French v. Edwards - 88 U.S. 147 (1874)
U.S. Supreme Court
French v. Edwards, 88 U.S. 21 Wall. 147 147 (1874)
French v. Edwards
88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 147
1. Where the owner of land in fee makes a conveyance to a person in trust to convey to others upon certain conditions, and the conditions never arise, so that the trust cannot possibly be executed, a presumption arises in cases where an actual conveyance would not involve a breach of duty in the trustee or a wrong to some third person, that the trustee reconveyed to the owner, this being in ordinary cases his duty.
2. It is not necessary that the presumption should rest upon a basis of proof or a conviction that the conveyance had been in fact executed.
3. When a court in a case where at jury is waived under the Act of March 5, 1865 (see Revised Statutes of the United States, § 649), and the case is submitted to it without the intervention of a jury, finds as a fact that
a conveyance was made to certain persons as trustees, and then finds as a conclusion of law that the legal title remained in those trustees, that finding does not bind this Court as a finding of fact, and if it was the duty of the trustee to have reconveyed to the grantor as stated in the first paragraph of this syllabus, this Court will reverse the judgment, founded on that conclusion.
French brought ejectment, on the 30th of November, 1872, in the court below, against Edwards and twelve others, for a piece of land in California. The case was submitted to the court without the intervention of a jury. The court found these facts:
(1) That R. H. Vance, on the 1st of March, 1862, was seized in fee of the premises in controversy.
(2) That on that day he conveyed the premises to the plaintiff, who thereupon became seized and the owner in fee, and remained such owner until the 9th of January, 1863.
(3) That on that day, he and the defendants executed a joint conveyance of the premises to Edward Martin and F. E. Lynch, their heirs and assigns forever, upon certain
trusts, which, so far as it is necessary to state them, were as follows:
To hold and convey the premises in lots of such size and for such prices as should be directed by a committee of four persons, or a majority of them, the committee to be appointed by the parties to the deed and a railroad company then forming, and thereafter to be incorporated, to construct a railroad leading from Sutteville, and connecting with the Sacramento Valley Railroad.
This deed provided,
"That no conveyance shall be made by the said party of the second part until the said railroad shall have been commenced in good faith as aforesaid, and this conveyance shall be void if such railroad shall not be built within one year from the date of these presents, provided however that if the iron for such railroad shall be lost or detained on its transit from the Atlantic states, from any accident, then the time for completing said railroad shall be extended to two years, instead of one year."
(4) That the railroad company was never incorporated and the railroad was never commenced.
(5) That the defendants were in exclusive possession of the premises at the commencement of the action, holding adversely to the plaintiff and all other persons.
The court held that the legal title was vested in Martin and Lynch by the deed of the 9th of January, 1863, was still vested in them, and that the plaintiff could not therefore recover.
It accordingly gave judgment for the defendants, and the plaintiff brought the case here, [Footnote 1] where it was elaborately argued upon the doctrine of subsequent conditions.