King's Heirs v. Thompson - 34 U.S. 204 (1835)
U.S. Supreme Court
King's Heirs v. Thompson, 34 U.S. 204 (1835)
King's Heirs v. Thompson
34 U.S. 204
District of Columbia. A few days after the marriage of J. Thompson with the daughter of George King in 1812, the latter residing in Georgetown in the District of Columbia and having a large, active capital and a large real estate there, proposed to grant to J.T. a house and lot in Georgetown, then much out of repair and untenantable, provided he would repair the same so as to make it a comfortable residence, and saying that he intended the property for his daughter. This proposition was accepted by J.T., who repaired the property, expending upwards of four thousand dollars on the same, and he,
with his wife, resided on it about four years. Before his removal from it, a correspondence on the subject of the conveyance of the property to J.T. or to J.T. and his wife took place which ended in propositions to convey the property, on certain terms beneficial to J.T. and wife in pursuance of and intended to be in execution of the original offer of G.K. to J.T., made immediately after the marriage. No conveyance was made. J.T. and wife removed from Georgetown, and G.K. collected and paid to J.T. the rents of the property for some time after their removal. G.K. died in 1820, insolvent; his debts amounted to thirty-six thousand dollars, and his whole estate, both real and personal, when sold, did not pay thirty-nine percent of his debts. The property claimed by J.T. and wife in this case was sold for sixteen hundred dollars by a trustee under a decree in chancery obtained by the creditors of G.K., but the sale has not been ratified.
From the occupancy of the property and the amount of money expended in improving it, it was certain that there was an understanding between G.K. and J.T. that the property in some manner should be possessed and enjoyed by J.T. and his wife. The evidence, however, showed that G.K. did not intend to vest it absolutely in J.T., but that the value of it, before the improvements, should in some form be secured to the wife of J.T. Whatever uncertainty may have existed as to the terms of the contract, J.T. acted under it in taking possession of the property and expending a large sum of money on it.
J.T. and wife filed a bill against the heirs of G.K. and the trustee of the creditors of G.K. claiming a conveyance of the property, and for general relief. By the court:
"In no point of view could such a contract as that in this case be considered voluntary. There was not only a good consideration, that of natural affection, but a valuable one. To constitute a valuable consideration, it is not necessary that money should be paid, but if, as in this case, it be expended on the faith of the contract, it constitutes a valuable consideration."
In testing the validity of the transaction of 1812, the subsequent fall of property in Georgetown or the failure of King cannot be taken into view. The inquiry must be limited to his circumstances at that time. It is not shown that the persons for whom he was bound as endorser were then
unable to pay the respective sums for which he was responsible, and it would be improper to consider those sums as debts due by King. He was responsible for their payment on certain contingencies, but the fact that his credit remained unimpaired for several years after the contract shows that neither his credit nor the credit of those for whom he was endorser was considered doubtful. In this state of facts, King was in a condition to dispose of the house and lot, not worth more than two thousand five hundred dollars, on the terms stated.
The terms of the contract not being sufficiently established by the evidence, the court decreed that the property should be sold and the proceeds of the sale should be first applied to the payment of the money expended by Thompson in making improvements on the property, and the balance, if any, paid over for the benefit of the creditors of George King, Thompson not to be charged with rent of the premises while he occupied them with the rent collected and paid to him after he, removed.
The appellees, Josiah Thompson and wife, 14 June, 1826, filed a bill on the equity side of the circuit court alleging that George King, in October, 1812, a few days after the marriage of Josiah Thompson with Elizabeth, the daughter of the said George King, proposed to grant to the said Thompson and wife a house and lot of ground in Georgetown if Thompson would repair and make it comfortable for a residence, at the same time informing Thompson he intended the property for his daughter Betsey. The bill alleges that this offer was accepted by Thompson, and that he made repairs to a large amount, and that he occupied the property after it was repaired until 1816, when he removed to the western country.
At the time of this gift, the bill alleges that George King was in good credit and in prosperous circumstances, it being believed he had a large capital and that he owned a valuable real estate which, after the payment of his debts, not large in amount, would enable him to provide handsomely for his children.
In 1816, before Josiah Thompson removed from Georgetown, a correspondence took place between him and George King, which was annexed to the bill and which is referred to as evidence of the contract under which Josiah Thompson took possession of and improved the property.
The first letter was from George King to the complainant, Josiah Thompson, and was dated,
"Georgetown, 17 April, 1816"
"Mr. Josiah Thompson: "
"Sir, I am informed that you are in suspense in regard to the property you now live on, and I think it a duty incumbent on me to let you know the terms I mean to let my daughter Betsey have it. I hold myself ready and hold myself bound to give a deed to a trustee, who shall hold it in trust for her and yourself during your lives, and then, after the death of you both, to revert to her lawful heirs, her children, if any she has, if not, to my heirs, but you may say I wrong you in this way by not letting you know before now that I did not mean to deed to you, instead of keeping it for her, and on that account you have put more improvements than you would have done had you have been informed before. You may now sell the property, and all you can get over three thousand dollars for it you can do as you like with, but that sum must be kept sacred for the use of your wife in the hands of trustees, for her support in case she might ever need it, the use of which as the income will be at your disposal during your own and her life, and then to her heirs as before, and other terms than this it will be useless for you to look for without you find two just fathers that shall say I ought to do otherwise, and, after hearing their reasons on the subject, perhaps I might alter my opinion."
"Yours, with due esteem,"
In reply to this letter, after remonstrating against making the conveyance of the property in trust, the complainant, under date of 26 April, 1816, made three proposals to George King.
"1. Let the property be valued as to its worth at the time it was put into my possession, and I will pay the amount over to you, which you may then hold for my wife, or give it to whom you please, for when I married her, I was not influenced by any pecuniary motive, and as she has never given
me reason to regret my choice, I surely will not allow a consideration like the present to create the smallest uneasiness."
"2. Let the improvements be estimated; pay me the amount, and then I will relinquish all claim, and you will be at liberty to dispose of it as you may deem proper."
"3. Execute a deed to your daughter at once in fee simple, and I will for her benefit and advantage cheerfully give in all that I have expended; this will at once be making her the guardian of her own property, and, if it should please God to call me first, will be to her a support."
"Thus, my dear sir, you will find that I am not disposed to dispute about the original value of the property, for though I consider it as certainly the property of my wife from the delivery of it into my possession, as any subsequent act could make it, and from the manner I was allowed and encouraged to go on with the improvements, yet I am willing at any moment to bind myself to abide by either of the above proposals."
To these proposition, George King, on 29 April, 1816, replied:
"I make no hesitation of complying with your first proposal, for it is just what I proposed in my first to you, and I will do it another way, giving you your choice, viz., I will deed the dwelling house and all above it to you, and about twenty feet below it, and then all below that I will deed to Betsey, provided she will never deed it nor otherwise dispose of it during her life, only by will, which she shall always be at liberty to make when and how she pleases."
The bill proceeds to state that the complainant, Josiah Thompson, was satisfied with the proposition contained in the letter of 29 April, 1816, and that at the removal of the complainant from Georgetown he rented the property, and constituted George King, his agent to collect the rents of the same, which duties he continued to perform, without advancing at any time a claim to the same.
On the death of George King, the legal title to the property descended to his heirs, no conveyance having been made of it
to the complainants, and the bill prays for a decree that the heirs of George King convey the said legal title to the complainants in fulfillment of the agreement of George King, and in the event that the same for any reason cannot be done, that the said property stand charged to the amount of the repairs and improvements put on it by the complainants, and for other and further relief, &c.
After the decease of George King in 1830, largely in debt to the amount of $36,000 and insolvent, his whole real and personal estate not being sufficient to pay his debts, in fact not more than thirty-nine percent of his just debts; his whole real estate was sold by Raphael Semmes, appointed trustee by the court of chancery for that purpose at the instance of George King's creditors, and among the rest the property now in controversy was sold for $1,660 to John W. Baker.
John W. Baker deposited $1.190.18, part of this purchase money in the Mechanics Bank of Georgetown in 1826 and 1827, to remain until the termination of this suit; the first deposit was made on 26 July, 1826, after the filing of this bill.
In the suit instituted by the creditors of George King to compel a sale of his real estate for the payment of his debts, all the heirs of George King were made parties, and among the rest, the said Thompson and wife. The sale to Baker never was ratified in consequence of this suit instituted by Thompson and wife. The heirs of George King (his estate being insolvent) feeling no interest in the suit, filed their answers to the bill of Thompson and wife, neither admitting nor denying the facts alleged, submitting themselves to the judgment of the court.
Raphael Semmes, the trustee for George King's creditors, on petition and by leave of the court, was made a defendant, and allowed to contest the claim set up by Thompson and wife, as was also Charles King one of the principal creditors. They denied the pretended contract and gift set up in the bill; denied the improvements charged to have been made on the property; averred the indebtedness of George King at the time of the pretended gift, to a large amount, and the continuance of such indebtedness to the same creditors up to the time of his death, and the unlawfulness and fraud in law of such gift, if any
could be proved, and the insufficiency of George King's whole estate, real and personal, to pay his just debts, and claimed the proceeds of said house and lot for said creditors of King.
Charles King, as a creditor, also filed a bill against Josiah Thompson and wife charging in substance the same facts, to which bill Thompson and wife responded, reasserting in substance the matters alleged in the original bill. They admit in this answer that they were married on 6 October, 1812, and that the alleged gift of the house and lot was made after the marriage.
Evidence was taken by the complainants and the respondents which is fully stated in the opinion of this Court, and on 5 April, 1832, the circuit court, all the parties having been heard together, pronounced a decree directing a conveyance in fee of the property, claimed in the bill, to Josiah Thompson, from which decree this appeal was taken.