Masterson v. Howard
85 U.S. 99 (1873)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Masterson v. Howard, 85 U.S. 18 Wall. 99 99 (1873)

Masterson v. Howard

85 U.S. (18 Wall.) 99

Syllabus

1. Where a decree is entered upon an order taking a bill in equity as confessed by defendants for want of an answer, the only question for the consideration of this Court on appeal is whether the allegations of the bill are sufficient to support the decree.

2. While the existence of war closes the courts of each belligerent to the citizens of the other, it does not prevent the citizens of one belligerent from taking proceedings for the protection of their own property in their own courts against the citizens of the other whenever the latter can be reached by process.

3. Before the late civil war, certain citizens of California and Illinois had brought suit in the Circuit Court of the United States in Texas against citizens of that state to quiet the title of the complainants to a tract of land there situated and prevent harassing and vexatious litigation from a multiplicity of suits. On the 20th of June, 1866, a final decree was entered in that suit, the circuit court being then open in Texas and active hostilities having there ceased, although the proclamation of the President announcing the close of the war in that state was not made until the 20th of August afterwards. Held that the complainants had a right to proceed in the circuit court of the United States to protect their property situated in Texas from seizure, invasion, or disturbance by citizens of that state so soon as that court was opened, whether official proclamation were made or not of the cessation of hostilities.

On the 17th of February, 1851, Bainbridge Howard, a citizen of Louisiana, filed his bill in the court below against a certain Herndon, and one Maverick, residents of Texas, setting forth that

"On or about the 22 November, A.D. 1766, the government of Spain, according to the forms of law and by the regularly constituted officers of the government, granted to the Indians of the population of the Mission of San Jose, a certain tract or parcel of land, situated, lying, and being in what is now the County of Medina in the State of Texas,"

&c., describing it.

The bill alleged that through regular mesne conveyances he, Howard, the complainant, was the owner of the land,

"all of which will more fully and at large appear by the

Page 85 U. S. 100

grant to said Indians and the chain of conveyances to your orator, to which for greater certainty at the hearing your orator begs leave to refer."

It stated further that he was in possession, and that the defendants had made sundry locations of land certificates upon, and claimed patents to the said land, which constituted a cloud upon his title; wherefore, and to avoid a multiplicity of suits, he brought his suit in equity.

The defendants were interrogated as to what locations &c., they had made within the boundaries of the described tract and in conflict with the complainant's claim, and what locations and surveys others had made, and the bill prayed

"That, by decree to be rendered herein, the locations, surveys, and patents, if any, made within the limits of your orator's tract or parcel of land aforesaid may be determined and held to be void, and thereby the cloud impending over the title of your orator be removed, or that after establishment of the right in such manner as this Court may direct by final decree to be then rendered, your orator may be quieted in his title and possession aforesaid, and all obstruction to the full and peaceable enjoyment of his property removed, or that if your orator is mistaken in the special relief hereby asked, such other or further relief be extended to him, or decree rendered in the premises as the nature of the case may require."

The complainant having died, a supplemental bill in the nature of a bill of revivor was filed and presented in the name of his heirs, representing themselves one as a citizen of California and the others as citizens of Illinois. Adopting the allegations of the original bill touching the grant of the land from Spain, it represented that the title granted by Spain to the Indians of San Jose became vested in one John McMullen, with actual possession; that McMullen's title had become equitably vested with possession in Howard; that Howard's title and possession were now in the complainants; and that the heirs of McMullen (whom the supplemental bill made parties) neglected to convey the legal title.

In October, 1860, the default of the defendants Herndon and Maverick in not answering the supplemental bill was

Page 85 U. S. 101

entered, with an order that the bill be taken as confessed against them. In January, 1861, the court set aside this order so far as it affected the defendant, Herndon, and granted leave to him, "upon condition that he shall pay all the costs of the complainant in this case, for which execution may issue upon this decree," to answer until March following, but confirmed the order as to the defendant Maverick and decreed that the complainants

"have and recover of said Maverick the tract of land in the original bill described, and that their title to the same be and is hereby decreed to be free from all clouds cast thereupon by said Maverick, and all persons claiming by, through, or under him. And that the patents, locations, and surveys obtained by said Maverick, in conflict with the title of the complainants, which is decreed to be a good title, are hereby adjudicated to be null and void."

A reference was made to a master to ascertain the facts sought to be discovered, and a decree of specific performance was decreed against the heirs of John McMullen. An execution subsequently issued and a certain part of the costs were obtained, but not all.

The answer of Herndon having been filed without (as the complainant alleged, though this was denied on the other side) his having complied with the terms imposed, his default was entered on the 4th of March, 1861, and an order made taking the supplemental bill as confessed against him. On the 20th of June, 1866, the court ordered the answer of Herndon to be struck from the files, and confirmed and made final the order taking the supplemental bill as confessed against him. The court then proceeded to enter a decree joint in form against both Maverick and Herndon.

From this decree both parties appealed, the defendant Herndon through his assignee in bankruptcy, he having since the decree become bankrupt. This appeal had, by consent of the assignee, been dismissed as to him.

Page 85 U. S. 103

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