Holt v. Rogers
33 U.S. 420 (1834)

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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an indisputable title to D. on or before 1 January, 1795, and if not then made, the contract of sale was to be deemed rescinded and the forty-five pounds purchase money was to be repaid to D."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

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