Greeley v. Lowe

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

155 U.S. 58

Greeley  v.  Lowe

This was a bill in equity for the partition of real estate originally filed by George P. Greeley and wife, who were alleged to be citizens of New Hampshire, against 130 defendants, most of whom were citizens of Florida. Of the remaining defendants, some were citizens of Georgia; others, of Illinois, South Carolina, Alabama, Texas, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Mississippi; and one, Eliza B. Anderson, of the city of Washington and District of Columbia.

The bill averred the plaintiff, George P. Greeley, to be seised as tenant in common, in fee simple, and in actual possession, of 10,016 acres of land in the northern district of Florida, of the value of $10,000, exclusive of interest and costs, etc.; that one John T. Lowe, and Susan, his wife, were originally seised of the said premises by grant from the Spanish govermnent in 1816, as a mill right (Lowe being then married, and his wife, Susan, being seised, by ganancial right, of an undivided half of said premises under the laws of Spain, which declared that real estate acquired by either the husband or wife during coverture by purchase, gift, or gain becomes and remains community property), and that they were seised thereof as tenants in common; that Lowe died in 1824, and the grant was subsequently confirmed by the supreme court of the United States in 1842 (U.S. v. Low, 16 Pet. 162); that the ganancial right and title of said Susan Lowe has never been alienated, relinquished, or annulled, and has been duly protected and guarantied by the treaty of 1819 between the United States and Spain; that Lowe attempted to convey to one Clark the southern half of this grant, but his wife, then living, did not join, and the half of the south half only was conveyed; that Clark conveyed to Duncan L. Clinch, who died testate, leaving his executor power to sell said lands; that Susan Lowe survived her husband, but both died intestate, and their estates had long been settled; that the north half of said grant and half of the south half descended to their children, nine in number.

The genealogy and shares of the heirs and their grantees are stated at great length in the bill, all the claims of the various members being set up and defined, and the invalidity of certain deeds attached as exhibits being averred and pointed out. The bill contained a general averment that no other person, except such as were made parties, had any interest in or title to the premises; that by reason of the lapse of time, the disturbed condition of the country, etc., it has been almost impossible to trace the lineage of the several families, and to find the actual parties in interest.

The bill prayed that the different deeds attached as exhibits might be construed, and the interest, if any conveyed, ascertained or the deeds canceled; that all persons having any claims or liens upon the lands might be brought in and required to prove their claims, or have the same held null and void; that partition of the lands be made, if possible and equitable, and, if not, that they might be sold, and the proceeds distributed; that plaintiff recover his advances for taxes and expenses, including costs and counsel fees; that a master be appointed to state the shares, advances, and fees; and that commissioners be appointed to make partition or sale, etc.

Isaac A. Stewart, one of the defendants resident in Florida, filed a plea to the jurisdiction, setting up, among other things, that the suit was not brought in the district of the residence of either the plaintiffs or defendants; that the controversy was not between citizens of different states; that certain defendants had interests adverse to other defendants; that Eliza B. Anderson, one of the defendants, was a resident and citizen of the District of Columbia; that her claim was adverse to his (Stewart's); that Greeley's wife was improperly joined, was not the cotenant, and could not maintain a suit; that the wives of several of the defendants were improperly joined, in that they possessed no legal interest in the property; and that others who were necessary parties were not joined as defendants. Thereupon, plaintiff moved for leave to amend his bill by inserting after the name of Eliza Anderson the words, 'citizen of South Carolina, now resident in Washington, D. C.,' and also to add other defendants. The court granted the motion to amend, and the cause came on to be heard on the plea to the jurisdiction. The court made a final decree, holding that while it was true that the complainants were citizens of New Hampshire, and resident there, and some of the defendants were citizens of Florida, in the district in which the land lies, yet because there were other defendants citizens of New York, and also of other states than the state in which the complainants reside and have citizenship, and also citizens of other federal districts than that where the land is situate, and where certain defendants reside, it was decreed that 'this court has not jurisdiction over all the defendants to this action, because they are not all residents and citizens of the district in which the land sought to be partitioned lies, and are not all found in said district at the time of the service of the process.'

On May 6, 1892, plaintiffs filed a petition for rehearing, and on June 13th amended their bill by striking out the name of Eliza B. Anderson as defendant. While no formal decree subsequent to the rehearing appears to have been entered, by an indorsement made upon the bill of June 15th, it would appear that the bill was finally dismissed upon that date. From this decree an appeal was taken to this court, and the question of jurisdiction, as above stated, was certified to this court for decision, pursuant to section 5 of the court of appeals act.

Mr. Chief Justice Fuller dissenting.

Jas. R. Challen and George A. King, for appellant.

Isaac A. Stewart and Eleazer K. Foster, for appellees.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 61-67 intentionally omitted]

Mr. Justice BROWN delivered the opinion of the court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).