Simmons Creek Coal Co. v. Doran
142 U.S. 417 (1892)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Simmons Creek Coal Co. v. Doran, 142 U.S. 417 (1892)

Simmons Creek Coal Company v. Doran

No. 84

Argued November 5-6, 1891

Decided January 4, 1892

142 U.S. 417

Syllabus

This being a suit to establish a deed alleged to have been executed, and not recorded, but lost, the Court holds the evidence to be entirely sufficient to establish the existence and loss of that deed.

It being also a suit to correct an alleged mistake in boundaries, the Court holds, on the authority of Ayers v. Watson,137 U. S. 584, that it is well settled that in running the line of a survey of public lands in one direction, if a difficulty is met with, and all the known calls of the survey are met by running them in the reverse direction, this may be properly done, and it applies this principle to the lines established by the court below, and holds that the evidence is clear and convincing in establishing the facts which sustain its action in that respect.

The jurisdiction of equity to reform written instruments where there is a mutual mistake or mistake on one side and fraud or inequitable conduct on the other is undoubted; but to justify such reformation, the evidence mast be sufficiently cogent to thoroughly satisfy the mind of the court. When each and all of the individuals who organize a corporation under a state law had knowledge or actual notice of a defect in the title to lands acquired by the corporation through them, their knowledge or actual notice was knowledge or notice to the company, and if constructive notice bound them, it bound the company.

None of the original deeds in appellant's chain of title having been produced -- though certified copies were attached to the pleadings -- and no independent evidence having been offered of payments of purchase money by defendants, held that as against complainant, the recitals in the deeds could not be relied on as proof of such payment.

The rule of caveat emptor applies exclusively to a purchaser, who must take care and make due inquiries, and is bound by constructive as well as by actual notice -- the latter being equivalent in effect to the former; but, in applying the rule, each case mast be governed in these respects by its own peculiar circumstances.

Actual and unequivocal adverse possession of land is notice to a purchaser; it is incumbent upon him to ascertain by whom and in what right it is held, and the unexplained neglect of this duty is equivalent to notice.

In this case, the defendants had such notice as to put them on inquiry and to charge them with knowledge of the facts.

The commission of a trespass on real estate and the commission of acts of waste upon it do not constitute a possession which, in itself, would drive

Page 142 U. S. 418

the owner to an action of ejectment and prevent him from filing a bill quia timet.

The jurisdiction of a court of equity is maintained in a suit to determine title when a part of the remedy sought is to supply what was by mistake omitted from one of the title deeds or to establish a lost deed, even though in the latter case, proof of the fact might have been allowed to be made in an action at law.

The Court stated the case as follows:

This was a bill in equity filed by Joseph I. Doran, August 1, 1885, in the District Court of the United States for the District of West Virginia, against the Simmons Creek Coal Company, Robert D. Belcher, George W. Belcher, Chrispianos Belcher, P. H. Rorer, N. L. Reynolds, and R. B. McNutt, Commissioner of School Lands for Mercer County, to establish a deed alleged to have been executed by Chrispianos Belcher to Robert D. Belcher, and not recorded, but lost, for two hundred acres of land, more or less, with its proper metes and bounds; to obtain the construction of a deed of the same land from Robert D. Belcher to William H. Witten, and the correction of an alleged mistake as to its boundaries; to set aside certain deeds executed by George W. Belcher and others, so far as embracing the land in controversy, as clouds upon complainant's title thereto, and to restore complainant to and quiet him in the possession thereof; to enjoin and restrain the commission of waste by the defendants, and for general relief.

The bill prayed that the defendant coal company and the defendant Robert D. Belcher answer under oath all and singular the allegations of the bill as if specially thereunto interrogated. Chrispianos Belcher was not served, and the defendants Robert D. Belcher and McNutt, commissioner, did not answer.

The coal company answered by counsel and under its corporate seal, but the answer was not verified by affidavit. The answers of George W. Belcher, N. L. Reynolds, and P. H. Rorer were sworn to though they had not been required to answer under oath. Evidence was adduced on behalf of complainant and a final hearing had, which resulted in the following decree:

Page 142 U. S. 419

"This cause came on this 17th day of February, 1888, for a final hearing, and was argued by counsel, and, upon mature consideration, the court is of opinion that the plaintiff is entitled to the relief prayed for in his bill, and it appearing to the court that at and before the date of the deed from the defendant Robert D. Belcher to William H. Witten, bearing date the 23d day of December, 1852, for two hundred acres of land, more or less, the said Robert D. Belcher was the owner, by purchase from Chrispianos Belcher, of 800 acres of land, of which the said 200 acres, more or less, was and is a part, which said 800 acres was bounded east by Simmons Creek, commencing at the two birches mentioned in the said deed, and running thence up said creek, with its meanders, to the mouth of the middle fork thereof, and thence up the left-hand fork of said creek, with its meanders, to two spruce pines and a white oak, corner to William Miller's survey of 100 acres, and also a tract of 150 acres conveyed by Chrispianos Belcher and wife to William Payne, and which tract of 800 acres is shown on the map filed with the deposition of the said William Miller in this cause."

"And it further appearing to the court that by reason of a dispute in reference to the true west line of the said 800 acres of land, the said Chrispianos Belcher conveyed to the said Robert D. Belcher by deed the said two hundred acres of land, more or less, the same being part of said 800 acres, bounded or intended to be bounded east by Simmons Creek, as above stated, which deed was never recorded and is lost, and cannot be found, and it further appearing to the court that by the contract and agreement between the said Robert D. Belcher and the said William H. Witten, under which said deed of the 23d of December, 1852, was executed, the boundary line of the said deed from the two birches to the six chestnuts was to be inserted in said deed as follows:"

"Beginning at the two birches on Simmons Creek, corner to Chrispianos Belcher's land; thence up and with said creek and with William Miller's line to the mouth of the middle fork of said creek, as is now shown on the map of Surveyor Sinnett, made and filed in this cause, marked 'Decree Map, Feb. 17th, 1888,'

Page 142 U. S. 420

and made part of this decree; thence up and with the left-hand fork of said creek, as is shown on said map, to the point shown on said map by the letter 'E,' which is a corner of a survey of 100 acres then owned by the said William Miller, and also of the tract of 150 acres adjoining said Miller's survey, then owned by the said William H. Witten and R. C. Graham, both of which said tracts are laid down on said map, and thence, with the line of the said Miller survey of 100 acres, to six chestnuts at the point shown on said map by the words 'six chestnuts' and the letter 'D.'"

"And it further appearing to the court that by the mistake and inadvertence of the drawer of said deed the calls thereof from the said two birches to the six chestnuts do not conform to and carry out the contract and intentions of the parties to said deed, or to the boundary lines thereof from the two birches to the six chestnuts, it is therefore adjudged, ordered, and decreed that the said lost deed of the said Chrispianos Belcher to the said Robert D. Belcher for the said 200 acres of land, more or less, be, and the same is hereby, set up as a muniment of the title of the plaintiff in this cause to the said 200 acres of land, more or less, a part of which said tract is in controversy in this suit, and it is to have the same force and effect as such muniment of title as if said deed were now in existence and of record, with the boundary lines of said tract of land from the two birches to the six chestnuts as hereinabove stated, and it is further adjudged, ordered, and decreed that the said mistake in the calls of the said deed of the said Robert D. Belcher to the said William H. Witten, bearing date the 23d day of December, 1852, from the said two birches to the said six chestnuts, be, and the same is hereby, corrected, and the said calls made to correspond with the contract and intent of the parties to said deed as follows:"

" Beginning at two birches on Simmons Creek, corner to Chrispianos Belcher's land, and running thence up and with said creek with William Miller's line to the mouth of the middle fork of said creek; thence up and with the left-hand fork of said creek to two spruce pines and a white oak, corner to said William Miller's survey of 100 acres, and thence with the

Page 142 U. S. 421

line of said survey to six chestnuts, also a corner thereof,"

"and that the said plaintiff be, and he is hereby, forever quieted in his title, possession, control, and enjoyment of the said two hundred acres of land, more or less, within the boundary lines of the said deed of Robert D. Belcher to said William H. Witten therefor as it is hereby corrected."

"And it further appearing to the court that the said William H. Witten and those claiming under him took and held the possession of the said 200 acres of land, more or less, under his said deed from R. D. Belcher from the date thereof to the year 1884, claiming the same up to the line of Simmons Creek, as herein stated, without question or objections by the said Chrispianos Belcher, R. D. Belcher, or any other person, and it further appearing to the court that the defendant, 'Simmons Creek Coal Company,' was at the commencement of this suit, and still is, claiming a portion of the said tract of land of 200 acres, more or less, in defiance of the rights of the plaintiff, who is the true owner thereof, under the following-named deeds of record in the County of Mercer, in this district, where said land is situate, to-wit: a deed from George W. Belcher & wife to Newton L. Reynolds, dated the 4th day of December, 1884; also a deed from George W. Belcher & wife to P. H. Rorer, dated February 25, 1885; also a deed from N. L. Reynolds to L. A. Welch, dated January 13, 1885; also a deed from I. A. Welch & wife to A. W. Reynolds, dated January, 13, 1885; also a deed from I. A. Welch & wife to Simmons Creek Coal Company, dated February 28, 1885; also a deed from A. W. Reynolds to Simmons Creek Coal Company, dated February 28, 1885; also a deed from P. H. Rorer & wife to Simmons Creek Coal Company, dated February 28, 1885; also a deed from N. L. Reynolds to Simmons Creek Coal Company, dated February 28, 1885, and that the said claim of said defendant and the said deeds and each of them constitute a serious and damaging cloud upon the title of the said plaintiff to so much of his said land as is covered by the said claim of the said defendant, 'Simmons Creek Coal Company,' under said deeds and each of them. It is therefore further adjudged, ordered, and decreed

Page 142 U. S. 422

that the said deeds and each of them be, and they are hereby, set aside, vacated, and annulled, and the claim of the said defendant to the said lands so set up as aforesaid, under said deeds, be held for naught, and it is further adjudged, ordered, and decreed that the said defendant, 'Simmons Creek Coal Company,' do pay to the plaintiff his costs by him expended and incurred in the prosecution of this suit, to be taxed, and that, if necessary, he may have execution therefor."

The map made part of the decree is given opposite [map too large for display -- see version in vol. 142, U.S. Reports]. The coal company prosecuted an appeal to this Court.

Page 142 U. S. 425

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