Wood v. Owings & Smith
5 U.S. 239 (1803)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Wood v. Owings & Smith, 5 U.S. 1 Cranch 239 239 (1803)

Wood v. Owings & Smith

5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 239

ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT

OF THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND

Syllabus

A deed executed on 30 May, 1800, but not acknowledged until 14 June following, is to be considered as made 30 May, and was not within the provisions of the act of Congress for the establishment of a uniform system of bankruptcy, passed 4 April, 1800, which came into effect on 1 June, 1800, a commission of bankruptcy having issued against the grantor on 12 July, 1800.

It is a well established doctrine of the common law that a deed becomes complete when sealed and delivered. It then becomes the act of the person who executes it, and whatever its operation may be, it is his deed. The very act of livery which puts the paper into the possession of the party for whose benefit it is made seems to require the construction that it has become a deed.

Page 5 U. S. 250

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a writ of error to a judgment of the Circuit Court of the Fourth Circuit, sitting at Baltimore, in the following case.

On 30 May, 1800, William Robb, who was then a merchant carrying on trade and merchandise in the State of Maryland, signed, sealed, and delivered to Gabriel Wood an instrument of writing purporting to convey to the said Gabriel his real and personal estate in trust to secure him from certain notes and acceptances made by him on account of the said Robb, and afterwards in trust for other creditors in the deed mentioned. This deed was acknowledged on 14 June, and was then enrolled according to the laws of Maryland.

On 12 July, 1800, a commission of bankruptcy was sued out founded on the execution of the deed above mentioned, and the said William Robb being declared a bankrupt, his effects were assigned to William Owings and Job Smith, who brought this suit against Gabriel Wood to recover the money received by him under the deed aforementioned.

Judgment was confessed by the defendant below, subject to the opinion of the court on a case stated, of which the foregoing were the material facts.

The court gave judgment in favor of the assignees, to which judgment a writ of error was sued out by the present plaintiff.

The only question made by the counsel was whether the deed stated in the case was an act of bankruptcy.

On 4 April, 1800, Congress passed an act to establish an uniform system of bankruptcy throughout

Page 5 U. S. 251

the United States, which declares, among other things, that any merchant who shall, after 1 June next succeeding the passage of the act, with intent unlawfully to delay or defraud his creditors, make or cause to be made any fraudulent conveyance of his lands or chattels, shall be deemed and adjudged a bankrupt.

It was admitted in the argument that this deed, if executed after the first day of June, would have been an act of bankruptcy, but that being sealed and delivered on 30 May, it was not within the act, which only comprehends conveyances made after 1 June.

For the defendants in error it was contended that by the laws of Maryland, a deed is not complete until it is acknowledged, and therefore this conveyance was made on 14 June, when it was acknowledged, and not on 30 May, when it was sealed and delivered.

The Maryland act alluded to was passed in 1766, and declares

"That after the first day of May next, no estate of inheritance or freehold, or any declaration or limitation of use, or any estate for above seven years, shall pass or take effect except the deed or conveyance by which the same shall be intended to pass or take effect shall be acknowledged in the provincial court or before one of the justices thereof in the county court, or before two justices of the same county were the lands, tenements, or hereditaments conveyed by such deed or conveyance do lie, and be also enrolled, &c., within six months after the date of such deed or conveyance."

The fifth section gives the conveyance so acknowledged and enrolled, in relation to the date thereof.

It is well established doctrine of the common law that a deed becomes complete when sealed and delivered. It then becomes the act of the person who has executed it, and whatever its operation may be, it is his deed. The very act of livery which puts the paper into the possession of the party for whose benefit it is made seems to require the construction that it has become a deed.

Page 5 U. S. 252

The question now made to the Court is whether the act of the Legislature of Maryland has annexed other requisites to an instrument of writing conveying lands without the performance of which not only the passing of the estate intended to be conveyed is arrested but the instrument itself is prevented from becoming the deed of the person who has executed it.

Upon the most mature consideration of the subject, the opinion of the Court is that the words used in the act of Maryland, which have been recited, consider the instrument as a deed, although inoperative until acknowledged and enrolled.

The words do not apply to the instrument, but to the estate that instrument is intended to convey.

Since then the bankrupt law of the United States does not affect deeds made prior to 1 June, 1800, and this deed was made on 30 May, 1800, the Court is of opinion that the rights vested by the deed (whatever they might be) are not divested in favor of the assignees of the bankrupt, and therefore that they ought not to have recovered in this case.

Judgment reversed and judgment of non pros. to be entered.

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