Van Rensselaer v. Kearney
52 U.S. 297 (1850)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Van Rensselaer v. Kearney, 52 U.S. 11 How. 297 297 (1850)

Van Rensselaer v. Kearney

52 U.S. (11 How.) 297

Syllabus

In 1786, the Legislature of New York passed a law declaring that "all estates tail shall be, and hereby are, abolished," and if any person should thereafter become seized in fee tail of any lands, tenements, or hereditaments by virtue of any devise &c., he should be deemed to have become seized in fee simple absolute.

Page 52 U. S. 298

This included an estate tail in remainder as well as one in possession.

The courts in New York have so decided, and this Court adopts their construction.

The remainderman dying during the lifetime of the life tenant, the latter, being the father, inherited from the son a fee simple absolute.

Whilst the remainderman was yet alive, the life tenant sold the property and conveyed it to the vendee by a deed which, according to its true construction, affirmed the existence of an estate in fee simple in itself. The reasons for this construction stated.

Those claiming under him are estopped by this deed. The doctrine of estoppel explained.

This was a bill filed by the appellant, Jeremiah Van Rensselaer, against John Watts originally, and continued against his trustees and executors, praying for an account of the rents of certain property, and for the surrender of the leases, title deeds &c.

In order to see at a glance the derivation of the title, the following table is referred to:

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Page 52 U. S. 299

On the 25 May, 1782, John Van Rensselaer was seized of a large body of land, about thirty-four thousand acres, a part of which had been leased on permanent ground rents and a part leased for life or for years. The residue was owned by him in fee simple. On that day he made and published his last will and testament, by which he devised Claverack Manor to trustees during the life of John J. Van Rensselaer, his grandson, with the intent to create an estate tail, the rents and profits to the use of John J. Van Rensselaer during his lifetime and the remainder over to the issue male of the said John, and in case of failure of such issue, then to the issue male of the other sons of the testator. Provision was then made for raising portions for female issue.

On 12 July, 1782, a law was passed in New York abolishing entails, and on 29 July, 1782, the testator added a codicil to his will, alluding to the law.

In 1783, the testator died, and John J. Van Rensselaer, the devisee, entered into possession of the estate.

On 23 February, 1786, the Legislature of New York passed an act 3 R.S.N.Y. 1st ed., App. 48; 1 R.L. 1813, p. 52, declaring

"That all estates tail shall be, and hereby are, abolished, and that, in all cases where any person or persons now is, or, if the act hereinafter mentioned [referring to the act passed on 12 July, 1782] had not been passed, would now be seized in fee tail of any lands, tenements, or hereditaments, such person and persons shall be deemed to be seized of the same in fee simple absolute, and further that in all cases where any person or persons would, if the said act and this present act had not been passed, at any time hereafter become seized in fee tail of any lands, tenements, or hereditaments, by virtue of any devise, gift, grant, or other conveyance heretofore made or hereafter to be made, or by any other means whatsoever, such person or persons, instead of becoming seized thereof in fee tail, shall be deemed and adjudged to become seized thereof in fee simple absolute."

In 1791, John was born, who was the first-born son of the devisee. It may as well be mentioned here that he died in 1813, leaving his father surviving him. After John there were born other children, viz., Jeremiah, who was the complainant below and appellant here, Catherine, who intermarried with one Visscher, Glen, and Cornelius.

In 1794, the condition of the estate was this. Much the larger proportion of it was held under leases, which had been made to different persons at different times, and the residue was held by John J. Van Rensselaer. The leases were, some of them, executed by Hendrick Van Rensselaer and John Van

Page 52 U. S. 300

Rensselaer, the ancestors of the said John J.; and some executed by John J. Van Rensselaer himself. These leases for the most part created perpetual ground rents, and those which did not create perpetual ground rents were for the lives of the lessees. Two mortgages upon the property had also been given by John J. Van Rensselaer to Philip Schuyler, for three thousand one hundred pounds each.

This being the state of the property in 1794, John J. Van Rensselaer entered into an agreement with Daniel Penfield, on 4 November of that year. As these articles were much discussed in the argument, it is proper to make extracts from them as to those points which were the subject of discussion.

"Articles of agreement had, made, entered into, and finally concluded upon this fourth day of November in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety-four by and between John J. Van Rensselaer of Greenbush, in the County of Rensselaer, of the one part, and Daniel Penfield of the City of New York, of the other part, witnesseth:"

"Imprimis, the said John J. Van Rensselaer, for himself, his heirs, executors, and administrators, doth covenant, grant, and agree to and with the said Daniel Penfield, his heirs, executors, and administrators that he, the said John J. Van Rensselaer, together with Catherine, his wife, shall and will, within the term of three months from the date hereof, by a good and sufficient deed and conveyance in the law, such as by the counsel of the said Daniel Penfield, his heirs or assigns, shall be reasonably advised, devised, or required, and that free and clear, and freely acquitted and discharged of and from all encumbrances and charges, other than leases heretofore given by the said John J. Van Rensselaer and his ancestors, assign, release, convey, assure, bargain, sell, grant, and confirm unto the said Daniel Penfield, his heirs and assigns forever, all the right, title, interest, property, claim, and demand, either in possession, reversion, or remainder, of him, the said John J. Van Rensselaer and Catherine, his wife, of, in, or to all that tract and parcel of land situate, lying, and being in the Town of Claverack, and City of Hudson, and County of Columbia, and included within the boundaries following, to-wit, that is to say, beginning,"

&c., going on to describe the land,

"together with all and singular the waters, watercourses, and streams of water, profits, advantages, hereditaments, and appurtenances whatsoever thereunto appertaining and belonging, or which have been considered and used, or now are used and occupied, as part and parcel thereof, in as full and ample a manner as the said John J. Van Rensselaer now hath and enjoyeth the same, and in as

Page 52 U. S. 301

full and ample a manner as the same have heretofore been had and enjoyed by the said John J. Van Rensselaer, or lawfully may be had, used, occupied, possessed, and enjoyed by him, his heirs or assigns, to have and to hold the same unto the said Daniel Penfield, his heirs and assigns forever, excepting, reserving, and saving thereout all the land included within the foregoing and above-described boundaries, which have been heretofore granted,"

&c., going on to enumerate the leases made and agreed to be made.

Then followed covenants on the part of Penfield to pay for the quantity of land, to pay the mortgages to Schuyler, to secure the payment of the installments by mortgage, to execute leases to the persons with whom John J. had agreed that leases should be made, and other covenants, which it is not material to state.

On 1 January, 1795, John J. Van Rensselaer and Catherine, his wife, executed the deed to Penfield, in conformity with the above articles. The deed is short, and, as many parts of it were criticized in the argument, it may be proper to insert it entire.

"This indenture, made the first day of January, 1795, between John J. Van Rensselaer, of the County of Rensselaer and State of New York, Esquire, and Catherine, his wife, of the one part, and Daniel Penfield, of the City of New York, esquire, of the other part:"

"Whereas certain articles of agreement, indented, were made and executed by and between the said John J. Van Rensselaer of the one part and the said Daniel Penfield of the other part, bearing date the fourth day of November last past, in the words following, to-wit:"

"Imprimis, the said John J. Van Rensselaer, for himself, his heirs, executors, and administrators, doth covenant, grant, and agree to and with the said Daniel Penfield, his heirs, executors, and administrators, that he, the said John J. Van Rensselaer, together with Catherine, his wife, within the term of three months from the date hereof, by a good and sufficient deed and conveyance in the law, such as by the counsel of the said Daniel Penfield, his heirs or assigns, shall be reasonably advised, devised, or required, and that free and clear, and freely acquitted and discharged of and from all encumbrances and charges other than leases heretofore given by the said John J. Van Rensselaer and his ancestors, assign, release, convey, assure, bargain, sell, grant, and confirm unto the said Daniel Penfield, his heirs and assigns forever, all the right, title, interest, property, claim, and demand, either in possession, reversion, or remainder, of him, the said John J. Van Rensselaer,

Page 52 U. S. 302

and Catherine, his wife, of, in, or to all that tract and parcel of land, situate, lying, and being in the Town of Claverack, and City of Hudson, in the County of Columbia, and included within the boundaries following, to-wit, that is to say:"

"Beginning at the mouth of Major Abraham's or Kinderhook Creek; thence running south eighty-four degrees and thirty-eight minutes east, ten miles; thence running south forty degrees west, as far as the right of John Van Rensselaer, the grandfather of the said John J. Van Rensselaer, extended; from thence to Wahankasick; and thence up Hudson River to the place of beginning, together with all and singular the waters, watercourses, and streams of water, profits, advantages, hereditaments, and appurtenances whatsoever thereunto appertaining or belonging, and which have been considered and used, or now are used and occupied, as part and parcel thereof, in as full and ample a manner as the said John J. Van Rensselaer now hath and enjoyeth the same, and in as full and ample a manner as the same have heretofore been had and enjoyed by the said John J. Van Rensselaer, or lawfully may be had, used, occupied, possessed, and enjoyed by him, his heirs or assigns, to have and to hold the same unto the said Daniel Penfield, his heirs and assigns forever, excepting, reserving, and saving thereout all the land included within the foregoing and above-described boundaries, which have been heretofore granted by letters patent prior to the grants, patents, and confirmations under which the right and title of the said John J. Van Rensselaer is derived, excepting also all lands sold or granted otherwise than by lease by the late John Van Rensselaer, deceased, and the aforesaid John J. Van Rensselaer, and all the lands granted by lease from the said John Van Rensselaer, deceased, to Robert Van Rensselaer, situate, lying, and being in the said Town of Claverack, in the County of Columbia, and excepting also the quantity of fifty acres of woodland, to be granted by the said Daniel Penfield to Henry J. Van Rensselaer, and situate within the boundaries before mentioned and described, and to be by them agreed on, and excepting also all that tract of land situate in the City of Hudson and Town of Claverack formerly devised by Hendrick Van Rensselaer to Henry Van Rensselaer, deceased, and excepting, also, the farm of land in possession of the representatives of Eytie Moore deceased, and by the said John J. Van Renssselaer conveyed to John Van Rensselaer, which said deed shall be duly acknowledged by the said John J. Van Rensselaer and Catharine, his wife, pursuant to the act in such case made and provided, as in and by the said articles of agreement, relation being thereunto especially had, may among other things more fully appear. "

Page 52 U. S. 303

"Now therefore, this indenture witnesseth that the said John J. Van Rensselaer and Catharine, his wife, for and in consideration of the sum of forty-four thousand five hundred and fifty dollars to them in hand paid, the receipt whereof they do hereby acknowledge, and therefrom release and discharge the said Daniel Penfield, his heirs and assigns, have granted, bargained, sold, aliened, enfeoffed, assured, released, and confirmed, and by these presents do grant, bargain, sell, alien, enfeoff, assure, release, and confirm, unto the said Daniel Penfield, in his actual possession now being, by virtue of a bargain and sale to him thereof made for one whole year by the said John J. Van Rensselaer, by indenture bearing date the day next before the day of the date of these presents, and by force of the statute for transferring uses into possession, and to his heirs and assigns forever, all and singular the aforesaid tract of land above described, lying and being in the Town of Claverack and City of Hudson, and so butted and bounded as is above particularly mentioned, together with all and singular the waters, watercourses, and streams of water, profits, advantages, hereditaments, and appurtenances whatsoever thereto appertaining and belonging, or which have been considered and used, or now are used and occupied, as part and parcel thereof, excepting, reserving, and saving thereout all the lands included within the foregoing and above-described boundaries, which are excepted, saved, and reserved in the said in part recited articles of agreement; which said tract of land, after deducting the said exceptions, reservations, and savings, contains the quantity of thirty-three thousand six hundred and fifty-eight acres of land, and the reversion and reversions, remainder and remainders, rents, issues, services, and profits thereof, and also all leases of and concerning any part or parts of the said granted premises; and also all the estate, right, title, interest, property, possession, claim, and demand of them, the said John J. Van Rensselaer and Catherine, his wife, of, in, and to the same, to have and to hold the said tract of land so described and so butted and bounded as above recited, excepting, saving, and reserving, as are above particularly excepted, saved, and reserved, unto the said Daniel Penfield, his heirs and assigns, to the only proper use and behoof of the said Daniel Penfield, his heirs and assigns forever, in as full and ample a manner as the said John J. Van Rensselaer now hath and enjoyeth the same, and in as full and ample a manner as the same hath heretofore been had and enjoyed by the said John J. Van Rensselaer, or lawfully might, if these presents were not made, be had, used, occupied, possessed, and enjoyed by him, his heirs or assigns."

"And the said John J. Van Rensselaer, for himself, his heirs, executors,

Page 52 U. S. 304

and administrators doth covenant, grant, and agree, to and with the said Daniel Penfield, his heirs and assigns, in manner following, that is to say, that the said tract of land described, butted and bounded as aforesaid, excepting, saving, and reserving as above are excepted, saved, and reserved, is free and clear, and shall and may be held and enjoyed by the said Daniel Penfield, his heirs and assigns, according to the true intent and meaning of these presents, freely and clearly acquitted and discharged of and from all encumbrances and charges, other than leases heretofore given by the said John J. Van Rensselaer and his ancestors, or any of them, and except a certain mortgage upon the premises executed by the said John J. Van Rensselaer to Philip Schuyler, esquire, dated the 11th day of August, 1791, to secure the payment of three thousand one hundred pounds."

"In witness whereof the parties to these presents have hereunto interchangeably set their hands and seals, the day and year first above written."

"JOHN J. VAN RENSSELAER [L.S.]"

"CATHERINE VAN RENSSELAER [L.S.]"

On 15 October, 1806, Penfield and wife conveyed all the property to John Watts enumerating in the deed all the leases, which were to stand good.

In 1813, John Van Rensselaer, the eldest son of John J. died without issue.

On 26 September, 1828, John J. Van Rensselaer, who had sold the property to Watts died also.

At some time previous to the year 1836, but when the record did not show, Jeremiah Van Rensselaer, a citizen of New Jersey, being the eldest surviving son of John J., filed his bill in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York against John Watts and against Catherine G. Visscher, Cornelius G. Van Rensselaer, and Glen Van Rensselaer. In the bill he alleged that all the estate and interest which John J. Van Rensselaer acquired under the will of his grandfather was an estate for his own life merely, and that the said John J. was unable to vest, and did not vest, any greater interest in Penfield. Claiming the whole estate, he called upon Watts for an account of the rents and profits, and for a surrender of the title papers.

As to his brothers and sister, the bill proceeded thus:

"Your orator further charges that the said Catherine G. Visscher, Cornelius G. Van Rensselaer, and Glen Van Rensselaer, who are citizens of the State of New York, give out and pretend that the said John J. Van Rensselaer had a son named

Page 52 U. S. 305

John Van Rensselaer, who, as they allege, was born in the year 1791 and died in the year 1813, and they further allege that upon his birth the said estate, devised to the eldest son of the said John J. Van Rensselaer in and by the said will, vested in the said John Van Rensselaer, and that by the operation of law it was turned into an estate in fee and descended, upon the death of the said John Van Rensselaer, to the said John J. Van Rensselaer, and that upon the death of the said John J. Van Rensselaer in the year 1828, it descended to his heirs at law as tenants in common, whereby, as they allege, they are each entitled to a fourth part of the said estate and to the rents and profits accruing thereupon. Whereas your orator charges that the said estate, and the rents and profits thereof belong to him."

The bill then prayed that the complainant might be quieted in his title to the whole of the premises, or, in case it should be decided that he was entitled only to one-fourth part, then that the court would decree accordingly.

The brothers and sister answered, admitting the facts stated in the bill, and submitting themselves to the judgment of the court.

Watts put in a plea denying all knowledge of any title except that of Penfield at the time of his purchase and prayed that he might not be compelled to answer further. The court allowed the plea to stand as to the discovery, but ordered a further answer as to the title.

In September, 1836, John Watts died, leaving Philip Kearney and Frederic De Peyster his executors. A supplemental bill and bill of revivor was then filed making them parties, and also Philip Kearney, Jr., Susan Kearney, and John Watts De Peyster, the devisees of the property in question. The new parties answered and sundry exhibits were filed and depositions taken. In May, 1846, the cause came on for argument in the circuit court, which passed the following decree. Judge Nelson being unable to attend from sickness, the decree was given by Judge Betts.

"First. That the remainder in tail, in the premises mentioned in the pleadings in this cause, created by the will of John Van Rensselaer the elder, vested in John, his great-grandson on his birth in the year 1791, and that said great-grandson was seized of such remainder."

"Second. That the tenant in tail under the said will, acquiring such estate in remainder, became thereby so seized of the lands, tenements, and hereditaments devised that the Act of February 23, A.D. 1786, converted such estate tail into a fee simple absolute. "

Page 52 U. S. 306

"Third. That the said John, the great-grandson of the said John Van Rensselaer the elder, took the estate in question as a purchase, and thus became a new stock of descent, and was so seized thereof that at his death in the year 1813 the whole estate descended to his father John J. Van Rensselaer and his heirs at law."

"Fourth. That the covenants in the deed of John J. Van Rensselaer conveying the premises in question to David Penfield, bearing date the 1st day of January, A.D. 1795, amount in law to a covenant against all encumbrances except such as are specifically designated in the said deed, and also to a covenant for quiet enjoyment, subject only to the like exceptions."

"Fifth. That the said covenants in the said deed operate as an estoppel to John J. Van Rensselaer's claiming the estate subsequently acquired by him as against his grantee, and that the estoppel operates equally against the complainant in this suit, who makes title to the estate in question as one of the heirs at law of John J. Van Rensselaer."

"Sixth. That the deed of Daniel Penfield to John Watts bearing date 15 October in the year 1806, conveying the said estate to the said John Watts in fee, with full covenants, entitles his devisees and representatives, now in possession of the premises, and who are defendants in this cause, to a decree dismissing the complainant's bill in this cause, with costs."

"It is therefore ordered, adjudged, and decreed by this Court that the complainant's said bill of complaint be, and the same hereby is, dismissed, and that the said complainant pay to the said defendants or their solicitor their costs of this suit, to be taxed, and that the said defendants have execution therefor according to the course and practice of this Court."

"[Signed] SAMUEL R. BETTS"

The complainant appealed to this Court.

Page 52 U. S. 317

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