Willard v. Willard
145 U.S. 116 (1892)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Willard v. Willard, 145 U.S. 116 (1892)

Willard v. Willard

No. 318

Argued April 18, 1892

Decided May 2, 1892

145 U.S. 116

Syllabus

Under the Act of August 15, 1876, c. 297, relating to partition of real estate in the District of Columbia, a tenant in common in fee, whose title is clear, may have partition as of right, but by division or sale, at the discretion of the court.

A pending lease for years is no obstacle to partition between owners of the fee.

A bill in equity, under the Act of August 15, 1876, c. 297, need set forth no more than the titles of the parties, and the plaintiff's desire to have partition by division of the land, or, if in the opinion of the court this cannot be done without injury to the parties, then by sale of the land and division of the proceeds.

This was a bill in equity filed January 3, 1888, by Henry K. Willard against Joseph C. Willard, under the Act of August 15, 1876, c. 297, which is copied in the margin, * for partition

Page 145 U. S. 117

of land in Washington bounded on Pennsylvania Avenue on the south, Fourteenth Street on the east, and F Street on the north, containing more than 33,000 square feet, and with the building thereon known as "Willard's Hotel."

The allegations of the bill were that the plaintiff and the defendant were the owners of the land in fee simple as tenants in common, and each the owner of an undivided half; that the plaintiff became and was the owner of his half under a deed from Henry A. Willard, dated December 1, 1887, and duly recorded, and that the plaintiff desired to have partition of the land, and to have his share thereof set apart to him in severalty, or, if in the opinion of the court the land could not be specially divided between the parties without loss and injury to them, and to the purposes for which the land was used, that, for the purposes of partition, it might be sold and the proceeds divided between him and the defendant, and he prayed for partition accordingly.

The answer, filed March 6, 1888, alleged that the plaintiff's father, Henry A. Willard, and the defendant, were the owners in fee simple, as tenants in common, of the land, and that it was of great value, and for the past twenty-five years and upwards had been leased by Henry A. Willard and the defendant to different persons for hotel purposes, and was now under lease and used as an hotel at a remunerative rental; that the defendant had no knowledge of the conveyance to the plaintiff, and required proof thereof, and denied that the defendant should be compelled to make or suffer partition of the land, or that it was within the power of the court to deprive him, against his will and without his consent, of his interest and estate in the whole land either by a partition in severalty or by a sale thereof.

Page 145 U. S. 118

A general replication was filed, and proofs taken, which showed the following facts: the defendant and Henry A. Willard made a lease of the land for five years and four months from January 1, 1884, at an annual rent of $20,500, to Phoebe D. Cook, which was afterwards assigned, with the lessors' consent, to Orring G. Staples. On December 1, 1887, Henry A. Willard conveyed to the plaintiff an undivided half of the land in fee simple by deed duly recorded. The property was peculiarly adapted to hotel purposes, and was worth in its present condition more than $600,000, and could not be divided without serious loss.

The court in special term, on July 7, 1888, ordered a sale in accordance with the provisions of the act of Congress, and appointed trustees to make a sale and conveyance, and to pay the proceeds into court. The decree was affirmed in general term, on October 22, 1888. 6 Mackey 559.

The defendant appealed to this Court, and assigned the following errors in the decree:

"1st. The property was under lease for a term of years at the time the bill was filed, and the plaintiff not entitled to possession."

"2. Under the Act of Congress of August 15, 1876, a tenant in common has not an absolute right to partition, but it is discretionary with the court, and something besides the existence of the tenancy must be averred and shown in order to call such discretion into exercise, which was not done in this case. "

Page 145 U. S. 120

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