Little v. Herndon
77 U.S. 26 (1869)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Little v. Herndon, 77 U.S. 10 Wall. 26 26 (1869)

Little v. Herndon

77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 26

Syllabus

1. A defendant, claiming under an Illinois tax deed, who would avail himself of the statute of Illinois, of February 21, 1861, setting forth what facts may be shown to establish the invalidity of such a deed, and precluding, except upon certain conditions, a question of it for any other cause, must show not only a tax deed in proper form, but show also a judgment under which the tax sale was made.

2. On an objection to the admission of a deed because of an alleged erasure and interlineation apparent on its face, the court may properly admit the deed, leaving it to the jury to determine whether there was any alteration.

3. A deed for lands in Illinois, executed in Virginia and acknowledged in

Page 77 U. S. 27

conformity with its laws at the time of execution, may be lawfully recorded in Illinois and read in evidence without further proof of execution.

A statute of Illinois on the subject of sales of land for taxes, passed 21 February, 1861, makes this enactment:

"All deeds hereafter made by the proper officer in pursuance of sales of real estate for the nonpayment of taxes shall be held to be null and void if it be shown that said taxes had been paid before the sale, or that said real estate was not subject to taxation, or that it had been redeemed from said sale, or if notice required by the constitution was not given, or that the description of said land was not sufficiently definite, and the validity of all such deeds hereafter made by the proper officers, for real estate sold for the nonpayment of taxes shall not be questioned in any suit or controversy in this state for any other cause unless the party wishing to contest the same shall tender to the claimant under said tax deed, or deposit in the court in which such suit is pending, for his use, the amount of the redemption money now provided for by law, with ten percent per annum interest thereon from the date of said deed to the time of said tender or deposit, and after said tender or deposit is made, the validity of said deed may be questioned in the same manner and to the same extent as now provided by law."

At the time of the passage of this act, by the decisions of the courts of Illinois, full and explicit, [Footnote 1] a tax deed, executed by the proper officer, had no validity unless founded upon a judgment against the parcel of land in default for nonpayment of the tax, an order for the sale, and precept thereon, and it was necessary that these preliminary steps should be first shown in order to give any effect to a title under the deed.

In this state of the law, one Herndon brought ejectment against Little in the court below to recover possession of

Page 77 U. S. 28

a lot of land in Illinois, describing it. He gave in evidence two patents, including the premises, from the government to one Hood, each dated November 1, 1839, and a deed from Hood to himself, dated February 4, 1842, and recorded in the recording office where the land was, and rested.

The defendant, in his defense, offered in evidence a deed from the sheriff of the county where the land was to a certain Peck, including the premises, dated July 1, 1864, purporting to be a deed given in pursuance of a sale for the nonpayment of taxes for the year 1861, but he did not show a judgment under which the tax deed was made. He offered also a quitclaim deed from Peck and wife to one Bourland, dated July 1, 1864, and from Bourland and wife to one Underhill dated April 29, 1865, and then offered in evidence five tax certificates for taxes paid on the premises for the several years therein mentioned, stating that the object of offering the same in evidence was to recover the amount of the taxes and costs paid upon the land, in case the deed from the sheriff should be questioned as title by the plaintiff, under the terms of the Act of February 21, 1861, and to defeat his using his patents as a title if he refused to pay the taxes according to the statute. But the court was of opinion that the defendant had not brought himself within the statute for the reason, among others, that he must first show there was a judgment, as the foundation of the tax sale and deed. And so ruled. Judgment having been accordingly rendered for the plaintiff, the other side now brought the case here.

The principal question argued here was whether upon a true construction of the Act of February 21, 1861, the plaintiff was bound to pay the taxes which had been paid by the defendant and by those under whom he claimed, as a condition of being permitted to attack the deed under the tax sale, the defendant taking the position that upon a true construction of the act, the sheriff's deed of the sale properly executed, with its recitals, was sufficient evidence in the first instance to impose this condition upon the plaintiff.

Some minor objections, it should be added, were taken

Page 77 U. S. 29

below by the defendant to the admission of evidence, as 1st., to the admission of one of the patents, the ground of the objection being an alleged erasure and interlineation, apparent, as he asserted, on the face of the same, by the erasure of the word "six," and the interlineation of the word "seven" therefor in description of the premises. The court overruled the objection and left it to the jury to determine whether there was any alteration. 2d, to the admission of the deed from Hood to Herndon, the ground of this objection being the acknowledgment. But the acknowledgment was in conformity with the requirements of the law of Virginia. And by statute of Illinois, [Footnote 2] a deed acknowledged in conformity with the laws of the state in which the deed is executed may be admitted to record in the county where the land is situated, and after being so recorded may be used in evidence without further proof of the execution thereof. The court below overruled the objection and allowed the deed to be read.

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