Purcell v. Miner

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

71 U.S. 513

Purcell  v.  Miner

PURCELL filed a bill against Coleman, Miner and wife, and others, in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, where the statute of frauds-enacting that all estates in lands made by parol only and not put in writing and signed by the parties making the same shall have the force and effect of estates at will only is in force. The bill set forth that Coleman having a house in Washington, and he, Purcell, a farm in Virginia, 'a trade' had been made between them; and the possession and key of the house delivered to him by Coleman, and full payment admitted by Coleman's receiving the farm, the title of which he had examined, and 'the trade' closed; and that Coleman had requested the complainant to prepare both deeds; that Purcell had done so, and had tendered and was now ready to tender to Coleman a deed for the farm according to the contract.

The bill then went on:

'Your orator further avers that several weeks thereafter, to his great surprise, about the time he had commenced improving the house for the purpose of placing a tenant in it, the said Coleman, in the night-time, entered the back way, be means of a ladder, and took from the back door the key on the inside of said house, and held forcible possession of the same until he was found guilty of the charge by two justices, after hearing all the testimony and having the aid of two counsel. That the said Coleman then delivered the key to your orator, and stated in the presence of several gentlemen that the change of property was fair; that he knew its condition before trading, in relation to its value and title; that it was advantageous to him, but that his wife had a few days previous refused to go with him to the said farm, and that was his only reason for his unlawful conduct, and that he would not do it again, and that he would pay all the costs in the case, which he has failed to do.

'Your orator further avers that notwithstanding the key, possession, and equitable title being with your orator, and that he had actually prepared a bill in equity to compel said Coleman to make him a deed for the house and lot, and was about to file it, that to his great surprise it appeared that on the 9th March, 1861, one Miner had entered into a conditional contract with the said Coleman for the house and lot, and obtained a deed for the same in the name of his wife; the said Miner well knowing at the time he made the conditional contract with the said Coleman that your orator was entitled to the equitable estate in said house and lot, as well as the peaceable and lawful possession of the same; that the said Miner, in order to get possession of the house, in the absence of your orator prepared a false key and entered it, first having torn down the printed advertisement from the door showing the house was for rent by your orator. And that your orator had again to incur the expense, loss of time, and annoyance of prosecuting the writ of forcible entry, and the said Miner was found guilty as charged, and fined fifty dollars.

'Your orator further avers that the said Miner stated to your orator in the presence of several gentlemen that it was not necessary to make him a party to the suit to compel the legal title; that if your orator succeeded against said Coleman, that said Coleman was to convey back to him or his wife the land in Virginia, which he had conveyed to said Coleman for the house and lot referred to, thereby showing that their pretended exchange was entirely depending on the right of your orator to the said house and lot, which is still in your orator's possession, but owing to the annoyance, by said Coleman and Miner, he has been unable to rent it.

'Your orator further avers that it is impossible to place your orator and the said Coleman in the same situation they were in before they exchanged property, because the said Coleman not having given attention to the farm, a barn has been destroyed, and also much of the fencing, as your orator has been informed and believes, and that he has been at expense in repairing the house and lot, & c.'

The bill prayed a specific performance of the contract set up.

The bill was answered by Miner, denying, &c., and set out that Miner also having a farm in Virginia, he and Coleman had agreed on and actually consummated a bon a fide and unconditional exchange of the house for it.

The answer then thus went on:

'This defendant further says, that soon after the execution of said deed to his said wife he took possession of the premises (as this defendant was authorized to do as the property of his wife) in a peaceable, quiet, and proper manner, and that he met upon the street a locksmith, who unlocked the front door of said house and sold this defendant a key. Some days subsequently the said complainant demanded of this defendant the possession of said house and lot, which demand this defendant refused to comply with. The next day the complainant came to the premises with a large number of officers and two justices of the peace, and in their presence again demanded possession of the house and lot, which this defendant again refused to grant, but being requested by said justices, he opened the door and allowed them to enter. The said justices immediately proceeded to try the question of possession, and, to the utter surprise and astonishment of this defendant, imposed a fine for withholding from the said complainant the possession of the said house and lot. This defendant requested the said complainant to show his title to the said house and lot which he claimed, and the said complainant exhibited some papers, but none of them were signed by said Coleman, nor were they of any consequence in reference to the support of his pretended claim of title. This defendant immediately called upon Coleman and related to him the circumstances in reference to the claim upon the house and lot set up by the complainant, and was informed by Coleman that the complainant had no claim upon the said house and lot, but admitted that they had been negotiating for an exchange of properties, and while the negotiations were going on, he, the said Coleman, learned that the farm in Virginia that said complainant had offered him for said house and lot did not belong to the said complainant, and that he could not give him, the said Coleman, a clear title thereto, and consequently that he, the said Coleman, had declined closing any contract with said complainant.'

Mrs. Miner did not answer, but made default. A good deal of testimony was taken, many of the interrogatories-the parties managing their own case-being of a most leading character.

The court below dismissed the bill, and the case was now here on appeal.

Messrs. Brent and Merrick, for the appellant, Purcell:

At a moment when the complainant was entitled to a decree pro confesso against Mrs. Miner, the recipient of Coleman's title, the court dismissed the bill.

The statute of frauds is not relied on or intimated in the answer of defendants; but if it had been, it would not apply in this case. The giving possession is part performance. [1]

The possession being mutually given and taken by the parties, entitled the appellant to a specific performance of the agreement. [2] An exchange will be specifically decreed. [3]

Mr. Miner, pro se, contra.

Mr. Justice GRIER delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  Stewart v. Dent (N. & S.), 4th July, 1786; Simmons v. Hill, 4 Harris & McHenry, 252.

^2  Boon v. Chiles, 10 Peters, 177.

^3  McIver v. Kyger, 3 Wheator, 53.

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).