Wilson v. Iseminger
185 U.S. 55 (1902)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Wilson v. Iseminger, 185 U.S. 55 (1902)

Wilson v. Iseminger

No. 193

Argued March 19, 1902

Decided April 7, 1902

185 U.S. 55

Syllabus

The seventh section of the Act of Pennsylvania of April 27, 1855, is as follows:

"That in all cases where no payment, claim, or demand shall have been made on account of or for any ground rent, annuity, or other charge upon real estate for twenty-one years, or no declaration or acknowledgment of the existence thereof shall have been made within that period by the owner of the premises, subject to such ground rent, annuity, or charge, a release or extinguishment thereof shall be presumed, and such ground rent, annuity, or charge shall thereafter be irrecoverable: Provided, That the evidence of such payment may be perpetuated by recording in the recorder of deeds' office of the proper county the duplicate of

Page 185 U. S. 56

any receipt therefor, proved by oath or affirmation to be a true copy of that signed and delivered in the presence of the payer and witnessed at the time by this deponent, which recorded duplicate or the exemplification of the record thereof shall be evidence until disproved, and the evidence of any such claim or demand may be perpetuated by the record of any judgment recovered for such rent, annuity, or charge in any court of record, or the transcript therein filed of any recovery thereof by judgment before any alderman or justice of the peace, which record and judgment shall be duly indexed: Provided, That this section shall not go into effect until three years from the passage of this act."

Held that this was not an act or law impairing the obligation of contracts within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.

This was an action of assumpsit brought December, 1896, in the Court of Common Pleas, No. 1, of Philadelphia County, by Harvey G. Clay, administrator of the estate of Alexander Osbourne, deceased, against Adam Iseminger for recovery of arrears of ground rent due on a ground-rent deed between Alexander Osbourne and Jennie M., his wife, and the said Adam Iseminger, dated January 4, 1854. The statement of particulars claimed arrears of ground rent due, under the stipulations of said deed for the years 1887 to 1896, both inclusive, with interest on each arrear.

On January 27, 1897, one Elmer H. Rogers, having been permitted, as terre-tenant and owner in fee of the lot of ground described in the ground-rent deed, to intervene and defend pro interesse suo, filed, under the rules of the court, an affidavit of defense to the whole of the plaintiff's claim, averring that no payment, claim, or demand had been made by anyone on account of or for any ground rent on the premises described in the said deed, or from any owner of said premises, or any part thereof, for more than twenty-one years prior to the bringing of the suit; that no declaration or acknowledgment of the existence thereof, or of the right to collect said ground rent thereon, had been made within that period by or for any owner of said premises, or any part thereof, and that neither he nor they or any of them within that period ever executed any declaration of no set-off in reference to said ground rent, or recognized its existence in any way, manner, shape, or form.

This defense was based on the seventh section of an Act of the

Page 185 U. S. 57

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania of April 27, 1855, in terms as follows:

"That in all cases where no payment, claim, or demand shall have been made on account of or for any ground rent, annuity, or other charge upon real estate for twenty-one years, or no declaration or acknowledgment of the existence thereof shall have been made within that period by the owner of the premises subject to such ground rent, annuity, or charge, a release or extinguishment thereof shall be presumed, and such ground rent, annuity, or charge shall thereafter be irrecoverable: Provided, That the evidence of such payment may be perpetuated by recording in the recorder of deeds' office of the proper county the duplicate of any receipt therefor, proved by oath or affirmation, to be a true copy of that signed and delivered in the presence of the payer and witnessed at the time by the deponent, which recorded duplicate or the exemplification of the record thereof, shall be evidence until disproved, and the evidence of any such claim or demand may be perpetuated by the record of any judgment recovered for such rent, annuity, or charge in any court of record, or the transcript therein filed of any recovery thereof by judgment before any alderman or justice of the peace, which records and judgments shall be duly indexed: Provided, That this section shall not go into effect until three years from the passage of this act."

Thereupon the plaintiff took out a rule on the defendant to show cause why judgment should not be entered against him for want of a sufficient affidavit of defense, assigning as a reason why such rule should be made absolute that the said seventh section of the Act of April 27, 1855, was unconstitutional within the tenth section of Article I of the Constitution of the United States, forbidding any state from passing any law impairing the obligation of contracts.

After a hearing, the court discharged the said rule for judgment; a bill of exceptions was signed and sealed, and the cause was then taken to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, where the judgment of the court of common pleas was affirmed. 187 Pa. 108.

Thereafter the case came on for trial before the court and a

Page 185 U. S. 58

jury. The plaintiff offered evidence tending to show that the ground rent in question had never been paid off and extinguished. This offer was objected to as immaterial and irrelevant. The objection was sustained, and an exception was taken by the plaintiff. The court was asked to instruct the jury that the seventh section of the Act of April 27, 1855, was unconstitutional, because it impairs the contract reserving the rent, and was inhibited by the tenth section of Article I of the Constitution of the United States, which forbids the states from passing any law impairing the obligation of contracts. The request so to charge was refused by the trial judge. The defendants asked the court to charge that the verdict should be for the defendants. This request was granted. A bill of exceptions to the action of the court in rejecting the plaintiff's offer of evidence, in declining to charge as requested by the plaintiff, and in charging as requested by the defendant, was signed and sealed by the trial court. A verdict and judgment in favor of the defendants was then entered. The cause was then taken a second time to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, where, on April 3, 1899, the judgment of the court of common pleas was affirmed.

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