Cross v. De Valle,
68 U.S. 5 (1863)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Cross v. De Valle, 68 U.S. 1 Wall. 5 5 (1863)

Cross v. De Valle

68 U.S. (1 Wall.) 5


1. The well settled principle that aliens may take land by deed or devise, and hold against anyone but the sovereign until office found, exists in Rhode Island as elsewhere, not being affected by that statute which allows them to hold land "provided" they previously obtain a license from the probate court.

2. Although equity will, in some cases, interfere to assert and protect future rights -- as ex. gr. to protect the estate of a remainderman from waste by the tenant for life, or to cut down an estate claimed to be a fee to a life interest only, where the language, rightly construed, gives but an interest for life, or will, at the request of trustees asking protection under a will, and to have a construction of the will and the direction of the court as to the disposition of the property, yet it will not decree in thesi as to the future rights of parties not before the court or in esse.

3. Langdale v. Briggs, 39 Eng.Law and Equity Reps. 194, followed and approved; distinguished, also, from Lorillard v. Coster and Hawley v. James, 5 Paige 172, 442.

4. A "cross-bill" being an auxiliary bill simply, must be a bill touching matters in question in the original bill. If its purpose be different from that of the original bill, it is not a cross-bill, even although the matters presented in it have a connection with the same general subject. As an original bill it will not attach to the controversy unless it be filed under such circumstances of citizenship &c., as give jurisdiction to original bills, herein differing from a cross-bill, which sometimes may so attach.

Halsey devised real estate in Rhode Island to trustees there, in trust for the benefit of his natural daughter, Maria

Page 68 U. S. 6

De Valle, a married woman, during her life, for her separate use; and upon her decease the trustees were directed to convey in fee one-half of the estate to the eldest son of the said daughter living at her decease, if of age, and one-half part to her other children living at her decease, and in default of male issue to her daughters equally. Mrs. De Valle, who was born in 1823, was a native and resident of Buenos Ayres, and had five children born there. After a certain time she came to Rhode Island, and had one child born there.

The trustees were directed not to convey the real estate to his grandchildren, unless they should, within five years after being duly informed of his decease, have their permanent residence in the United States, and adopt and use the name of Halsey.

In case his daughter should die without issue living, or with issue who should neglect or refuse to comply with the conditions, the trustees were directed to pay two legacies out of the estate, and convey the residue to a certain Cross, the complainant, if then living, and if he should adopt and use the name of Halsey, or if said complainant should not then be living, or if he should refuse to adopt the name of Halsey, then to a nephew of Cross, upon condition that he should adopt the name of Halsey.

Cross now filed his bill in the Circuit Court of the United States for Rhode Island against the trustees and the beneficiaries of the trust, setting forth that the trusts in favor of Mrs. De Valle and her children had failed by reason of her and their alienage and incapacity to hold real estate in Rhode Island, and that the trust for the benefit of the complainant was hastened in enjoyment by such failure, claiming that the devise over to him took effect upon the probate of the will, or, that it took effect in favor of the heirs at law, or of the state of Rhode Island as sovereign, and praying that the estate should be conveyed to him by the trustees, or to the heirs at law, or to the state.

A cross-bill, or bill purporting to be so, was also filed in the same court by heirs at law of Halsey against this complainant,

Page 68 U. S. 7

Cross, the trustees, and other parties in interest -- the parties in both bills being the same, but being partially reversed -- for the purpose of more distinctly asserting and putting in issue the rights of the heirs at law, as against Mrs. De Valle, Cross, and those other devisees, and so of having the limitations on Mrs. De Valle's life estate declared void, as tending to a perpetuity, and generally of having the rights of the heirs at law declared and protected by the court in its exercise of equitable jurisdiction. The complainants were citizens either of Massachusetts, or of Wisconsin, or of Ohio, or of New York. The defendants were all, with one exception, either citizens of Rhode Island or aliens commorant there. The excepted defendant, Cross, complainant in the original bill, was a citizen of Louisiana, and not commorant in Rhode Island.

On the subject of alienage, it is necessary to mention that no special enactment had been made in Rhode Island, giving to aliens more ability to hold real estate than they had by the common law. On the contrary, rather, by a statute in force at Halsey's death, it had been enacted as follows: [Footnote 1]

"Courts of Probate shall have power to grant petitions of aliens for leave to purchase, hold and dispose of real estate within their respective towns, provided the alien petitioning shall, at the time of his petition, be resident within this state, and shall have made declaration, according to law, of his intention to become a naturalized citizen of the United States."

On demurrer the circuit court dismissed the bill, and dismissed also the cross-bill. On appeal here, along with other questions argued -- including the one whether the remainders were void as tending to perpetuities -- were the following, the only ones considered by the court:

1. Was the equitable life estate given by the will to Mrs. De Valle void in consequence of her alienage, so that persons who have interests in remainder have a right to be hastened in the enjoyment of the estate?

Page 68 U. S. 8

2. If not, did the court err in dismissing the cross-bill, and refusing to declare the future rights of the parties?

Page 68 U. S. 12

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