Peyton v. Stith - 30 U.S. 485 (1831)
U.S. Supreme Court
Peyton v. Stith, 30 U.S. 5 Pet. 485 485 (1831)
Peyton v. Stith
30 U.S. (5 Pet.) 485
Ejectment -- Jenkin Phillips, on 18 May, 1780,
"enters one thousand acres on the southwest side of Licking Creek on a branch called Bucklick Creek on the lower side of said creek, beginning at the mouth of the branch and running up the branch for quantity, including three cabins."
A survey was made on this entry 20 November, 1796, taking Bucklick Branch, reduced to a straight line as its base, and laying off the quantity in a rectangle on the northwest of Bucklick. A patent was granted to Phillips on this survey on 20 June, 1796. This entry is sufficiently descriptive
according to the well established principles of this and the courts of Kentucky, and gave Phillips the prior equity to the land, which has been duly followed up and consummated by a grant within the time required by the laws of Virginia and Kentucky without any laches which can impair it. The proper survey under this entry was to make the line following the general course of Bucklick the center instead of the base line of the survey, and to lay off an equal quantity on each side in a rectangular form, according to the rule established by the Court of Appeals in Kentucky and by this Court.
Peyton claimed the land under an entry made by Francis Peyton, and a survey on 9 October, 1784, and a patent on 24 December, 1785, so that the case was that of a claim of the prior equity against the elder grant, which it is admitted carried the legal title.
Stith took possession as tenant of the heirs of Peyton under an agreement for one year at twenty dollars per year. Possession was afterwards demanded of him on behalf of the lessors, which he refused to deliver, and a warrant for forcible entry and detainer was on their complaint issued against him according to the law of Kentucky, and on an inquisition he was found guilty, but on a traverse of the inquisition he was acquitted and an ejectment was brought against him by the lessors. Eight days after the finding of the inquisition, Stith purchased the land from Phillips. This is the case of an unsuccessful attempt by a landlord to recover possession from an obstinate tenant, whose refusal could not destroy the tenure by which he remained on the premises or impair any of the relations which the law established between them. The judgment on the acquittal concluded nothing but the facts necessary to sustain the prosecution and which could be legally at issue; title could not be set up as a defense; Stith could not avail himself of the purchase from Phillips. A judgment for either party left their rights of property wholly unaffected except as to the mere possession; the acquittal could only disaffirm the forcible entry, as nothing else was at issue; the tenancy was not determined; Peyton was not ousted, and the possession did not become less the possession of the landlord by any legal consequences as resulting from the acquittal.
In the case of Willison v. Watkins, 3 Pet. 44, this Court considered and declared the law to be settled that a purchase by a tenant of an adverse title claiming under or attorning to it or any other disclaimer of tenure with the knowledge of the landlord was a forfeiture of his term; that his possession became so far adverse that the act of limitations would begin to run in his favor front the time of such forfeiture, and the landlord could sustain an ejectment
against him, without notice to quit, at
any time before the period prescribed by the statute had expired, by the mere force of the tenure, without any other evidence than the proof of the tenancy, but that the tenant could in no case contest the right of his landlord to possession or defend himself by any claim or title adverse to him during the time which the statute has to run. If the landlord, under such circumstances, suffers the time prescribed by the statute of limitations to run out without making an entry or bringing a suit, each party may stand upon their right, but until then the possession of the tenant is the possession of the landlord.
From the time of the purchase by Stith from Phillips, although it became adverse for the specified purposes, it remained fiduciary for all others.
The same principles which would prevent a tenant from contesting his landlord's title in a court of law would apply with greater force in a court of equity, to which he would apply for the quieting of a tortious possession and a conveyance of the legal title. If the relations existing between them could deprive them of defense at law, a court of chancery could not afford him relief as a plaintiff during their continuance. Before he can be heard in either in assertion of his title, he must be out of possession unless it has become legalized by time, and even then there may be cases where an equitable title had been purchased under such circumstances as could justify a court of equity in withholding it, and to a mala fide purchaser.
A patent for unimproved lands no part of which was in the possession of anyone at the time it issued gives legal seizin and constructive possession of all the land within the survey.
Courts of equity adopt the same rule as to possession to bar a recovery in ejectment as courts of law.
Joseph Stith, the appellee, filed a bill for an injunction to stay perpetually proceedings by the appellants on a judgment obtained by them in an ejectment instituted by them as the devisee of Francis Peyton against Joseph Stith, the appellee.
The relief sought by the complainant in the circuit court was founded on the allegation that one Jenkin Phillips, under whom the complainant claimed, made the first entry on the land in controversy, although it was admitted that the plaintiffs in the ejectment held under the eldest patent.
The circuit court decreed a perpetual injunction as to so much of the land as fell within a certain location made under a survey ordered by that court within the bounds of Jenkin Phillips' conveyed to the complainant. From the decree, the respondents appealed to this Court.
The facts are fully stated in the opinion of the court.