Henderson v. Griffin
30 U.S. 151

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U.S. Supreme Court

Henderson v. Griffin, 30 U.S. 5 Pet. 151 151 (1831)

Henderson v. Griffin

30 U.S. (5 Pet.) 151

Syllabus

The Supreme Court of the State of South Carolina having decided that the act of the legislature of that state of 1744 relative to the commencement within two years of actions of ejectment after nonsuit, discontinuance, &c., is a part of the Limitation Act of 1812, and that a suit commenced within the time prescribed arrests the limitation, and this being the decision of the highest judicial tribunal on the construction of a state law relating to titles and real property, must be regarded by this Court as the rule to bind its judgment.

That court having decided on the construction of a will, according to its view of the rules of the common law in that state, as a rule of property, this decision comes within the principle adopted by this Court in Jackson v. Chew, 12 Wheat. 153, 25 U. S. 167, that such decisions are entitled to the same respect as those which are given on the construction of local statutes.

When an estate was devised to A. and B. in trust for C. and her heirs, the estate, by the settled rules of the courts of law and equity in South Carolina, as applied to the statute of uses of 27 Henry VIII, ch. 10, in force in that state, passed at once to the object of the trust, as soon as the will took effect, by the death of the testator. The interposition of the names of A. and B. had no other legal operation than to make them the conduits through whom the estate was to pass, and they could not sustain an ejectment for the land. C., the grandchild of the testator, is a purchaser under the will, deriving all her rights from the will of the testator and obtaining no title from A. and B., and A. and B. were as much strangers to the estate as if their names were not to be found in the will.

The case contemplated in the law of 1744, by which a plaintiff or any other person claiming under one who had brought an ejectment for land, which suit had failed by verdict and judgment against him or by nonsuit or discontinuance, &c., is empowered to commence his action for the recovery of the said lands de novo, is clearly a case where the right of the plaintiff in the first suit passes to the plaintiff in the second, where it must depend upon some interest or right of action which has become vested in him by purchase or descent from the person claiming the land in the former suit.

It would be quite a new principle in the law of ejectment and limitations that the intention to assert the right was equivalent to its being actually done. It is settled law that an entry on land by one having the right has the same effect in arresting the progress of the limitation as a suit, but it cannot be sustained as a legal proposition that an entry by one having no right is of any avail.

Where the court ordered the costs to be paid of a former ejectment brought by the plaintiffs in the names of other persons, but for their use, before the plaintiff could prosecute a second suit in his own name for the same land, this was not a judicial decision that the right of the plaintiffs in the first suit was the same with that of the plaintiffs in the second suit. It was perfectly consistent with the justice of the case that when the plaintiffs used the same defendant in their own name for the same land, that they should reimburse him for the past costs to which they had subjected him before they should be permitted to proceed further. Rules of this kind are granted by the court to meet the justice and exigencies of cases as they occur, not depending solely on the interest

Page 30 U. S. 152

which those who are subjected to such rules may have in the subject matter of suits which they bring and prosecute in the names of others, but on a variety of circumstances which in the exercise of a sound discretion may furnish a proper ground for their interference.

This was an action of trespass instituted in the circuit court to try titles according to the forms prescribed by the local law of South Carolina, by which this action is substituted for an ejectment.

The plaintiffs proved a good title to a tract of land in Abbeville District, South Carolina, under the will of Henry Laurens, who devised the land in question to Dr. and Mrs. Ramsay and their heirs, in trust for the use and behoof of Frances Eleanor Laurens (now the wife of Francis Henderson) during her life, &c. The jury found a verdict for the plaintiffs for a part of the said land, with damages. But the defendant having set up a claim under the statute of limitations, the plaintiffs, in reply, showed from the records of the state court that this action was commenced 29 May, 1823, and on 21 November, 1823, a rule was made and entered by the said court against the plaintiffs in these words:

"Francis Henderson and Wife v. John Carey, and the Same v. Other Defendants, to the number of forty, including Ira Griffin. On reading the affidavit of Henry Gray it is ordered that the plaintiffs show cause on Monday morning why all proceedings in these cases should not be stayed until the costs of the actions prosecuted in the names of the heirs of David Ramsay by the same plaintiffs in the state court against the same defendant be paid."

On the return of this rule, counsel were heard for and against it, and on 20 April, 1824, the court ordered that upon a taxed bill of costs in the state court being made out, the same be forthwith paid by the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs in the circuit court, by their counsel, showed on the trial that the suit in the state court, prosecuted in the name of the heirs of David Ramsay against the defendant, was regularly discontinued in that court on 23 October, 1822, and they were compelled to pay the costs of that suit before they could proceed with the present. And the plaintiffs' counsel contended that the title was not barred by the

Page 30 U. S. 153

act of limitations when the suit in the name of the heirs of Ramsay was commenced, and the act did not run against the plaintiffs since that time, inasmuch as the present suit ought to be joined and connected with the said former suit in the state court. But the court, admitting that the plaintiffs' title was not barred at the commencement of the first suit, instructed the jury that the present suit could not be connected with the former, and the jury found a verdict accordingly. To which instruction and finding the plaintiffs' counsel excepted and prosecuted this writ of error.

The counsel for the plaintiffs in error claimed to reverse the judgment in the circuit court because the suit in the state court in the name of the heirs of Ramsay, trustees for the plaintiffs, ought to have been connected with the present action, being for the same land, under the same title, and by the showing of the same defendant upon the records of the court, prosecuted by the same plaintiffs in the name of their trustees.

Page 30 U. S. 154

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