Lessee of Smith v. McCann - 65 U.S. 398 (1860)
U.S. Supreme Court
Lessee of Smith v. McCann, 65 U.S. 24 How. 398 398 (1860)
Lessee of Smith v. McCann
65 U.S. (24 How.) 398
In Maryland, the distinction between common law and equity, as known to the English law, has been constantly preserved in its system of jurisprudence.
The statute of George the Second which made lands in the American colonies liable to be sold under a fieri facias issued upon a judgment in a court of common law, did not interfere with this distinction, and under it a legal estate only and not an equitable interest could be seized under a fi. fa.
In 1810, an act of assembly was passed making equitable interests subject to this process.
But the purchaser at the sale of an equitable interest under this process only buys the interest which the debtor had, and thus becomes the owner of an equitable and not a legal estate.
It is not, however, every legal interest that is made liable to sale on a fi. fa. The debtor must have a beneficial interest in the property, and not a barren legal title held in trust.
In the action of ejectment in Maryland, the lessor of the plaintiff must show a legal title in himself to the land which be claims, and the right of possession under it, at the time of the demise laid in the declaration and at the time of the trial. He cannot support the action upon an equitable title, however clear and indisputable it may be, but must seek his remedy in chancery.
Where there was a deed of land to a debtor in trust which conveyed to him a naked legal title, he took under it no interest that could be seized and sold by the marshal upon a fi. fa., and the purchaser at such sale could not maintain an action of ejectment under the marshal's deed.
But the plaintiff in the ejectment suit offered evidence to prove that the trusts in the deed were fraudulent, and that the debtor purchased the land and procured the deed in this form in order to hinder and defraud his creditors. And this proof was offered to show that the debtor had a beneficial interest in the property, liable to be seized and sold for the payment of his debts.
This parol evidence could not be introduced to enlarge or change the legal estate of the grantee against the plain words of the instrument.
If the evidence were admissible, the fraudulent character of the trusts, as against his creditors, could not enlarge his legal interest beyond the terms of the deed. Although the debtor may have paid the purchase money, that circumstance did riot establish a resulting trust in his favor.
The lessors of the plaintiff had a plain and ample remedy in chancery, where all the parties interested could be brought before the court.
The instruction of the court below was therefore correct, that the plaintiff could not recover in the action of ejectment.
The facts are stated in the opinion of the Court.