Brown v. Pierce
74 U.S. 205

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U.S. Supreme Court

Brown v. Pierce, 74 U.S. 7 Wall. 205 205 (1868)

Brown v. Pierce

74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 205

Syllabus

1. Where a bill alleging a good title to lands in a complainant and setting forth particularly the nature of it sought to have a conveyance made by duress annulled, and the land reconveyed free from the lien of judgments obtained against the grantee after the conveyance, an answer by the judgment creditor setting up in general terms a good title in the grantee on the representation and faith of which he had lent such grantee money must be taken as referring to the title derived under the deed in controversy. And this though there have been no replication to the answer.

Where, in such a bill, the complainant, by way of affecting the judgment creditor with notice, sets forth that he, the complainant, was never out of possession of the land, an answer averring in general terms that the respondent was informed and believed that the complainant entered as tenant of the grantee, but not specifying any time or circumstances of such entry nor assigning any reason for not specifying them, is insufficient and evasive, there being nothing alleged which tended to show that the grantee ever pretended to have any other title than that derived from the complainant or that there was any title elsewhere.

A deed procured through fear of loss of life produced by threats of the grantee may be avoided for duress.

A judgment being but a general lien and the creditor under it obtaining no encumbrance but on such estate as his debtor really had, the equity of such creditor gives way before the superior right of an owner in the land who had conveyed the land to the debtor only by duress and who had never parted with possession.

Brown filed his bill in September, 1860, in the court below against three persons, Pierce, Morton, and Weston, alleging that in the spring of 1857 he settled upon and improved a tract of land near Omaha; that he erected a house on the tract and continued to occupy it until August 10, 1857, when he entered the tract under the preemption laws of the

Page 74 U. S. 206

United States; that Pierce claimed the land by virtue of the laws of an organization known as the Omaha Claim Club; that this organization, consisting of very numerous armed men, sought to, and did to a great extent, control the disposition of the public lands in the vicinity of Omaha in 1857, in defiance of the laws of the United States; that it frequently resorted to personal violence in enforcing its decrees; that the fact was notorious in Omaha, and that he, Brown, was fully advised in the premises; that as soon as he had acquired title to the land, Pierce, together with several other members of the club, came to his house and demanded of him a deed of the land, threatening to take his life by hanging him or putting him in the Missouri River if he did not comply with the demand, that the club had posted handbills calling the members together to take action against him, and that knowing all this and in great fear of his life, he did, on the 10th of August, 1857, convey the land by deed to Pierce; that he, Brown, received no consideration whatever for the conveyance; that from the date of his settlement upon said land until the time of filing the bill, he had continued to keep possession either actually or constructively; that Morton claimed an interest in the premises by virtue of a judgment lien, and that Weston also made some claim.

The prayer was that the deed might be declared void and Pierce be decreed to reconvey, and for general relief.

The bill was taken pro confesso as to all the defendants except Morton, who answered.

This answer, stating that he, Morton, was not a resident of the territory and had no knowledge or information about the facts alleged in the bill, but on the contrary was an utter stranger to them, and therefore could not answer as to any belief concerning them -- set forth that on the 28th August, 1857, Pierce was "the owner and in possession of, and otherwise well seized and entitled to, as of a good and indefeasible estate of inheritance in fee simple," the tract in controversy; that being so, and representing himself to be so, and having need of money in business, he applied to him, Morton, to borrow the same, and that he, Morton, being

Page 74 U. S. 207

induced by reason of the representation, and also by the possession, and believing that he, Pierce, was the owner, he was thereby induced to lend, and did lend to him $6,000 on the personal security of him, Pierce; that before the filing of this bill by Brown, he, Morton, had obtained judgment against Pierce for $3,400, part of the loan yet unpaid; that this judgment was a lien on the lands; and that as he, Morton, was informed and believed if he could not obtain his money from this land, he would be wholly defrauded out of it.

The answer further stated that the defendant was informed and believed that Brown, the complainant, entered upon the lands as the tenant of Pierce, and that the suit by the complainant was being prosecuted in violation of the just rights of Pierce as well as of him, Morton.

There was no replication. Proofs were taken by the complainant, and they showed to the entire satisfaction of the court that all the matters alleged in the bill and not denied by the answers were true. [Footnote 1] There thus seemed no doubt as to the truth of all the facts set out in the bill.

The court below declared Brown's deed void and decreed a reconveyance from Pierce to him, and that neither Morton nor Weston had any lien on the premises. Morton now brought the case here for review.

Page 74 U. S. 209

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