Holt v. Rogers - 33 U.S. 420 (1834)
U.S. Supreme Court
Holt v. Rogers, 33 U.S. 8 Pet. 420 420 (1834)
Holt v. Rogers
33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 420
Construction of a contract for the sale of a tract of land.
R. executed a bond to D. conditioned that he would make him a fair and indisputable title to a certain tract of land on or before 1 January, 1795, and if no conveyance was then made, that R. would stand indebted to D. in a certain sum of money, being the sum acknowledged to be paid to R. at the time of the contract.
By the Court:
"No other just interpretation can under the circumstances be put upon this language than that the parties intended, that R. should perfect his title to the land by a patent and should make a conveyance of an indisputable title to D. on or before 1 January, 1795, and if not then made, the contract of sale was to be deemed rescinded and the forty-five pounds purchase money was to be repaid to D."
In 1799, the heir of the vendor, he having died, obtained a complete title to the land by patent, and the vendee did not die until seven years afterwards. After his death in 1806, no step was taken by his heirs or devisees for the purpose of asserting any claim to a performance of the contract for the sale of the land, until 1819, and no suit was commenced until 1823. In the meantime, the property has materially risen in value from the general improvement and settlement of the country.
By the Court:
"The objection from the lapse of time is decisive. Courts of equity are not in the habit of entertaining bills for a specific performance after a considerable lapse of time unless upon very special circumstances. Even where time is not of the essence of the contract, they will not interfere where there have been long delay and laches on the part of the party seeking a specific"
performance. And especially will they not interfere where there has in the meantime been a great change of circumstances and new interests have intervened. In the present case, the bill is brought after a lapse of twenty-nine years.
The case as stated in the opinion of the Court was as follows:
The suit was brought in February, 1823, for a specific performance of a contract made in January, 1794, for the sale of land, under the following circumstances. On 6 January, 1794, John Rogers of Virginia executed his bond to James Dickinson of the same state in the penal sum of £2,000 upon condition, after reciting that Rogers had on that day sold to Dickinson a tract of land lying in Kentucky,
containing about twelve hundred acres, for £120, that if Rogers, his heirs or assigns, shall make or cause to be made to Dickinson or his assigns a good and lawful deed for the land when required, then the obligation to be void. On the same day, Dickinson executed to Rogers a counter-bond in the penal sum of £240 upon condition, after reciting the sale of the same land to Dickinson, and the receipt by Rogers of £45, part of the consideration money,
"that if Rogers shall, on or before 1 January, 1795, make a fair and indisputable title in fee simple to Dickinson, &c., of the said tract or parcel of land, and Dickinson, after that conveyance being made, shall pay to Rogers the further sum of £75 lawful money, but if no such conveyance of said land shall be made, then the said Rogers stands indebted to the said Dickinson in the sum of £45 already advanced as mentioned aforesaid, then this obligation to be void, or else to remain in full force and virtue."
At the time of this contract of sale, Rogers had no patent for the land, but only a plat and certificate of survey of it upon a military warrant. Rogers died in April, 1794, without children, unmarried and intestate, leaving his father, George Rogers, his heir at law, who then lived in Virginia, and afterwards died there in March, 1802, having by his last will devised the land in controversy, of which he had obtained a patent in 1799, to his two sons, Edmund Rogers and Thomas Rogers (the defendants), and to his four daughters, to each of them one sixth part, and constituted his said sons trustees for his four daughters during their lives, and afterwards for their children respectively in fee, with power to sell the same, &c. He also appointed his two sons executors of his will.
Dickinson continued to reside in Virginia until his death, in 1806, and by his last will he devised his estate to his wife Mary Dickinson, under whom the plaintiff, Ann Holt, claims, as her daughter and sole heiress at law, the land in controversy. The suit is brought against the defendants, Edmund and Thomas Rogers, without making the four daughters or any of them or their representatives parties.
The circuit court dismissed the bill of the complainants, and they prosecuted this appeal.