Davila v. Mumford
65 U.S. 214 (1860)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Davila v. Mumford, 65 U.S. 24 How. 214 214 (1860)

Davila v. Mumford

65 U.S. (24 How.) 214

ERROR TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED

STATES FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS

Syllabus

The statute of limitations of Texas provides in its fifteenth section,

"That every suit to be instituted to recover real estate, as against him, her, or them in possession under title or color of title shall be instituted within three years next after the cause of action shall have accrued, and not afterwards, but in this limitation is not to be computed the duration of disability to sue from the minority, coverture, or insanity of him, her, or them, having cause of action. By the term 'title' as used in this section is meant a regular chain of transfer from or under the sovereignty of the soil, and 'color of title' is constituted by a consecutive chain of such transfer down to him, her, or them in possession, without being regular, as if one or more of the memorials or muniments be not registered, or not duly registered, or be only in writing, or such like defect as may not extend to or include the want of intrinsic fairness and honesty, or when the party in possession shall hold the same by a certificate of head right, land warrant, or land scrip, with a chain of transfer down to him, her, or them in possession and provided that this section shall not bar the right of the government."

And the sixteenth section provides

"That he, she, or they who shall have had five years like peaceable possession of real estate, cultivating, using, or enjoying the same, and paying tax thereon, if any, and claiming under a deed or deeds duly registered, shall be held to have full title, precluding all claims, but shall not bar the government, and, saving to the person or persons having

Page 65 U. S. 215

superior right and cause of action, the duration of disability to sue arising from nonage, coverture, or insanity."

The construction of the fifteenth section is this: that although the elder title was on record, the constructive notice thereof to the holder of the junior title was not sufficient to charge the latter with a "want of intrinsic fairness and honesty," so as to prevent the bar of the statute from running.

The sixteenth section commented on, but its meaning not definitively adjudged. An act of the Republic of Texas cured whatever defects existed in the power of the commissioner who issued the grants to the defendants.

The principal question in the case was the construction of the statute of limitations passed by the State of Texas, which is discussed in the opinion of the Court, and need not be stated in this place.

Page 65 U. S. 221

MR. JUSTICE NELSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

The suit was brought against the defendants and others to recover the possession of eleven square leagues of land situate in what was formerly known as the County of Milam, on the right bank of the River San Andres, otherwise called Little River, where Buffalo Creek and Donaho's Creek enter said river, with specified boundaries.

The plaintiff gave in evidence a grant from the government of Coahuila and Texas, within the limits of the colony of the empresarios Austin and Williams, dated 18 October, 1833, and rested.

The defendants gave in evidence grants from the same government of a league each, situate within the boundaries of the eleven leagues, the one to David Mumford, dated 20th March, 1835, the other to Jesse Mumford, dated 25 February, the same year; the former went into possession in the spring of 1844 and continued in the possession and cultivation of the tract down to the time of trial; the latter took possession in the year 1850 and continued the cultivation and improvement down to the trial.

The defense relied on is the statute of limitations.

The court charged that the plaintiff and defendants both claimed under titles emanating from the sovereignty of the soil; that the plaintiff's was the elder in point of date, and must be regarded as paramount unless the defendants were protected by the statute of limitations set up in defense. That if the jury believed from the evidence the defendants had held actual adverse and peaceable possession in their own right for more than three years next before the commencement of the suit, under color of title, and that the plaintiff's cause of action accrued more than three years prior to the suit, the jury should find for the defendants.

The court further charged that if the jury believed from the evidence that the defendants had held actual adverse and peaceable possession in their own right, cultivating, using, and enjoying the lands, and paying taxes thereon, and claiming

Page 65 U. S. 222

under a deed or deeds duly recorded, for more than five years next before the commencement of the suit, they should find for the defendants.

The 15th section of the act of limitations of Texas provides

"That every suit to be instituted to recover real estate as against him, her, or them, in possession, under title or color of title, shall be instituted within three years next after the cause of action shall have accrued, and not afterwards,"

and provides that

"By the term 'title' as used in this section is meant a regular chain of transfer from or under the sovereignty of the soil, and 'color of title' is constituted by a consecutive chain of such transfers down to him, her, or them in possession, without being regular, as if one or more of the memorials or muniments be not registered, or not duly registered, or be only in writing, or such like defect as may not extend to or include the want of intrinsic fairness and honesty."

The principal ground taken against the operation and effect of the three years' limitation in the present cause is that the elder title being on record, the defendants had constructive notice of the same at the time of the grants to them, and hence that the title is subject to the charge of the "want of intrinsic fairness and honesty" within the meaning of the statute, which it is claimed removes the bar of three years' adverse possession.

It is admitted that this clause of the statute has not yet received a construction by the courts of Texas, and there is certainly some difficulty in ascertaining the precise meaning intended by the legislature from the phraseology used. The better opinion, we think, is that the want of intrinsic fairness and honesty, in the connection in which the words are found, relates to some infirmity in the muniments of title, or deduction of title, of the defendant indicating a want of good faith in obtaining it.

The statute, in defining what is intended by possession "under title, and color of title," in order to operate as a bar within the three years, declares, that by the term "title" "is meant a regular chain of transfer from or under the sovereignty of the soil," which, as is apparent, is the case before us,

Page 65 U. S. 223

the title of the defendants being directly from the government; and "color of title" is declared to be

"a consecutive chain of such transfer down to him, her, or them, in possession, without being regular, as if one or more of the memorials or muniments be not registered, or not duly registered, or be only in writing, or such like defect as may not extend to or include the want of intrinsic fairness and honesty,"

clearly referring, as we think again, to the muniments of the title and defects therein.

To refer these words to a constructive or actual notice of an elder title would, in the practical effect of the limitation, be a virtual repeal of the statute, especially in all cases in which the elder title is of record.

A statute of limitations is founded upon the idea of an elder and better title outstanding, and prescribes a period of possession and cultivation of the land, under the junior or inferior title, as a bar to the elder, for the repose of society, thereby settling the title by lapse of time and preventing litigation.

As it respects the five years' limitation, the objection is that the grants were not duly registered, and hence the possession not within the 16th section of the act. The grant to David Mumford was registered on the 21st July, 1838, and that to Jesse on the 4th October of the same year.

It is insisted, however, that the registries were a nullity on the ground that the execution of the grants had not been properly proved or acknowledged in order to be admitted of record.

In the case of the grant to David, the recorder certifies that the deed was presented to him, proven, and duly recorded in his office the day above mentioned, and in that of Jesse that the deed was proved for record by J. B. Chance, who made oath that he was familiar with the handwriting of the commissioner, W. H. Steele, and also of the assisting witnesses, and that he believed the several signatures to be genuine.

There is some difficulty in determining from the various decisions of the courts of Texas upon the registry act of 1836 whether or not the certificates of proof of the grants in the present case were sufficient to permit them to registry at the

Page 65 U. S. 224

time they were filed for record. It is claimed for the defendants that the recording of the grants was confirmed by the act of 1839, which provided that

"Copies of all deeds &c., when the originals remain in the public archives, and were executed in conformity with the laws existing at their dates, duly certified by the proper officers, shall be admitted to record in the county where such land lies."

This act relates to the colonists' titles delivered to the grantee, the originals remaining as public archives. The deeds in the present case are copies of the originals remaining in the archives, and are certified by Steele, the commissioner, that they agree with the original titles which exist in the archives, from which they are taken for the parties interested, the day of their date, in the form provided by the law. In addition to this certificate, the copies, which it seems are executed by the commissioner, and are second originals, were proved before the recorder at the time they were admitted to registry. But be this as it may, we are not disposed to look very critically into the question of the registry, though we cannot say the court was in error in respect to it, inasmuch as the defense was complete under the statute of three years' limitation, as already explained.

An objection has been taken that the grants of the defendants are a nullity upon the ground that Steele, the commissioner, had no authority to act in that capacity in the colony of Nashville, or Robertson, at their date. But this defect was cured by the act of the Republic of Texas in 1841, as has been repeatedly held by the courts of Texas. 2 Tex. 1 and 37; 9 id. 348, 372; 23 Tex. 113 and 234; 22 id. 161 and 21; ib., 722; 61 U. S. 20 How. 270

The judgment of the court below affirmed.

Official Supreme Court caselaw is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia caselaw is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.