Gardner v. Collins
Annotate this Case
27 U.S. 58 (1829)
U.S. Supreme Court
Gardner v. Collins, 27 U.S. 2 Pet. 58 58 (1829)
Gardner v. Collins
27 U.S. (2 Pet.) 58
Where the question upon the construction of the statute of a state relative to real property has been settled by any judicial decision in the state where the land lies, this Court, upon the uniform principles adopted by it, would recognize that decision as a part of the local law.
The statute of descents of Rhode Island of 1822 enacts
"That when any person having title to any real estate of inheritance shall die intestate as to such estate, it shall descend and pass in equal portions to his or her kindred in the following course."
It then provides "if there be no father, then to the mother, brother, and sister of such intestate and their descendants or such of them as there be" and then declares, in the nature of a proviso, that
"when the title to any estate of inheritance as to which the person having such title shall die intestate came by descent, gift, or devise from the parent or other kindred of the intestate, and such intestate die without children, such estate shall go to the kin next to the intestate of the blood of the person from whom such estate came or descended, if any there be."
An estate situated in Rhode Island was devised by John Collins to his daughter, Mary Collins, in fee; Mary Collins intermarried with Caleb Gardner, and upon her death in 1806 the estate descended to her three children, John, George, and Mary C. Gardner. John and George Gardner died intestate and without issue, and Mary C. Gardner, as heir to her brothers, became seized of the whole estate and died in 1822. Held that under the provisions of the law of descents of Rhode Island, two-thirds of the estate of Mary C. Gardner descended to Samuel F. Gardner, Eliza Phillips, formerly Eliza Gardner, and Mary Clarke, formerly Mary Gardner, children of Caleb Gardner by a former marriage, they being brothers and sisters of the half-blood of Mary C. Gardner, it being admitted that the remaining one-third, which Mary C. Gardner took by immediate descent from her mother belongs to the heirs of the whole blood of John Collins.
The phrase "of the blood" in the statute includes the half-blood. This is the natural meaning of the word "blood," standing alone and unexplained by any context. A half-brother or sister is of the blood of the intestate, for each of them has some of the blood of a common parent in his or her veins. A person is with the most strict propriety of language affirmed to be of the blood of another who has any, however small a portion, of the same blood derived from a common ancestor. In the common law, the word "blood" is used in the same sense. Whenever it is intended to express any qualification, the word "whole" or "half-blood" is generally used to designate it, or the qualification is implied from the context or known principles of law.
A descent from a parent to a child cannot be construed to mean a descent through, and not from, a parent. So a gift or devise from a parent must be construed to mean a gift or devise by the act of that parent, and not by that of some other ancestor more remote passing through the parent.
It is true that in a sense an estate may be said to come by descent from a remote ancestor to a person upon whom it has devolved through many intermediate descents. But this, if not loose language, is not that sense which is ordinarily annexed to the terms. When an estate is said to have descended from A.
to B., the natural and obvious meaning of the words is that it is an immediate descent from A. to B.
At the common law, a man might sometimes inherit who was of the whole blood of the intestate who could not have inherited from the first purchaser. As in the case of a purchase by a son who dies with issue, and his uncle inherits the same and dies without issue, the father may inherit the same from the uncle although he could not inherit from his own son.
In the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Rhode Island, the plaintiff, William C. Collins, instituted an action of ejectment for the recovery of two-thirds of certain real estate in the State of Rhode Island of which Mary C. Gardner died seized and intestate.
The facts of the case agreed upon were as follows:
"The estate in question, two-thirds of which is demanded by the plaintiff in his said writ, was the estate in fee simple of the late John Collins, Esq., deceased, the father of the defendant and the purchaser of said estate. That the said late John Collins died in 1817, leaving lawful issue, viz., John A. Collins, Abigail Warren, and Mary Collins, and leaving a last will and testament wherein and whereby he devised the estate in question to his daughter, the said Mary Collins, in fee simple, who became seized and possessed thereof accordingly and continued so seized and possessed thereof to the time of her death, viz., 2 October, 1806, and died intestate. That the said Mary Collins intermarried with Caleb Gardner on or about the ___ day of _____, and at her death left lawful issue, viz., John Collins Gardner, George Gardner, and Mary C. Gardner. The said John Collins Gardner died 17 November, 1806, aged about __, of course intestate and without issue. The said George Gardner died 18 September, 1811, aged about __ years, of course intestate, and without issue. The said Mary C. Gardner died 31 December, 1822, aged about __, intestate and without issue. That at the death of their mother, the said John Collins Gardner, George Gardner, and Mary C. Gardner, took from their said mother the said estate as her heirs at law in equal parts, and become seized and possessed of the same accordingly in fee simple, and continued so seized and possessed till the death of the said John Collins Gardner, viz.,
till 17 November, 1806. That thereupon his part of the said estate descended to and vested in his surviving brother and sister, viz., George Gardner and Mary C. Gardner, in fee simple in equal moieties, and thereupon the said George Gardner and Mary C. Gardner became seized and possessed of the estate in question in equal and undivided moieties and fee simple, and so continued seized and possessed till the death of the said George Gardner, 18 September, 1811. That thereupon his part of said estate descended to and vested in his sister the said Mary C. Gardner in fee simple, and she became seized and possessed of the same accordingly, and thereby became seized and possessed of the whole estate in question in fee simple, and so continued seized and possessed to the time of her death, viz., to 31 December, 1822. That at the death of the said Mary C. Gardner, the defendants, viz., the said John A. Collins and Abigail Warren went into possession of the estate in question, claiming to be the heirs of the said Mary C. Gardner, and the defendants have continued possessed thereof, claiming it as their inheritance without interruption or adverse claim till the plaintiff's suit as aforesaid."
That the plaintiff, by deeds duly executed, became seized and possessed of all the right and title of the said Samuel F. Gardner, Eliza Phillips, and Mary Clarke, in and to the demanded premises. The plaintiff and Samuel F. Gardner and Eliza Phillips are children of the said Caleb Gardner by a former marriage. That the said Mary Clarke is also a child of said Caleb Gardner by a former marriage, and are brother and sister of the half-blood to the said Mary C. Gardner. That the said plaintiff and Samuel F. Gardner, Eliza Phillips, and Mary Clarke are not of kin to the said late John Collins, Esq., deceased, and have not any of his blood in their veins. And if, upon the foregoing facts, the court shall be of opinion that the plaintiff, and those under whom he claims, are heirs at law of the said Mary C. Gardner, and entitled to said estate, then judgment to be given for the plaintiff, but, if not, then judgment to be rendered for the said defendant.
The statute of Rhode Island upon which the plaintiffs in
the ejectment claimed to recover, was passed in January, 1822, and is entitled,
"An act directing the descent of intestate estates, and the settlement thereof, and for other purposes therein mentioned."
"SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the general assembly, and by the authority thereof it is enacted, that henceforth when any person having title to any real estate of inheritance shall die intestate as to such estate, it shall descend and pass, in equal portions, to his or her kindred in the following course: "
"To his or her children, or their descendants, if any there be: "
"If there be no children nor their descendants, then to the father of such intestate;"
"If there be no father, then to the mother, brothers and sisters of such intestate, and their descendants or such of them as there be;"
"If there be no mother, nor brother, nor sister nor their descendants, the inheritance shall go in equal moieties to the paternal and maternal kindred, each in the following course;"
"First to the grandfather;"
"If there be no grandfather, then to the grandmother, uncles, and aunts on the same side and their descendants, or such of them as there be;"
"If there be no grandmother, uncle nor aunt, nor their descendants, then to the great-grandfathers, or great-grandfather if there be but one;"
"If there be no great-grandfather, then to the great-grandmothers, or great-grandmother if there be but one, and the brothers and sisters of the grandfathers and grandmothers and their descendants or such of them as there be, and so on in other cases without end; passing to the nearest lineal male ancestors, and for want of them, to the lineal female ancestors, in the same degree, and the descendants of such male and female lineal ancestors, or such of them as there be."
"But no right in the inheritance shall accrue to any persons whatsoever, other than to the children of the intestate unless such persons be in being, and capable in law to take, as heirs, at the time of the intestate's death."
"And when herein the inheritance is directed to go by moieties
to the paternal and maternal kindred, if there be no such kindred on the one part, the whole shall go to the other part, and if there be no kindred, either on the one part or the other, the whole shall go to the husband or wife of the intestate; and if the wife or husband be dead, it shall go to his or her kindred in the like course as if such husband or wife had survived the intestate, and then died entitled to the estate"
"The descendants of any person deceased shall inherit the estate which such person would have inherited, had such person survived the intestate."
"When the title to any real estate of inheritance as to which the person having such title shall die intestate, came by descent, gift or devise, from the parent or other kindred of the intestate, and such intestate die without children, such estate shall go to the kin next to the intestate, of the blood of the person from whom such estate came or descended, if any there be."
For some time prior to the passage of this act, the law of descents of Rhode Island was regulated by an act of 1798, the first section of which nearly resembles the clause in the statute of 1822. It was as follows:
"When the title of any real estate of inheritance, as to which the person having such title, shall die intestate, came by descent, gift, or devise, from the parent or other kindred of the intestate, and such intestate die without children, such estate shall go to the next of kin of the intestate of the blood of the person from whom such estate came or descended."
The judges of the circuit Court of Rhode Island, having divided in opinion upon the case, the decision was certified to this Court for its decision.
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