and were in its possession, holding the same openly and adversely to him; that their claim of title was without foundation in law or equity, and that it was made in fraud of the rights of the plaintiff. To this bill the defendants demurred on the ground, among others, that it appeared from it that the plaintiff had a plain, speedy, and adequate remedy at law by ejectment to recover the real property described, and that it showed no ground for equitable relief. The demurrer was sustained. Held that the ruling of the court below was right.

When the right set up by the plaintiff is a title to real estate, and the remedy sought is its possession and enjoyment, that remedy should be sought at law, where both parties have a constitutional right to call for a jury.

The provision in the Code of Iowa that

"An action to determine and quiet the title to real property may be brought by anyone having or claiming an interest therein, whether in or out of possession of the same, against any person claiming title thereto, though not in possession,"

although construed by the courts of that state as authorizing a suit in equity to recover possession of real estate from the occupant in possession of it, does not enlarge the equity jurisdiction of federal courts in that state, so as to give them jurisdiction over a suit in equity in a case where a plain, adequate and complete remedy may be had at law.

Holland v. Challen,110 U. S. 15, explained and distinguished from this case.

This was a suit in equity to quiet the title of the plaintiff, as trustee of the Des Moines and Fort Dodge Railroad Company, a corporation of Iowa, to certain real property in the County of Humboldt in that state of the value of five thousand dollars.

The bill alleged that the plaintiff was the owner in fee of the premises, but held the title as trustee aforesaid; that notwithstanding his ownership of the property and his right to its immediate possession and enjoyment, the defendants claimed title to it and were in its possession, holding the same openly and adversely to him; that their claim of title and right of possession was founded upon a preemption and homestead claim and entry thereunder made in the United States land office, a certificate of such entry given by that office, and a patent issued by the Land Department of the United States of the land as subject to entry, and also upon a subsequent deed of the Iowa Homestead Company, the grantee of the Dubuque and Sioux City Railroad Company, which latter company claimed title under the Act of Congress of May, 1856,

Page 138 U. S. 148

making a grant of land to Iowa to aid in the construction of certain railroads in that state, and a certificate of the proper officer of the Land Department of the United States setting apart the lands to that company as a portion of the grant.

The bill charged that the claim and pretended title of the defendants were without foundation in law or equity; that they were made in fraud of the rights of the plaintiff; that the preemption and homestead claim, and entry thereunder, and the certificate of entry of the land office, and the patent of the United States were fraudulently made, giving as a reason therefor that the land thus entered and patented was not at the time subject to entry and patent, and that the deed of the Iowa Homestead Company conveyed no title, for the reason alleged that the land was no part of the grant to the state, and that these evidences of title were procured without legal right and in violation of law, but were clouds upon the plaintiff's title, and interfered with and prevented the sale of his property. He therefore prayed that the certificate of entry, and the patent of the land, and the certificate of the Land Department that the land was a part of the grant to the Iowa, and the deed of the Homestead Company, might be annulled and cancelled, and the cloud upon his title caused thereby removed, and the title to the premises be established and quieted in him.

To the bill the defendants demurred on the ground, among others, that it appeared from it that the plaintiff had a plain, speedy, and adequate remedy at law by ejectment to recover the real property described, and that it showed no ground for equitable relief. The demurrer was sustained by the court below, and a decree entered dismissing the bill. From this decree the plaintiff appealed to this Court.

Page 138 U. S. 150

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