De Vaughn v. Hutchinson
165 U.S. 566 (1897)

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U.S. Supreme Court

De Vaughn v. Hutchinson, 165 U.S. 566 (1897)

De Vaughn v. Hutchinson

No. 114

Argued October 30, 1896

Decided March 1, 1897

165 U.S. 566

Syllabus

This Court looks to the law of the state in which land is situated for the rules which govern its descent, alienation, and transfer, and for the effect and construction of wills and other conveyances, and in the District of Columbia those rules are the rules which governed in Maryland at the time when the District was separated from it.

Under a will devising real estate in the District of Columbia to M. A. M. during her natural life, and after her death to be equally divided among the heirs of her body begotten, share and share alike, and to their heirs and assigns forever, M. A. M. takes a life estate only, and her children take an estate in fee.

Samuel De Vaughn, a resident of the District of Columbia, died on the 5th day of July, 1867, leaving a last will and

Page 165 U. S. 567

testament dated April 20, 1861. This will was admitted to probate September 1, 1867, and was, as to those of its provisions which are involved in the present litigation, as follows:

"I give and bequeath unto my sister Susan Brayfield all my personal property of whatever description."

"Item. I give and devise unto my sister Susan Brayfield the whole square four hundred and eighty-three and improvements, also lots twenty, twenty-one, and part of lot twenty-two in square three hundred and seventy-eight, situated in the City of Washington, during her natural life, and at her death to her daughters Mary Rebecca Brayfield, Catharine Sophia Harrison, and Martha Ann Mitchell, to be divided in the following manner, that is to say: Martha Ann shall have one-half of lot twenty, as subdivided, being seventy-three feet deep, having on the same two houses; to Catharine Sophia, the other half (being the east half) of said lot twenty, having also on the same two houses, and Mary Rebecca shall have the corner store situated on lot twenty-one. Catharine Sophia shall have the two houses next south of said corner store on said lot twenty-one, and Martha Ann shall have the next two houses south of the two to Catharine Sophia, and adjoining the same on said lot twenty-one, and Mary Rebecca shall have the whole of that part of lot twenty-two, as subdivided from lot twenty and improvements, during their natural lives, and after their death to their heirs begotten of their bodies, and to their heirs and assigns, forever."

"I also desire that square four hundred and eighty-three shall be subdivided at the death of my sister Susan Brayfield, and distributed as follows: Mary Rebecca Brayfield shall have the whole front on K Street, ninety feet deep to a ten-foot alley, which comprises lots one and two, with all improvements on the same; Martha Ann Mitchell shall have ninety feet on Sixth Street, running that breadth through the square to Fifth Street, and Catharine Sophia Harrison shall have the remainder north portion of said square four hundred and eighty-three, during their natural lives, and at their death to be equally divided among the heirs of their bodies begotten, share and share alike, and to their heirs and assigns forever. "

Page 165 U. S. 568

"Item. I give and devise to Mary Rebecca Brayfield the east part of lot nineteen in square three hundred and seventy-eight, and all improvements on said lot, front and rear, during her natural life, and after her death to her heirs and assigns, forever."

"Item. I give and devise to Catharine Sophia Harrison the east part of lot seventeen in square three hundred and seventy-eight, including all improvements, and also that part as subdivided in the rear in said square, during her natural life, and after her death to the heirs of her body begotten, and to their heirs and assigns, forever."

"Item. I given and devise to Martha Ann Mitchell, daughter of Susan Brayfield, the west part of lot eighteen in square three hundred and seventy-eight, and all improvements, including that part as subdivided in the rear on said square, and to her heirs and assigns, forever."

"I give and bequeath to my mother during her natural life, out of the rents of lots No. twenty, twenty-one, and part of twenty-two in square three hundred and seventy-eight, and also the whole of square four hundred and eighty-three, devised to my sister Susan Brayfield, the sum of twenty-five dollars per month, or, if properly provided for by my said sister, then only five dollars per month for her own use as she may think proper."

"Item. I give and devise to my brother John De Vaughn, in square four hundred and eight, lot D, and parts of lots five in square four hundred and give, and lot two in square four hundred and eighty-seven, and all improvements, also lot eleven in square five hundred and seventeen, lots four and five in square four and five in square seven hundred and eighty-five, and to his heirs and assigns, forever, all of which property is situated in the City of Washington, District of Columbia."

"Item. I give and devise to my brother William De Vaughn, of the City of Alexandria, State of Virginia, lot three in square one thousand and ninety-five, lot one in square six hundred and seventy-seven, lot four in square forty-four, lot two in square one hundred and twenty-nine, also lots B, C, D, F, and G in square forty-three, all lying and being in the City

Page 165 U. S. 569

of Washington and District of Columbia, also the house and lot on Henry Street in the City of Alexandria, State of Virginia, and to his heirs and assigns, forever."

Martha Ann Mitchell, one of the devisees named in the will, died in the year 1866, before the death of the testator, Samuel De Vaughn, leaving, as her only children and heirs at law Benjamin D. Mitchell, Richard R. Mitchell, and Sarah W. Hutchinson. Mrs. Susan Brayfield, the tenant for life, died in December, 1891.

In May, 1892, James H. De Vaughn, Emily De Vaughn, and Rebecca J. Kirk, as heirs at law of Samuel De Vaughn, brought in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia a bill in equity against William H. De Vaughn and others, also heirs at law of Samuel De Vaughn. The purpose of the bill was to have a declaration that, by reason of the decease of Martha Ann Mitchell during the lifetime of the testator, the devise to her lapsed and became void, and that thereupon, upon the death of the testator and of Susan Brayfield, the real estate described in said devises became vested in the heirs at law of the said testator, as if the said testator had died intestate as to said real estate; and, upon such declaration, that the said real estate should be sold, and the proceeds of such sale should be distributed among the parties lawfully entitled thereto as heirs at law of the said Samuel De Vaughn.

To this bill appeared Benjamin D. v. Mitchell and others, the children of the said Martha Ann Mitchell, who were living at the death of the said testator, and who filed a demurrer to said bill. Upon argument in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, the demurrer was sustained, and, the complainants electing to stand on their said bill, a final decree was entered, dismissing the bill, and awarding an account of rents and profits.

From this decree an appeal was taken to the general term, but the cause was thereafter transferred to and heard in the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, and on April 2, 1894, the decree of the Supreme Court was affirmed. From the decree of the Court of Appeals an appeal was duly prayed and allowed to this Court.

Page 165 U. S. 570

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