Matthews v. Memphis and Charleston Railroad Company

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

108 U.S. 368

Matthews  v.  Memphis and Charleston Railroad Company

On January 8, 1872, a decree was rendered by the chancery court of Alcorn county, in the state of Mississippi, in favor of Narcissa Scruggs, one of the appellants, against the Memphis & Charleston Railroad Company, for the sum of $31,666.66, and interest thereon from January 21, 1871. This decree was, on December 14, 1874, affirmed, on appeal, by the supreme court of Mississippi, and a decree rendered against the railroad company and the sureties on its appeal bond for the amount of the decree of the chancery court of Alcorn county, and interest thereon, and $1,583.33 damages, the whole to bear interest until paid.

The transactions which gave rise to the litigation which resulted in this decree were as follows: On July 7, 1857, John W. Scruggs, the husband of said Narcissa, made a contract in writing with the railroad company by which he agreed to erect on its land at Corinth, Mississippi, which was one of the stations on the company's road, a railroad hotel, and conduct it in a manner acceptable to the railroad company, and pay the company an annual ground rent of $250. It was provided that, should the railroad company at any time become dissatisfied with the manner in which the hotel was carried on, the right was reserved to it to take possession thereof by paying Scruggs its value, and if Scruggs became dissatisfied with the schedule or management of the company, he reserved the right to surrender the improvements put by him on the land, and to require the company to pay their value at the time of surrender. Scruggs erected a hotel building according to the contract, and kept therein a boarding-house for the officers and employes of the railroad company, and a house of refreshment for travelers, until April 21, 1871. About that time he conveyed the hotel building and other improvements by him put upon the land, and his leasehold in the land, to his wife, Narcissa. On the day just mentioned, Scruggs and his wife and the president of the railroad company agreed with each other that the lease should cease and determine, and the property should be surrendered to the railroad company. And as there was some dispute between the parties in reference to the construction of the contract of July 7, 1857, they agreed to submit to arbitrators to decide upon the legal construction of said agreement, and the value of said improvements, and the amount which should be paid therefor by the railroad company to Mrs. Scruggs upon the surrender of the premises. All other questions arising under said agreement, whether as to the rights of the party to recover damages or otherwise, were expressly reserved. It was further agreed that the award of the arbitrators should be entered as a decree of the chancery court of Alcorn county.

The arbitrators, on April 21, 1871, made their award as follows.

'The Memphis & Charleston Railroad Company shall pay to the said Narcissa Scruggs the sum of $31,666.66, in full payment of all the improvements placed on the ground occupied by the Scruggs House, on the grounds of said company, at Corinth, Mississippi, and on payment of said sum of money the said Narcissa Scruggs shall deliver possession of said hotel to said railroad company.

'We do further decide and decree that the true construction of the contract is that by its terms J. W. Scruggs acquires a perpetual lease on the ground occupied by the said hotel on the payment of the sum of $250 per annum rent, and subject to be defeated by the Memphis & Charleston Railroad Company only on the condition that Scruggs failed to keep a first-rate eating-house, and by the said J. W. Scruggs on condition that said Memphis & Charleston Railroad failed to use said hotel as an eating-house.

'We do further determine that, from the evidence in the case and the articles of submission and contract, that the sum to be paid by the Memphis & Charleston Railroad Company to said Narcissa Scruggs is, as heretofore mentioned, the value of the property surrendered to the Memphis & Charleston Railroad Company.'

The railroad company refused to pay the award or to take possession of the property. Whereupon, on May 2, 1871, Narcissa Scruggs filed her bill in the chancery court of Alcorn county to enforce the performance of the award. After the bringing of the bill, the counsel of the parties filed in the case an agreement in writing, as follows:

'In the above case it is agreed that the amount due to the defendant as ground rent for the land upon which the Corintn hotel is built, as specified in the lease to J. W. Scruggs, was not included in the award by the arbitration; and it is agreed that the amount due for the same for said rent shall be deducted from whatever amount may be found to be due by the award of said arbitrators; and that the said Scruggs shall be permitted to set off as against said rents any amount due him by said railroad for board of employes, etc.; the said amount to be adjusted by reference to the master of the chancery court.'

The litigation commenced by this bill resulted in the decree of the supreme court of Mississippi above mentioned. In the mean time, to-wit, on August 13, 1871, John W. Scruggs had died.

On January 8, 1875, upon an attempt by Mrs. Scruggs to enforce the payment of this decree by execution, the bill in the present case was filed by the railroad company in the chancery court of Alcorn county. The bill averred that the decree of the Alcorn chancery court above mentioned, which was affirmed by the supreme court of Mississippi, established a debt in favor of Mrs. Scruggs against the railroad company for $31,666.66, with interest from April 21, 1871, and fixed that date for the surrender of the premises by Mrs. Scruggs to the railroad company, and gave her a lien on the premises for the payment of the decree, and upon failure of the railroad company to pay the same within 30 days, ordered a sale of the property, and that the decree left Mrs. Scruggs as a mortgagee in possession until the sum above mentioned was paid. The bill further averred that the decree should be reduced by the ground rents due the railroad company up to April 21, 1871, and for the use and occupancy, rents and profits, of said premises from that date up to the filing of the bill, which had been enjoyed and received by Mrs. Scruggs, amounting in all to the sum of $25,000. The bill averred that Mrs. Scruggs had caused an execution to be issued against the railroad company and the sureties on its appeal bond to enforce collection of the entire decree; that she was insolvent, and if allowed to collect the decree in full the credit to which the railroad company was entitled would be a total loss. The prayer of the bill was for an injunction to restrain proceedings on the execution, and for a reference to a master to report the amount due the railroad company for ground rents up to Arril 21, 1871, and the amount of rents of the premises received by Mrs. Scruggs from that date to the date of the master's report, and that the amount reported by the master as due the railroad company for ground and other rents might be credited on the decree.

An injunction was allowed as prayed for. Mrs. Scruggs answered the bill, admitting her retention of the possession of the property, but denied her liability for rents, and averred that she was not only entitled to the rents, but also to the amount of the decree and the penalty adjudged by the supreme court, and interest on both, and set up said decree as res adjudicata and conclusive in her favor.

At this stage of the cause it was, on petition of the railroad company, removed to the district court of the United States for the northern district of Mississippi. Upon motion made to the district court, the injunction allowed by the state court was modified so as to restrain the collection of only $20,000 of the decree, and Mrs. Scruggs was required to give, and did give, a refunding bond in the sum of $10,000 for the repayment of any sum which might on final hearing be decreed against her. An execution having issued to collect the residue of the decree, less the said $20,000, the railroad company paid the marshal $19,217.

On September 24, 1875, the railroad company filed its amended bill and bill of interpleader, in which it averred that one J. H. Viser claimed to have a lien on the decree in favor of Mrs. Scruggs against the railroad company, and it brought into court the sum of $2,510, the residue of the decree not enjoined or not paid to the marshal, and made Viser and Mrs. Scruggs defendants, and prayed that the rights of all parties might be settled and determined.

On December 24, 1875, the district court decreed as follows: That the railroad company is entitled to have credited on the amount awarded and decreed (by the supreme court of the state) 'the reasonable rents which she,' Mrs. Scruggs, had 'actually received, or might have received, by prudent management, or for any period she actually, by herself or agent, occupied the hotel and property at Corinth, from May 11, 1871, forward to the date of the receiver's taking possession under a former order of this court,' and ordered a reference to a master to report the amount with which the decree should be credited by reason of the rents received, and the use and occupancy of said premises by Mrs. Scruggs. On the next day the court decreed that Viser was entitled to $1,382 of the $2,510 paid in by the railroad company on filing its bill of interpleader, that being the amount of a judgment recovered by him against Mrs. Scruggs, and for the payment of which the railroad company had been duly summoned as garnishee. Upon the coming in of the master's report, the court refused to deduct from the decree, in favor of Mrs. Scruggs, any sum for ground rents due the railroad company, and having reduced the amount of rent reported by the master as due from Mrs. Scruggs, applied the residue as a credit upon said decree, and as the result of such application found that there was due from Mrs. Scruggs to the railroad company on the refunding bond the sum of $179, for which it rendered a decree in favor of the railroad company against Mrs. Scruggs and the sureties on said bond, and also rendered a decree in favor of Viser against the same parties for $3,807.27. From this decree Mrs. Scruggs, and E. R. Matthews and James Matthews, the sureties on the refunding bond, have appealed to this court. Mrs. Scruggs now complains of the decree, so far as it concerns the railroad company, on the sole ground that it directed the value of the rents and occupancy of the hotel and improvements to be credited upon the decree in her favor against the railroad company. She also insists that the decree against her in favor of Viser was erroneous, for reasons which will be found stated in the opinion of the court.

H. P. Branham, for appellant.

D. H. Poston and W. Y. C. Humes, for appellee.



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).