Lewis v. Darling

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

57 U.S. 1

Lewis  v.  Darling

THIS was an appeal from the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of Alabama, exercising Circuit Court equity jurisdiction, under the act of Congress of February 19, 1831, ch. 28, (4 Stat. at Large, p. 444.)

The following is the statement contained in the brief of the counsel for the appellant, which is adopted by the court, in their opinion.

A bill was filed March 16, 1846, by the appellee against the appellant-alleging, that in the year 1822, one Samuel Betts, a citizen of the State of Connecticut, but transacting business at Havana, in the Island of Cuba, as a partner in the firm of F. M. Arredondo & Son, died at Havana, leaving a will in due form of law, proven and admitted to record in that city, by which he bequeathed to the complainant, Darling, a legacy of $2,500. That Betts left but one child, his daughter Mary, who has since married the defendant Lewis-and that a tract of several hundred thousand acres of land, in the present State of Florida, was held and owned by the firm, of which Betts was a partner. That by a decree of the proper court of the State of Florida, Lewis, the defendant, has been declared entitled to 60,000 acres of this land, in right of his wife, the daughter of said Betts, which is worth more than $100,000; that Lewis had also received a deed of conveyance for 15,000 acres of land, valued at $50,000, which was the property of Betts, as a partner of the firm. And, in addition to this, also received large sums of money belonging to Betts's estate. The bill prays, that Exhibit A, (a copy of Betts's will,) and Exhibit B, (a copy of the answer of the defendant, Lewis, to a bill filed in the Superior Court of the District of East Florida, in the now State of Florida, by John Brush et al.' v. Lewis et al.') be considered parts of the bill. And propounds interrogatories to Lewis: 1st. As to whether Exhibit A is a correct copy of that which defendant, in the case against him in Florida, had set out in his answer there, as the will of Betts? 2d. Whether the original will was in defendant's possession; if not, why, and where it was, and was it admitted to probate in Havana? 3d. Whether defendant received any property, lands, or moneys, from the estate of Betts, and if so, whether it was the property of Betts, individually, or as a partner of the firm of Arredondo & Son, and what was its value? 4th. Whether Exhibit B was a true copy of the answer it purported to be? 5th. Whether Joseph Fenwick (who by the will of Betts was appointed executor in the United States) did ever, or did then, reside in Alabama, or where he then resided? 6th. What the value of the property was, received by defendant from Betts's estate; when was it received, and what was the rate of interest in Florida and in Cuba? And prays process to procure full answers to the interrogatories, and payment of the legacy, if it appear that the defendant has received from Betts's estate enough to satisfy the complainant.

On page 5 of Record, in complainant's Exhibit A, will be seen the appointment of Joseph Fenwick as the executor of Betts in the United States, and the legacy bequeathed, as stated in the bill. The residue of the testator's property, after a few minor dispositions, is devised to his only child, the wife of the defendant.

Exhibit B, which complainant makes a part of her bill, shows that the large tract of land mentioned in the bill did belong to the firm of Arredondo & Son, of which Betts was a member, and sets out how Lewis, by marriage with the daughter, the sole heir of Betts, became entitled to a portion of it. Lewis, in that answer, also states, with regard to the 15,000 acres mentioned in the bill in this case, that, being ignorant of the true rights of his wife, in the year 1831 he agreed with F. M. Arredondo upon the terms of a compromise as to his wife's interest in said lands; by which agreement he and his wife were to receive 15,000 acres, as an undivided portion of the balance of the tract, after certain sales which had been previously made by Arredondo & Son; and, in consideration of which, he and his wife were to relinquish forever, all rights to any further or other portion of said land, by virtue of the interest of Samuel Betts. That a deed was executed by said F. M. Arredondo, conveying to Lewis and wife, 15,000 acres of the land, and signed and delivered to Lewis, but that he and his wife had refused to execute any deed of release or relinquishment of their interest in said land-alleging as a reason for not doing so, that the ascertained Arredondo had not made full and fair representations of Betts's interest in the land, and had either by mistake, or with fraudulent purpose, made incorrect statements in the recitals of the deed of the sales previously made, and that he (the defendant) had therefore always regarded the said deed of Arredondo to himself and wife as void, and had claimed nothing under it since he ascertained the facts above referred to, and had always refused to carry out the verbal agreement of the compromise, and averring Betts's interest as partner to the extent of one third, in the large tract of land belonging to the firm of Arredondo & Son, he prays a decree for partition of said lands, and that the portion to which he is entitled in right of his wife, when established to the satisfaction of the court, be allotted to him by a decree to that effect.

On page 11 of Record, is defendant Lewis's first answer for the present bill, in which he totally denies having ever received one cent of value from Betts's estate, either in real, personal, or mixed property. But this answer being objected to as insufficient and evasive, the court below, May 21st, 1846, ruled that it was insufficient-but also ruled, that the bill did not allege sufficient matter for equitable relief, it not showing that the executor had not paid the legacy, and if it had not been paid, did not show any reason for proceeding against the residuary legatee instead of the executor.

Thereupon the complainant filed her amended bill, stating that 'no one, to her knowledge or belief, had ever taken out letters testamentary or of administration upon the estate of Betts, either in the State of Alabama or elsewhere,' and 'that no person had ever paid the legacy, or any part thereof,' and that no person but defendant had ever received any part of Betts's estate, and called upon defendant to state, whether any one had taken out letters upon the estate.

Defendant then puts in his second answer, stating that he was a defendant in a suit in Chancery in Florida, brought against him and others by John H. Brush and others, and that before the termination of said suit, a copy of the will of Betts was filed by him as part of the evidence of his claim, in right of his wife. The original will was in Spanish, and he obtained a Spanish copy of it from the proper depository in the city of Havana. He believed that a Spanish copy and an English transaction were filed among the papers in that suit. That the suit was not tried in the regular way-but the parties entered into a covenant or agreement, which was put upon the records of the Court of Florida, and was, by consent, made the decree of that court. That the will was not adjudicated upon;-cannot say on his oath that the Exhibit A is a correct translation of the original-but it does not differ from the English copy filed in the Florida case. To the third interrogatory, he states, that he has received no property, lands, or moneys from the estate of Betts. That a decree in the Florida case had been entered by consent of parties, and that the decree gave to his wife a large amount of land-but there was no decree in favor of him-and the decree in favor of his wife was not a final one-needing the report of commissioners appointed to make partition of the land before it became a final decree. Cannot say what is the value of the land decreed to his wife, because the decree is not final, and awaits the further action of the court. He admits the Exhibit B to the bill to be a true copy of the answer filed by him in the Florida case. States that Joseph Fenwick did reside in Alabama, and believes he is dead; and that he does not know or believe that any person has taken out letters of administration upon the estate of Betts in the United States. He does not know whether there was or was not administration in Cuba-and has no information on the subject; and suggesting the want of parties, prays to be dismissed.

No exception to this answer appears on record; but on the 23d November, 1847, the court decide the answer to be insufficient, and also that the bill was defective in not alleging sufficient matters for equitable relief, in not showing that the executors had not paid the legacy, and that not being shown in alleging no reasons for proceeding against the residuary legatee instead of the executor.

Leave to amend was granted; but instead of so doing the complainant filed her replication, averring the sufficiency of her bill, the insufficiency of the answer, and traversing the statements of the latter.

On November 23d, 1847, the court below decreed in favor of complainant, ordering that she recover against the defendant $7,645.45, the amount of the legacy with interest and costs, and ordered execution to issue accordingly.

On November 24th, 1847, defendant filed a petition for rehearing, alleging error in the decree; because the decree in the Florida case was not final, and he had not, as yet, received in right of his wife, or on his own account, the least benefit from that decree, nor was it certain that he ever would. For the report of the commissioners appointed to make partition in the suit in Florida had been objected to by some of the parties, and set aside by the court, and that another commission had been appointed which could not report before the next term of the court, in June, 1848; that the would, therefore, under the decree, have to pay a large sum of money to the complainant out of his own funds, when he had received nothing under the decree rendered in favor of his wife. He also states that in the case in Florida, a petition for leave to file a bill in the nature of a bill of review for the purpose of opening the decree in that court was then pending there, and submits a decision of the Supreme Court of the State of Florida, showing that by the decision of that court and the acts assembly of Florida, the decree directing the partition of lands is not a final but an interlocutory decree.

He also urges that he should not be charged with the 15,000 acres mentioned in the deed from Arredondo, because the complainant makes his answer in the Florida case a part of her bill, and in that answer it is shown, that that deed is treated as void, and he has never claimed any thing under it, and that so far as it can be considered as a portion of his wife's interest in the estate, it is wholly merged in the decree for 60,000 acres in the suit in Florida.

On November 29th, 1848, defendant filed his affidavit, stating that since his petition for rehearing, the leave to file a bill in the nature of a bill of review in the court of Florida, referred to in said petition, had been granted in that court, that the bill had been accordingly filed, and that it had wholly suspended the execution of the decree there obtained-that he had answered that bill, and the same is at issue. That neither himself nor his wife had as yet received one dollar in real, personal, or mixed property from Betts's estate.

On December 2d, 1848, the court, upon argument of the petition for rehearing, dismissed it, and thereupon the defendant prayed an appeal. Nearly all the testimony embraced in the residue of the record appears to bear upon the partnership relations and the interest of Betts in the Florida lands, facts which are not disputed.

But on page 77 it will be seen that the proceedings in a case in the court below between this appellant and Burr Hubbell Betts, (who is one of the legatees in the will of Samuel Betts,) were produced in evidence in the trial, and that the bill in those proceedings, which in its general nature resembles the present bill, refers to a certain portion of the property of Betts (the deceased) which had come into the hands of the appellant by a conveyance there referred to as Exhibit C. That conveyance will be found on page 28 of record, and is a deed made by F. M. Arredondo to appellant and wife in 1831, stating that Samuel Betts had in his lifetime conveyed to the grantor certain property in trust for creditors, and the grantees having obtained from these creditors assignments of all their right and claim to the property, it was thereby conveyed to the grantees.

The first appeal was not taken within the time specified by law, and another appeal was granted 23d May, 1850.

This appeal, also, was not acted upon for the reason assigned on page 86, that a compromise was pending between the parties. In the mean time the case was docketed and dismissed under the rule of this court, and accordingly a third appeal was granted, and is now prosecuted.

The case was argued by Mr. Reverdy Johnson, and Mr. Reverdy Johnson, junior, for the appellant, and by Mr. Butler, for the appellee.

The points made by the counsel for the appellant were the following:

1st. The bill is materially defective for want of parties; the wife of defendant, through whom alone he claims, and whose right he represents, being an essential party to the proceedings. Story's Eq. Pl. § 75, 77, 137, 138; 22d and 52d Rules of Eq. Prac.

2d. Neither the original nor the amended bill allege that all the personal property (whatever it was) had come into the possession of the defendant, nor that the part that did come, was sufficient to pay the legacy. Story's Eq. Pl. § 241, 257.

3d. Nor do they aver that in fact there was not sufficient personal property to pay the legacy. 1 Story's Com. Eq. § 571; Hoye v. Bewer, 3 Gill & Johns. 153.

4th. The effect of the plaintiff's replication being to admit the sufficiency of defendant's second answer, there is no evidence to authorize the decree against the defendant. Story's Eq. Pl. § 877; 61st Rule Eq. Prac.

5th. If this be not the effect of the replication, yet the answer is distinct and full, and there is no evidence that any property belonging to the estate of Samuel Betts, ever came into the hands of the defendant, and he cannot be held liable 'de bonis propriis.' 1st Florida Rep. 455, Putnam v. Lewis,.

The points made by Mr. Butler, for the appellee, were the following:

First. The specific legacy is charged upon the residuary legacy of those who have a right to take it.

Second. It is certain that the residuary legacy, now capable of being reduced into possession by the residuary legatee, is more than sufficient to pay off the specific legacy.

Third. The replication of the complainant must be regarded as evidence in the case, as it has not been contradicted by any direct denial of the defendant, but must be regarded as a traverse of the assumptions of the answer. Story's Eq. Plead. p. 793, 794, 801, 802.

Fourth. Admitting the technical truth of the defendant in his evasive answer, that the defendant (Lewis) has not received any property of the testator, Samuel Betts, still it appears that he can receive, and is entitled by law to receive, property more than sufficient to pay all the debts of the testator and the specific legacies contained in his will.

Fifth. The defendant having intermeddled with, and appropriated to himself an interest in, the estate of Samuel Betts, he cannot exonerate himself from liability to creditors without making some such disclosure as would discharge him under a plea of plene administravit.

Sixth. The defendant ought not to be allowed to take any exception to the bill of the complainant at this stage of the proceedings; if any exception could have been taken originally, (which the complainant contends could not,) such exception may be regarded as having been waived by the defendant. Story's Plead. p. 74, 89, 301, 302.

Mr. Justice WAYNE 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).