Harding v. Handy
24 U.S. 103 (1826)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Harding v. Handy, 24 U.S. 11 Wheat. 103 103 (1826)

Harding v. Handy

24 U.S. (11 Wheat.) 103

Syllabus

There must be sufficient equity apparent on the face of the bill to warrant the court in granting the, relief prayed, and the material facts on which the plaintiff relies must be so distinctly alleged as to put them in issue.

A court of equity has jurisdiction of a suit brought by heirs at law to set aside a conveyance of lands obtained from their ancestor by undue influence, he being so infirm in body and mind from old age and other circumstances, as to be liable to imposition, although his weakness does not amount to insanity.

The same jurisdiction may be exercised where one of the heirs at law has, with the consent of the others, taken such a deed upon an agreement to consider it as a trust for the maintenance of the grantor, and after his death for the benefit of his heirs, and the grantee refuses to perform the trust.

Under what circumstances such a conveyance may be allowed to stand as security for actual advances and charges, and set aside for all other purposes.

In such a case, not depending on the absolute insanity of the grantor at the time of executing the conveyance, the court may determine the question of capacity without directing an issue.

The verdict of a jury as to the sanity of the grantor at the time of executing such a conveyance would not be conclusive, the court being competent to determine for itself the degree of weakness or of imposition which will induce it to set aside the instrument.

Exceptions to the report of a master are to be regarded by the court only so far as they are supported by the special statements of the master or by a distinct reference to the particular portions of testimony on which the party excepting relies. The court does not investigate the items of an account nor review the whole mass of testimony taken before the master.

Rules of practice in accounting before a master.

In accounting before a master, the oath of the party should not be received to support charges which, from their nature, admit of full proof.

In a suit inequity brought by heirs at law to set aside a conveyance obtained from their ancestor by fraud and imposition, a final decree for the sale of the property cannot be pronounced until all the heirs are brought before the court as parties if they are within the jurisdiction.

If all the heirs cannot be brought before the court, the undivided interest of those who are made parties may be sold.

The bill filed in the court below by the appellants, Harding, and Nancy his wife, and Sterling Wheaton, alleged that they, with four others not made parties to the suit, together with Caleb Wheaton, one of the defendants, were entitled, as heirs at law of Comfort Wheaton, deceased, to the real property mentioned in the bill and situate in the State of Rhode Island. That Comfort W., about the year 1802, began to exhibit symptoms indicating a loss of intellect, and soon became, from various causes mentioned in the bill, incompetent to the management of his estate, and died in 1810. That under these circumstances, the defendant, Caleb W. (his son), and who acted as well for himself as in behalf of the plaintiffs and the defendant Handy, the son-in-law of Comfort W., entered into an agreement to endeavor to take his estate out of his hands and to preserve it for the benefit of his heirs at law. That it was agreed that Comfort W. should be prevailed on to convey his real property to

Page 24 U. S. 105

Handy for a nominal consideration, who should forthwith execute an instrument of writing declaring that he took and held the same in trust, first to provide for the decent support of the grantor during his life, and after a full remuneration for his expenses and trouble in that respect, to hold the residue of the estate for the benefit of the heirs at law. That on 9 May, 1805, Handy did procure such conveyance for the nominal consideration of $2,178 from Comfort W., and entered upon, possessed, and enjoyed the property in question, but that he refused to execute any declaration of trust as he had agreed, but held the property, claiming it as his own. The bill then alleged that the defendant, Caleb W., after the death of his father, Comfort W., acting on behalf and for the benefit of the heirs, procured letters of administration of the personal estate of Comfort W. to be issued by the proper court, and caused such further proceedings to be had as that the administrator exposed to sale the real property before mentioned, which had been conveyed to Handy, and that Caleb W. became the purchaser thereof for the general benefit of the heirs. That various suits at law had resulted from these transactions, and among others an ejectment brought by the defendant, Handy, against the defendant, Caleb W., by which the value of the property had been much deteriorated. The bill then prayed for an account respecting the property; that a decree might be rendered exonerating it

Page 24 U. S. 106

from the deeds to the defendant Handy after satisfying his just claims, and ordering one fifth part of the real estate to be set off to the plaintiff, Nancy H., and one fifth to the plaintiff, Sterling W., and for general relief.

The answer of the defendant Handy denied that Comfort W. was incapable of conveying his property when the deeds of 9 May, 1805, were executed, and insisted that his intellect was perfectly sound at that time. It also denied that he, the defendant, purchased as a trustee, and averred that he was a purchaser for a valuable and full consideration. The answer of the other defendant, Caleb W., admitted the allegations of the bill and submitted to any decree the court might think equitable.

A great mass of testimony taken in the court below appeared in the record, which was very contradictory as to the capacity of Comfort W. to make the conveyance in question.

The circuit court, by its interlocutory decree, directed that the deeds of 9 May, 1805, should be set aside as having been obtained by false impressions made on a mind enfeebled by old age and various other causes, and that an account of the receipts and disbursements of the defendant, Handy, should be taken, and that he should be credited for all advances made, and charges incurred for the maintenance of Comfort W. during his lifetime and for repairs and improvements made on the real estate. Exceptions were filed by both parties to the report,

Page 24 U. S. 107

which was confirmed by the court below. The final decree declared that the real estates conveyed to the defendant Handy should stand charged with the amount of the balance of the account due to him; that the same should be sold and the proceeds brought into court; that the said balance should be paid to him, deducting his proportion of the charges, &c., and the residue, deducting their proportions, &c., should be paid over, and distributed among the heirs at law of Comfort W. If there be any such heirs not made parties, they to be at liberty to come in under the decree and receive their shares, paying their proportions of costs and expenses, otherwise to be excluded. That each party before the court should pay his own costs, excepting the fees of the officers of the court, which should be a charge on the property and borne by the parties according to their respective proportions of interest in the proceeds of the sale.

From this decree both parties appealed.

Page 24 U. S. 119

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