Corbett v. Nutt
77 U.S. 464

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U.S. Supreme Court

Corbett v. Nutt, 77 U.S. 10 Wall. 464 464 (1870)

Corbett v. Nutt

77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 464

Syllabus

1. Statutes authorizing redemption from sales for taxes, are to be construed favorably to the owners of the land, and particularly when such statutes provide full indemnity to the purchaser and impose a penalty on the delinquent.

2. Mrs. H., a resident at the time of Virginia, devised in April, 1863, certain lands situated in that state, and also other lands situated in the District of Columbia to N. in trust for two married women. On bill filed by the cestuis que trust, the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia appointed M. trustee in place of N., and with the latter's powers and duties

Held:

That although the appointment was invalid so far as the land in Virginia was concerned; and that B1. wits thus not legally trustee of that land, yet inasmuch as he was apparently clothed by the decree of the court appointing him with the legal title and acted as trustee, and was treated as such trustee by the cestuis que trust, the tax commissioners under the Act of June 7, 1862, to collect taxes in the insurrectionary districts, and which provides that if the owner of land be under a legal disability the trustee or other person having charge of the person or estate of such owner may redeem the land sold for unpaid taxes, were authorized to allow him to redeem the lands in Virginia sold under the said act, in which such cestuis que trust were interested; that the commissioners were not obliged to inquire into the validity of the decree; and that it was sufficient for them to allow the redemption, when they found that the party offering to redeem furnished prima facie evidence of possessing the character which entitled him under the statute to do so.

That M being thus clothed apparently with the legal title, and acting under his appointment with the consent of the cestuis que trust, was a person "having charge" of their estate, and was thus entitled to make redemption for them of the lands sold for taxes within the meaning of the said act.

3. The 7th section of the amendatory Act of March 3, 1865, which declares

"that no owner shall be entitled to redeem unless, in addition to the oath prescribed by existing laws, he shall swear that he has not taken part with the insurgents in the present rebellion, or any way given them aid or comfort, and shall satisfy the board of commissioners that the said oath is true,"

applies only to owners seeking in person to redeem, and not to trustees, guardians, and agents redeeming for others whose property they have in charge.

4. The voluntary residence of a person within the Confederate lines during the late rebellion did not incapacitate him, under the Act of July 17, 1862, "to suppress insurrection, to punish treason and rebellion, to seize and confiscate the property of rebels, and for other purposes," which act makes null and void all sales, transfers, and conveyances, of any estate

Page 77 U. S. 465

and property, of persons engaged in armed rebellion against the United States, or aiding and abetting such rebellion, who after sixty days' warning and proclamation duly given and made by the President, did not cease to aid, countenance and abet such rebellion and return to their allegiance to the United States, and which act prescribes proceedings to condemn such property, and apply the proceeds to the support of the army, from making a last will and testament, further, if at all, than as against the United States.

5. Assuming (what is not decided) that a devise is within the terms "sales, transfers, and conveyances," invalidated by the act, and that a person who during the rebellion left loyal territory, and went to and resided in and died in the rebel lines, is within the category of persons for whom the warning and proclamation of the President prescribed by the act was intended, the invalidity declared is to be regarded as limited, and not absolute; and it is only as against the United States that the "sales, transfers, and conveyance," of property liable to seizure, are null and void. They are not void as between private persons or against any other party than the United States.

6. Where land sold under the said Act of June 7, 1862, has been redeemed, the owner is entitled to recover it from the purchaser at the tax sale, without showing that the certificate of redemption has been forwarded to the Secretary of the Treasury, and that the purchaser has been paid his purchase money by draft drawn on the Treasury of the United States.

The seventh section of the Act of June 7, 1862, for the collection of direct taxes in insurrectionary districts, after directing the advertisement and sale of lands, upon which taxes due the United States remained unpaid, after a time specified, enacts: [Footnote 1]

By a first clause, that the owner of the land, or any loyal person of the United States having any interest in it, may at any time, within sixty days after the sale, appear before the board of tax commissioners, in proper person, and redeem it from sale upon paying the amount of the tax and penalty, with the interest and expenses prescribed, and taking an oath, if a citizen, to support the Constitution of the United States.

And by a second clause, that if the owner of the land be

Page 77 U. S. 466

under a legal disability, the trustee, or other person having charge of the person or estate of such owner, may redeem at any time within two years after the sale.

An Act of March 3, 1865, amendatory of the act just mentioned, enacts that when a redemption is made the board of tax commissioners shall certify the fact to the Secretary of the Treasury, and that he shall repay the purchaser, by draft on the Treasury, the principal and interest of the purchase money; and that the purchaser shall deliver possession to the owner redeeming.

It also enacts [Footnote 2]

"That no owner shall be entitled to redeem unless, in addition to the oath prescribed by existing laws, he shall swear that he has not taken part with the insurgents in the present rebellion, or any way given them aid or comfort, and shall satisfy the board of commissioners that the said oath is true."

An Act of July 17, 1862, originating like the other two in the exigencies of the late civil war, and entitled "An act to suppress insurrection, to punish treason and rebellion, to seize and confiscate the property of rebels, and for other purposes," enacts by its fifth section, [Footnote 3] that

"To insure the speedy termination of the present rebellion, it shall be the duty of the President of the United States to cause the seizure of all the estate and property, money, stocks, credits, and effects of the persons"

thereinafter named, "and to apply and use the same, and the proceeds thereof, for the support of the army of the United States."

The section then enumerates six classes of persons whose property is thus made subject to seizure. The fourth class embraces persons "who, having held an office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States, shall thereafter hold office in the so-called Confederate States."

The sixth section enacts that

"If any person within any state or territory of the United States, other than those named in the previous section, being engaged in armed rebellion against the United States, or aiding or abetting such

Page 77 U. S. 467

rebellion, shall not, within sixty days after public warning and proclamation by the President of the United States, cease to aid, countenance, and abet such rebellion and return to his allegiance to the United States, all the estate and property, money, stocks, and credits of such person shall be liable to seizure as aforesaid, and it shall be the duty of the President to seize and use them as aforesaid, or the proceeds thereof."

It continues:

"And all sales, transfers, or conveyances of any such property, after the expiration of the said sixty days from the date of such warning and proclamation, shall be null and void, and it shall be a sufficient bar to any suit brought by such person for the possession or the use of such property, or any of it, to allege and prove that he is one of the persons described in this section."

[The proclamation of the President was made July 25, 1862.]

The seventh section directs the proceedings to be instituted for the condemnation and sale of the property seized.

With these enactments of June and July, 1862, in force, Mrs. Louisa Hunter died, April, 1863, seized of a tract of land consisting of sixty acres, situated in the County of Alexandria, in the State of Virginia, leaving a last will and testament, by which she devised the premises, along with certain real estate in the City of Washington, to one W. D. Nutt, in trust for Marion Young, her adopted daughter, and Emily Featherstonaugh, her niece, both of whom were then and still are married women.

Prior to the war, Mrs. Hunter resided in the County of Alexandria, in Virginia, but after the occupation of Alexandria by the forces of the United States, she went within the Confederate lines,\ and there remained until her death.

Immediately preceding the commencement of the war, Nutt held an office under the government of the United States. This he resigned in February, 1861, and in September following went within the Confederate lines, and took

Page 77 U. S. 468

office under the Confederate government, which he held at the time of Mrs. Hunter's death.

On the 29th of February, 1864, the land in Virginia was sold for taxes due the United States under the first of the above quoted acts of Congress -- the Act, namely, of June 7, 1862, providing for the collection of direct taxes in insurrectionary districts within the United States; and at the sale one W. P. Corbett became the purchaser, received the commissioners' certificate of sale, and took possession of the premises under the title thus acquired.

In July, 1865, the cestuis que trust, under the will of Mrs. Hunter, filed a bill in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia to obtain the appointment of a new trustee in place of the one named in the bill, setting forth that the testatrix had left a large and valuable estate, the greater part of which lay within the district; that the settlement of the estate was impossible, by the terms of the will, without the intervention of the trustee named therein, or another in his stead, invested with his powers and duties; and that they were informed that the trustee named declined to qualify, or to accept the trusts reposed in him.

Nutt appeared to the suit and answered the bill, admitting that he was the person named in the will, and that he had declined to accept the trust thereunder. The court thereupon, at the hearing, adjudged that the complainants, the cestuis que trust, were entitled to the relief prayed, and by its decree appointed J. D. McPherson, of Washington, D.C., trustee, in "the name, place, and stead," "clothed with all the powers and charged with all the duties reposed and vested in said Nutt as trustee, by the testatrix mentioned in the will," first requiring of him the execution of a bond in the penal sum of ten thousand dollars, conditioned for the faithful performance of his trust.

On the 10th of February, 1866, McPherson, as trustee, appeared before the tax commissioners and paid to them the several sums required for the purpose of effecting a redemption of the property from the tax sale, and received from them a certificate of redemption, stating the payments made

Page 77 U. S. 469

by him, and that he had taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, and that Marion Young and Emily Featherstonaugh, owners of the property, and married women at the time of the sale, and still under the same disability, had sworn that they had not taken part with the insurgents in the rebellion, or in any way given them aid or comfort, and had satisfied the commissioners that the oath was true.

Nutt, the trustee appointed by Mrs. Hunter's will, now brought suit in one of the state courts of Virginia to recover the property, and on the trial offered in evidence the certificate of redemption against the objection of the defendant that the redemption was illegal and did not sustain the claim of the plaintiff. The court admitted it. To this ruling of the court the defendant excepted.

The testimony being closed, the defendant requested instructions thus:

1. If the jury shall believe from the evidence that Nutt, the plaintiff, who sues as trustee, held a position under the government of the United States, and resigned said office, went voluntarily within the lines of the Confederate States, and accepted office under the Confederate government, and held said office at the time of the death of the testatrix, and that the said Louisa Hunter was a resident of the County of Alexandria at the time of the breaking out of the civil war, and after its breaking out went voluntarily into the Confederate lines and resided therein up to the time of her death, and that the premises in the summons described were at all times in the military lines and under the jurisdiction of the United States, then that said devise to the plaintiff was inoperative to pass or transfer any title to him, and he cannot therefore recover in this action.

2. That to enable the plaintiff to recover in this action, he must show that the certificate of redemption was forwarded to the Secretary of the Treasury, and the defendant repaid his purchase money by draft drawn on the Treasury of the United States.

The object of the instruction prayed, the defendant stated

Page 77 U. S. 470

in his petition to the Court of Appeals of Virginia, was to raise the question as to the effect and meaning of the sixth section of the above-quoted act of Congress of the 17th of July, 1862, "to suppress insurrection, punish treason," &c.

The court refused to give the instructions thus asked for, and the defendant excepted. Verdict and judgment having gone for the plaintiff, the case was taken to the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia, which sustained the judgment. The case was now brought here under the 25th section of the Judiciary Act; the only ground of error alleged in this Court being that there was drawn in question the construction of,

1st. The Act of Congress of June 7, 1862, "for the collection of direct taxes in the insurrectionary districts within the United States, and for other purposes."

2d. The Act passed July 17, 1862, "to suppress insurrection, to punish treason and rebellion, to seize and confiscate the property of rebels, and for other purposes."

3d. The Act of March 3, 1865, amendatory of this last act.

And that the decision of the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia was adverse to the right and title claimed under the said acts.

Page 77 U. S. 473

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