Where a bill in chancery was filed by persons residing in
Canada, claiming title to property in Detroit which had been in the
exclusive possession of the defendants and those claiming under
them since 1793, without, as far as appears, any right being set up
by the complainants or by those claiming under them to the title or
the possession of the premises until the filing of the bill, or any
claim to the rents and profits or to an account as tenants in
common, or for partition, or to be admitted to the enjoyment of any
right as co-heirs, the case is one resting upon the enforcement of
an implied trust, where courts of equity follow the courts of law
in applying the statute of limitations.
The averments of concealment and fraud on the part of the
Page 64 U. S. 191
are made in the bill for the purpose of withdrawing the case
from the operation of the statute, are too general and indefinite
to have that effect.
No acts of fraud or concealment are stated, and the time when
even an intention to defraud, which is all that is averred, was
discovered was some fifty years after the exclusive possession of
the defendants and those under whom they claim had commenced, and
this although the parties lived in the neighborhood and almost in
sight of the city which has, in the meantime, grown up on the
This was a bill filed on the equity side of the court by John
Baptiste Beaubien and twenty-one others, aliens and residents of
Canada, against Antoine Beaubien and one hundred and twenty-seven
others, thirteen of whom were citizens of Michigan and residents of
Detroit. The rest of the defendants were admitted to be parties by
order of the court.
The complainants began the history of their title as early as
1745, when the governor and intendant of the territory gave to
their ancestor, Beaubien, a concession of land of three arpens in
front on Lake Erie by forty arpens in depth, and afterwards, in
1747, the same persons granted to one Barois a concession of two
arpens in front by forty arpens in depth adjoining the above. They
then traced the title down, as stated in the opinion of the
Some of the defendants demurred to the bill and the rest pleaded
that they were bona fide
purchasers, without notice.
In 1857, the court passed the following decree:
"This cause having been brought on to be heard on the demurrer
of the above defendants and others to the amended bill of complaint
and the plea of the Right Reverend Peter Paul Le Fevre and Theodore
Williams, claiming to be bona fide
purchasers for a
valuable consideration, without notice, of the lands and premises
owned and claimed by them on the Antoine Beaubien and Lambert
Beaubien farms, described in the bill of complaint and in said
plea, and the said demurrer and plea having been argued by G. T.
Sheldon, solicitor and counsel, and W. H. Emmons, counsel for said
defendants, and Messrs. Burt and Maynard, counsel for the
Page 64 U. S. 192
the arguments of counsel having been duly considered, it is
ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the demurrer hereto fore filed
of the above defendants, Theodore Williams and the Right Reverend
Peter Paul Le Fevre and others, claiming a portion of the lands and
premises in the bill of complaint mentioned, as heirs, donees, or
otherwise, without valuable consideration, be and is hereby
sustained, and the said plea of the said defendants, Right Reverend
Peter Paul Le Fevre and Theodore Williams, claiming other portions
of said lands and premises in their said plea mentioned as bona
purchasers for a valuable consideration without notice,
having been argued by the respective counsel, and the arguments of
counsel having been duly considered, it is ordered, adjudged, and
decreed that the said plea of the said defendants, Peter Paul Le
Fevre and Theodore Williams, be and is hereby sustained, and that
the said bill of complaint of the complainants, as to all said land
and premises described and set forth in said plea, be and is hereby
From this decree, the complainants appealed to this Court.
Page 64 U. S. 205
MR. JUSTICE NELSON delivered the opinion of the Court.
The bill was filed by the plaintiffs against the defendants,
claiming to be tenants in common with them in a tract of land now
lying in the City of Detroit, each party deriving title from a
common ancestor, who made the settlement as early as the year 1745
under a concession from the French government. The tract contained
five arpens in front on Lake Erie and eighty arpens back. The
ancestor, John Baptiste Beaubien, died in 1793, having had the
uninterrupted possession of the property from the time of the
concession in 1745, leaving a widow and several children. Two of
the sons, Antoine and Lambert, resided with their father at the
time of his death, and continued in the possession and occupation
with their mother till her death, in 1809.
In 1804, Antoine, one of the heirs in possession, applied to
Page 64 U. S. 206
the board of commissioners to adjust land claims under the act
of Congress of 1804 to confirm his claim to the land, and which was
confirmed accordingly, and a patent issued in 1812. Acts of
Congress, 26 March, 1804; 3 March, 1805; 3 March, 1807.
Lambert, the other brother, continued in the joint occupation of
the tract till his death in 1815, and subsequently, in 1818,
Antoine conveyed to the heirs of Lambert a moiety of the premises,
and the present occupants and defendants are the descendants of the
two brothers, or purchasers from them under this title.
The tract constitutes a portion of the City of Detroit, and is
averred in the bill to have been worth, at the time of the filing
of it in 1855, from half a million to a millions of dollars,
exclusive of the improvements.
The case was presented to the court below on demurrer to the
bill, and on pleas by some of the defendants, as bona fide
purchasers for valuable consideration without notice.
The plaintiffs aver in the bill, in addition to the facts
already stated, that they are the descendants of the brothers and
sisters of Antoine and Lambert, from whom the title of the
defendants is derived, and that Antoine and Lambert and their
descendants possessed and occupied the tract in subordination to
the right and title of their co-tenants, and that they were
permitted to possess and occupy the same in confidence, that they
so held the premises for the common benefit of all parties
interested. They further aver that they verily believed that the
brothers, Antoine and Lambert, and their legal representatives were
acting in good faith in this respect until, about the year 1840
they discovered, after examination and inquiry into the facts and
circumstances, that they intended to cheat and defraud them and
those under whom they claim of their just rights in the
The bill further states that Antoine, in his lifetime, and his
son, who is one of the defendants, and the heirs of Lambert, have
conveyed to divers individuals rights in the said tract; that in
some instances they made donations without consideration; in others
conveyances for a pretended consideration;
Page 64 U. S. 207
and that there now are in possession, as heirs, donees, and
purchasers of different portions of the premises, several hundred
persons, most of whose names are unknown to the plaintiffs, which
persons set up claims and pretended rights and interests therein.
And further that neither Antoine nor Lambert's heirs, down to the
year 1834, committed any open or notorious act inconsistent with
the rights of the plaintiffs or in any way disavowed the trust and
relation as co-tenant, or of brothers or co-heirs, nor in any
manner asserted any title to the land to the exclusion of their
The court decreed upon the demurrer to the bill, and also upon
the pleas, in favor of the defendants.
The case comes before us on an appeal from this decree. Antoine
and Lambert, the two sons of J. B. Beaubien, the common ancestor,
and those claiming under them, have been in the exclusive
possession of the premises in question since 1793, a period of
sixty-two years before the commencement of this suit. The
plaintiffs and those under whom they claim, during all this time,
as averred in the bill, resided in Canada, and, as appears, most of
them in the County of Essex, in the neighborhood of the premises.
The four hundred arpens which, in 1793, were worth some six or
seven thousand dollars, now embrace a portion of the City of
Detroit, and are worth, with the improvements, over a million of
dollars, and, for aught that is averred in the bill or appears in
the case, no right has been set up by them or by those under whom
they claim to the title or the possession of the premises until the
filing of the bill, no claim to the rents and profits, or to an
account as tenants in common, or for partition, or to be admitted
to the enjoyment of any right as co-heirs.
The case is one, so far as the title of the plaintiffs is
concerned, which depends upon the establishment of an implied trust
to be raised by the evidence, and hence falls within that class of
cases in which courts of equity follow the courts of law, in
applying the statute of limitations. Kane v. Bloodgood,
John.Ch. 91; Hovenden v. Annesly,
2 Sch. & Lef.
There are two acts of limitation in the State of Michigan,
either of which bars the claim of the plaintiffs:
Page 64 U. S. 208
1. The Act of May 15, 1820, which limits the right of action to
twenty years after the same has accrued, and
2. The Act of November 15, 1829, which limits the right of entry
to ten years if the cause of action has then accrued.
The language is:
"No writ of right or other real action, no ejectment or other
possessory action &c., shall hereafter be sued &c., if the
cause of action has now accrued, unless the same be brought within
ten years after the passage of this act, any law, usage, or custom,
to the contrary notwithstanding."
There is no saving clause in this as to infants, feme
or residence beyond seas.
The pleader has sought to avoid the operation of the limitation
by an averment of concealment and fraud on the part of the
defendants and those under whom they claim. The plaintiffs aver
"That until within the last few years, your orators and
oratrixes, and those under whom they claim verily believed and
supposed that the said brothers, Antoine and Lambert, and their
legal representatives, were acting in good faith towards them, but
that, about the year 1840, they discovered by information, after
examination and inquiry into the facts and circumstances of the
case, that the said brothers, Antoine and Lambert, and their legal
representatives, intended to cheat and defraud them and those under
whom they claim of their just rights in the premises."
This averment is too general and indefinite to have the effect
to avoid the operation of the statute. The particular acts of fraud
or concealment should have been set forth by distinct averments, as
well as the time when discovered, so that the court may see
whether, by the exercise of ordinary diligence, the discovery might
not have been before made. Stearns v.
7 How. 819; Moore v.
19 How. 69.
Here, no acts of fraud or concealment are stated, and the time
when even an intention to defraud, which is all that is averred,
was discovered was some fifty years after the exclusive possession
of the defendants and those under whom they claim had commenced,
and this although the parties lived in the neighborhood and almost
in sight of the city, which has in the meantime grown up on the
Page 64 U. S. 209
We think the statute of limitation applies, and that the decree
of the court below should be