Manson v. Duncanson
166 U.S. 533 (1897)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Manson v. Duncanson, 166 U.S. 533 (1897)

Manson v. Duncanson

No. 121

Argued January 8, 11, 1897

Decided April 19, 1897

166 U.S. 533

Syllabus

In the District of Columbia, a nonresident minor, having an interest in real estate situated therein, may, by the appointment of a guardian ad litem by the proper court, and without service of personal process upon him, be subjected to a decree providing for the sale of the land for the payment of the debts of the decedent owner, and partitioning the surplus, if any, after such payment.

Such a decree, if made by a court with full jurisdiction of the subject matter and having the proper parties before it, cannot be attacked by one of those parties in a collateral proceeding.

Whether the decedent owner in such case had any interest in the land petitioned to be sold was a question to be decided by the court in which the cause was pending, and if error was committed in its disposition of that question, the remedy was by appeal, or by a bill of review, if duly filed.

In condemnation proceedings instituted by the United States in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia to obtain land for a post office site in the City of Washington, a Treasury draft for the sum of $17,000 was paid by the United States into the registry of that court on October 9, 1891, as compensation to the owner of a parcel of land designated in the proceedings as "parcel 15, in square 323." Frederick L. Manson and Charles C. Duncanson both claimed this fund, each as having been owner in fee simple of the said parcel 15 at the time of the condemnation, and on June 20, 1892, Manson filed his bill in equity in the said court against Duncanson, seeking to enjoin the defendant from receiving the fund, and asking for an order directing payment of the same to the complainant. The facts presented by the case which arose upon this bill are substantially as follows:

On August 2, 1862, James W. Barker, who then owned a part of lot 6 in the said square, which part included the land designated in the said proceedings as parcel 15, executed a deed, wherein his wife joined, conveying the property to

Page 166 U. S. 534

William R. Woodward in William L. Manson and Sarah Jane Manson, his wife, united with Barker and wife in the execution of this deed, and it was recited therein that Sarah Jane Manson was possessed of property separate from her husband which she was desirous of having invested in the said premises, and that therefore William L. Manson, with her consent and concurrence, had entered into a contract with Barker for the purchase of the same, and for the purchase price thereof was to pay a certain amount in cash, and give certain notes, the amount of one of which was to discharge a purchase money debt due by Barker. It was further recited that all of the notes had been executed by Manson and wife and delivered. The deed provided that Woodward should hold in trust to secure the payment of the notes, and, until there should be some default in payment of the same, to permit Sarah Jane Manson to occupy and enjoy the premises, and receive the rents thereof for her separate use, and, upon the full payment of all the notes, to make conveyance of the property upon the trusts and for the purposes expressed and declared for the benefit of Sarah Jane Manson in and by a certain other deed or declaration, bearing even date with the conveyance described.

The deed or declaration referred to was executed by Manson and his wife, and described the said Woodward and Erastus Poulson as parties thereto of the second and third part, respectively. It directed that after payment of the notes, etc., Woodward should convey the premises to Poulson, who should thenceforth stand seised of the same upon the trusts following, viz.:

"In trust for the said Sarah Jane Manson for and during her life, and to permit her to occupy said premises, and to receive the rents and profits thereof for her own sole and separate use, free from the interference of her present or any future husband, and without being liable for his debts or engagements; her receipt alone being a valid discharge for such rents and profits."

"And upon further trust that it shall be lawful for the said Sarah Jane Manson at any time, and from time to time during

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her life, to dispose of the said premises either by absolute sale or mortgage thereof, as she may think proper, in which the said party hereto of the third part, his heirs and assigns, shall join, such disposition to be made by deed or deeds to be executed and acknowledged by the said trustees and by the said Sarah Jane Manson as if she were sole and unmarried. And in default of any such sale or mortgage, or so far as the same shall not extend, upon further trust for such person or persons, and for such estate, and in such parts, shares, and proportions, as she, the said Sarah Jane Manson, shall or may, from time to time, by any deed or instrument of writing, or by her last will and testament, under her hand and seal (and which she is hereby authorized to make), limit, direct or appoint, give or devise the same, and in default of any such limitation, direction and appointment, gift or devise, in trust for such child or children as she shall leave surviving her, and the issue of any deceased child or children, equally, share and share alike, such issue taking his, her, or their parent's or parents' share; and, for default of all such children or issue, then in trust for the right heirs of the said Sarah Jane Manson forever. And it is further declared that all moneys which shall or may be raised by sale or mortgage of the said premises or any part thereof shall be paid to the said Sarah Jane Manson, and be disposed of as she shall or may think best, her receipt being a valid discharge therefor, and the party paying the same not being bound to see to the application or disposition thereof."

On August 2, 1865, all of the notes then having been paid, Barker and Woodward, by deed of that date, released and conveyed the property to Poulson, in trust for the sole and separate use and benefit of Sarah Jane Manson, exclusive of her husband, and upon the trusts declared in the deed or declaration aforesaid.

Sarah Jane Manson died in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on September 4, 1870, leaving a will, dated April 20, 1865, whereby she directed that her debts be paid, and then devised and bequeathed all her estate, real and personal, as follows: her husband, William L. Manson, to take and receive all the

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rents and profits of her estate during his life, and apply the same for his support and the support and education of her three children, namely, Frederick L. Manson, William H. Walters (a child of the testatrix by a former husband), and Cecelia M. Manson, and, on the death of her husband, all of her estate, real and personal, to be equally divided, share and share alike, among the said three children, when the youngest of them should reach the age of 21 years, and not before. This will was attested by only two witnesses, and was therefore not effectual to pass real estate in the District of Columbia, and was never admitted to probate therein. On September 12, 1870, it was duly admitted to probate in Philadelphia, and letters of administration, with the will annexed, were granted to William L. Manson, the surviving husband.

In her lifetime, Sarah Jane Manson sold a part of the property embraced in the said deeds, but made no sale or conveyance of the said parcel 15.

On June 18, 1874, William L. Manson filed a creditors' bill in the said court against Erastus Poulson, trustee, Frederick L. Manson, William H. Walters, and Cecelia M. Manson, stating that all the parties were citizens of the State of Pennsylvania; that Poulson was sued as trustee by virtue of the deeds aforesaid, and the other defendants as heirs at law of Sarah Jane Manson, and that the defendants Frederick L. Manson and Cecelia M. Manson were minors. The bill alleged that Sarah Jane Manson, at the time of her death, was seised of the said parcel of land in her own right, and free from any right or claim of her husband, and died intestate as to the same; that the complainant settled her estate in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, by virtue of said letters of administration, a certified copy of which was filed as an exhibit; that her personal estate proved insufficient to pay her debts, and that the complainant made advances out of his own funds towards the payment of the same, and that such advances, together with the assets of the estate, paid in full all the just claims proven against the decedent; that the complainant paid out of his own funds on such account, over and above

Page 166 U. S. 537

the assets coming into his hands, the sum of $2,051.26, which amount was justly due him, and that no funds remained from which he might be reimbursed unless the said real estate should be sold and the proceeds thereof applied to the payment of his claim. The said deeds were referred to and made a part of the bill. The complaint prayed that a trustee might be appointed to sell and convey the property, and out of the proceeds arising from the sale pay the indebtedness due the complainant, and distribute the balance; that guardians ad litem might be appointed to appear and defend the interests of each of the said infants; that writs of subpoena might be issued against each of the said defendants Erastus Poulson (trustee), Frederick L. Manson, William H. Walters, and Cecelia M. Manson, and that the complainant might have such other and further relief as the nature of the case might require.

Process was issued against all of the defendants, and was returned by the marshal of the District of Columbia, "Not found." Orders were thereupon entered appointing commissioners in Philadelphia and in Fort Clark, Texas, to appoint guardians ad litem to take the answers of the infant defendants, Cecelia M. Manson and Frederick L. Manson. These commissions were duly executed, and answers of the said infant defendants, by guardian ad litem, were duly filed whereby all interests and rights of the infants were claimed, but submitted to the court. Erastus Poulson, trustee, filed an answer admitting the allegations of the bill,and submitting himself to the orders of the court. Walters, the other adult defendant, also filed an answer wherein he claimed all such interest as he might be entitled to and submitted his rights to the court.

The cause was heard upon the pleadings, and upon a certified copy of the confirmed report of the auditor of the orphans' court of Philadelphia, and on March 18, 1875, a decree was entered whereby it was ordered and adjudged that the complainants' claim set forth in said creditors' bill be recognized as a valid lien against the property described therein, and that the property be sold, and the proceeds of sale be applied first in satisfaction of all proper taxes and assessments or other prior incumbrances due and unpaid upon

Page 166 U. S. 538

the property, and secondly to the payment of the claim of the complainant -- the balance, if any, to be distributed pro rata among the heirs of Sarah Jane Manson. A trustee was appointed who, after having given notice by advertisement, was to proceed to make the sale as aforesaid, and thereafter to report the same to the court, and upon final ratification thereof to

"convey to the purchaser or purchasers, by good and sufficient deed, all right, title, and interest of said defendants, or any of them, as of said complainant, in and to said property."

The sale, having been duly made and reported by the trustee, was finally ratified on May 18, 1975, and the trustee, W. P. Bell, subsequently conveyed the property to Frederick Volk, the purchaser. Volk afterwards conveyed the same to Louis Schmid, Edward Schmid, and Alexander Schmid, and they, by deed dated June 21, 1890, conveyed to Charles C. Duncanson. The proceeds of sale were applied in accordance with the terms of the decree, but there does not appear to have been any balance for distribution among Sarah Jane Manson's heirs at law.

William L. Manson died in the year 1877.

The present suit was commenced as aforesaid by Frederick L. Manson, who filed his bill of complaint in the said court on June 20, 1892. The bill set out in substance the facts stated above, and alleged that upon the death of Sarah Jane Manson, the complainant and Cecelia M. Manson and William H. Walters became the owners, by purchase, of the said parcel 15 by virtue of the aforesaid deeds of 1862 and 1865; that nothing set out in the said creditors' bill served to give the court jurisdiction of the subject matter thereof, or of any person mentioned therein, and that the court had no jurisdiction to make any order in the said proceedings except an order dismissing the bill.

It was further alleged that in April, 1873, the complainant, while a minor, enlisted, with the consent of his father, in the Fourth United States cavalry, and remained in the army until 1881, when he was honorably discharged; that during the intervening time, he was stationed at military posts in Texas

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and Kansas, and since his discharge had resided continuously in Illinois and Kansas; that, until August 15, 1891, he had no knowledge of the said equity proceedings, or of the said answer or any answer filed or intended to be filed therein in his behalf, or of the existence of the said deeds of 1862 and 1865, or the interest they vested in him, or of the said condemnation proceedings; that shortly after learning of the existence of the deeds and of the record in the said suit, he filed a petition in the condemnation proceedings claiming the proceeds of parcel 15, but that, as he was informed and believed, the court was of opinion that it had no jurisdiction in those proceedings to pass upon contested claims to the said proceeds. The complainant further alleged that his sister, Cecelia M. Manson, left home shortly after his enlistment in the army and sought her own livelihood; that since the complainant was informed of the property interests in question, he had made diligent inquiry concerning the whereabouts of his said sister and of his said brother, William H. Walters, and had been unable to learn anything concerning the whereabouts of his sister since 1880 or of his brother for several years prior thereto, and that therefore he believes them both to be dead, and to have died intestate, leaving the complainant their only heir at law.

The complainant prayed the court to declare that all decrees, orders, and proceedings had in the said suit were null and void for want of jurisdiction; that the sale made and the deed executed by the trustee appointed in that suit, as well as all other deeds executed under the decree therein, were void and of no effect, and that the complainant was the legal and equitable owner of parcel 15 at the time of the condemnation of the same, and was entitled to the said fund. He further prayed that the defendant might be enjoined from receiving the fund.

The defendant filed his answer on September 6, 1892, insisting that the said court had before it, by due process of law, all the parties in interest, and therefore had jurisdiction to enter the said decree and to order the said sale, and that the defendant's title, acquired by conveyance under the decree,

Page 166 U. S. 540

was valid. He denied the allegations of the complainant as to the time when he was first informed of the said suit, and alleged that it would be inequitable if the complainant should be allowed the benefit of any alleged defect in the said proceedings, in view of the fact of his having waited until the expiration of fourteen years after the death of William L. Manson, who could have testified as to the complainant's knowledge of the proceedings, and until the expiration of sixteen years after the sale, before setting up any claim to the property; that since the sale, the respective holders of the property and been in the open, notorious, and adverse possession thereof under the decree; that the complainant had been guilty of laches, and on that account was not entitled to relief. The defendant asked for strict proof of the alleged death and intestacy of the complainant's sister and brother, provided proof of the same should be material. He prayed that it might have the full benefit of all objections to the bill that could have been raised and availed of upon demurrer thereto.

Replication was entered and testimony taken, and on June 14, 1893, after final hearing, a decree was entered whereby,

"it appearing to the court from an examination of the record in equity cause numbered 3,769, referred to in this cause, that there was nothing set forth and contained therein to give the court jurisdiction to sell the real estate described therein,"

it was ordered and adjudged that the decree entered in the said cause was null and void; that the deeds made under that decree were void and passed no title; that the defendant had no title to parcel 15 at the time of the condemnation, and was not entitled to the proceeds thereof; that the defendant's plea of laches be not sustained, and that the fund in the registry of the court be paid to the complainant, his solicitor of record, or assigns.

Duncanson thereupon appealed to the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, where the decree of the court below was reversed. Manson then appealed to this Court.

Page 166 U. S. 541

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