Greeley v. Lowe
155 U.S. 58 (1894)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Greeley v. Lowe, 155 U.S. 58 (1894)

Greeley v. Lowe

No. 517

Submitted April 30, 1894

Decided October 29, 1894

155 U.S. 58

Syllabus

A suit in equity for the partition of land, wherein the plaintiff avers that he is seized as tenant in common of an estate in fee simple and is in actual possession of the land described, and, after setting forth the interests of the other tenants in common, and alleging that no remedy at law exists to enable him to obtain his share of said lands in kind, or of the proceeds if sold, and that he is wholly without remedy except in chancery, prays for the partition of the land and the segregation of his own share from that of the others, and incidentally that certain deeds may be construed and, if invalid, may be cancelled, and that he may recover his advances for taxes and expenses, is clearly a bill to enforce a claim and settle the title to real estate, and as such is a suit covered by § 8 of the Act of March 3, 1875, c. 137, 18 Stat. 470, 472, of which the Circuit Court of the district where the land lies may properly assume jurisdiction.

The questions that, the title of some of the parties to the land being in dispute, such titles must be settled before partition could be made, that the interests of several of the defendants were adverse to each other, and that as some of these defendants were citizens of the same state, it would raise controversies beyond the jurisdiction of the circuit court to decide, not having been certified to this Court, are not passed upon.

Page 155 U. S. 59

Where the laws of a state give a remedy in equity, that remedy will be enforced in federal courts in the state if it does not infringe upon the constitutional right of the parties to a trial by jury.

The objection that A. was alleged in the bill to be a resident and citizen of the District of Columbia was met by an amended allegation that A. was "a citizen of South Carolina, now residing in Washington City, District of Columbia," and while this allegation was traversed, it must, for the purpose of this hearing, be taken as true.

This was a bill in equity for the partition of real estate originally filed by George P. Greeley and wife, who were alleged to be citizens of New Hampshire, against 130 defendants, most of whom were citizens of Florida. Of the remaining defendants, some were citizens of Georgia; others, of Illinois, South Carolina, Alabama, Texas, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Mississippi, and one, Eliza B. Anderson, of the City of Washington and District of Columbia.

The bill averred the plaintiff, George P. Greeley, to be seised as tenant in common, in fee simple, and in actual possession, of 10,016 acres of land in the Northern District of Florida, of the value of $10,000, exclusive of interest and costs, etc.; that one John T. Lowe, and Susan, his wife, were originally seised of the said premises by grant from the Spanish government in 1816, as a mill right (Lowe being then married, and his wife, Susan, being seised, by ganancial right, of an undivided half of said premises under the laws of Spain, which declared that real estate acquired by either the husband or wife during coverture by purchase, gift, or gain becomes and remains community property), and that they were seised thereof as tenants in common; that Lowe died in 1824, and the grant was subsequently confirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1842, United States v. Low, 16 Pet. 162, that the ganancial right and title of said Susan Lowe has never been alienated, relinquished, or annulled, and has been duly protected and guarantied by the treaty of 1819 between the United States and Spain, that Lowe attempted to convey to one Clark the southern half of this grant, but his wife, then living, did not join, and the half of the south half only was conveyed; that Clark conveyed to Duncan L. Clinch, who died testate, leaving his

Page 155 U. S. 60

executor power to sell said lands, that Susan Lowe survived her husband, but both died intestate, and their estates had long been settled, that the north half of said grant and half of the south half descended to their children, nine in number.

The geneology and shares of the heirs and their grantees are stated at great length in the bill, all the claims of the various members being set up and defined, and the invalidity of certain deeds attached as exhibits being averred and pointed out. The bill contained a general averment that no other person except such as were made parties had any interest in or title to the premises, that by reason of the lapse of time, the disturbed condition of the country, etc., it has been almost impossible to trace the lineage of the several families and to find the actual parties in interest.

The bill prayed that the different deeds attached as exhibits might be construed and the interest, if any conveyed, ascertained or the deeds cancelled, that all persons having any claims or liens upon the lands might be brought in and required to prove their claims or have the same held null and void, that partition of the lands be made, if possible and equitable, and, if not, that they might be sold and the proceeds distributed, that plaintiff recover his advances for taxes and expenses, including costs and counsel fees; that a master be appointed to state the shares, advances, and fees, and that commissioners be appointed to make partition or sale, etc.

Isaac A. Stewart, one of the defendants resident in Florida, filed a plea to the jurisdiction setting up, among other things, that the suit was not brought in the district of the residence of either the plaintiffs or defendants, that the controversy was not between citizens of different states, that certain defendants had interests adverse to other defendants, that Eliza B. Anderson, one of the defendants, was a resident and citizen of the District of Columbia, that her claim was adverse to his (Stewart's), that Greeley's wife was improperly joined, was not the cotenant, and could not maintain a suit, that the wives of several of the defendants were improperly joined

Page 155 U. S. 61

in that they possessed no legal interest in the property, and that others who were necessary parties were not joined as defendants. Thereupon, plaintiff moved for leave to amend his bill by inserting after the name of Eliza Anderson the words, "citizen of South Carolina, now resident in Washington, D.C.," and also to add other defendants. The court granted the motion to amend, and the cause came on to be heard on the plea to the jurisdiction. The court made a final decree holding that while it was true that the complainants were citizens of New Hampshire and resident there, and some of the defendants were citizens of Florida in the district in which the land lies, yet because there were other defendants citizens of New York, and also of other states than the state in which the complainants reside and have citizenship, and also citizens of other federal districts than that where the land is situate and where certain defendants reside, it was decreed that

"this court has not jurisdiction over all the defendants to this action, because they are not all residents and citizens of the district in which the land sought to be partitioned lies, and are not all found in said district at the time of the service of the process."

On May 6, 1892, plaintiffs filed a petition for rehearing, and on June 13 amended their bill by striking out the name of Eliza B. Anderson as defendant. While no formal decree subsequent to the rehearing appears to have been entered, by an endorsement made upon the bill of June 15, it would appear that the bill was finally dismissed upon that date. From this decree an appeal was taken to this Court, and the question of jurisdiction, as above stated, was certified to this Court for decision pursuant to section 5 of the Court of Appeals Act.

Page 155 U. S. 67

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