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HARPENDING V. REFORMED PROTESTANT CHURCH OF NEW YORK, 41 U. S. 455 (1842)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Harpending v. Reformed Protestant Church of New York, 41 U.S. 16 Pet. 455 455 (1842)

Harpending v. Reformed Protestant Church of New York

41 U.S. (16 Pet.) 455

Syllabus

A bill was filed in the Circuit Court of the Southern District of New York by the heirs of John Haberdinck, claiming certain real estate in the City of New York and an account of the rents and profits thereof, the estate having been devised in 1696, to the Ministers, Elders, and Deacons of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of the City of New York. To this bill the respondents, among other matters, pleaded that they bad been in actual adverse possession of the premises for forty years next before the filing of the bill.

If the complainant by his bill, or the respondent by his plea, sets forth facts from which it appears that the complainant, by the statutes of the state, has no standing in court, and for the sake of repose and the common good of society is not permitted to sue his adversary, it is the rule of the court not to proceed further, and dismiss the bill.

In pleading the statute of limitations to a bill in chancery, it is not necessary that there shall be an express reference to the statute of the state in which the proceeding is instituted. The court is judicially bound to take notice of the statutes of limitations when the facts are stated and relied on as a bar to further proceedings, if they are found sufficient.

One tenant in common may hold adversely to and bar his co-tenant.

After the elapse of twenty years from the commencement of adverse possession of the property claimed, the defendants had a title as undoubted as if they had produced a deed in fee simple from the true owners of that date, and all inquiry into their title or its incidents was effectually cut off.

The Supreme Court of the United States is bound to conform to the decisions of the state courts in relation to the construction of the statute of limitations of the state in which the controversy has arisen. Such is the settled doctrine of the supreme court. Cited, Green v. Neal, 6 Pet. 291.

No distinction is made by the courts of the State of New York between a religious corporation claiming to hold under the statute of limitations of the state in regard to capacity to hold by force of the statute; therefore none can be taken by the Supreme Court of the United States.

The statute of New York is in substance the same as that of 21 Jac. 1. That such a possession as is set forth in the plea in this case is protected by the statute has been the settled doctrine of the courts of that state for more than thirty years, if it ever were doubted.

The second part of the plea of the defendants averred that all the parts of the lands sold had been conveyed and the moneys received by the defendants more than forty years before the plea was filed. This is deemed a conclusive bar. The bill seeks the money, and six years barred the relief, this being a concurrent remedy with the action at law. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 41 U. S. 456

The defendants had disclaimed the ownership of certain lots which were described in the bill, and of which they were charged with being owners. The circuit court dismissed the bill as to these lots. Held that this was proper. There was no probable cause for retaining this part of the bill, to obtain an account from the respondents. Obviously no claim exists that can be made available for the complainants in regard to this portion of the property.

On 25 March 1839, the appellants filed a bill in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York (they being citizens of other states than the State of New York) stating that prior to September, 1696, John H. Haberdinck, of the City of New York, with four others, was seized in fee of the "Shoemaker's Fields or lands," a tract of about sixteen acres in the City of New York, and that in the same year, partition of the same was made and Haberdinck became seized in severalty of divers parcels of the land described in the bill. Haberdinck died seized of the land in January 1722, leaving a widow, who died in 1723, and John Haberdinck, Junior, of New York, was his only heir, and inherited his lands. The bill stated that the complainants were the heirs of John Haberdinck, Junior, their names having been varied to Haberding. It stated that they are seized, with Peter Haberding, a citizen of New York, of these lands as heirs as aforesaid, and that no sale or devise of the lands has been made by them or by any of their ancestors.

The bill stated that John H. Haberdinck made leases of part of the lands for ninety-nine or more years, and some of the leases so granted did not expire until after 1829. The Dutch Church had, for some time past, had possession of the lands allotted to John H. Haberdinck by the partition, and claimed that they took such possession in virtue of some will or devise of John H. Haberdinck to them. They also obtained possession of the undivided parcel, and alleged title to some shares of it, by deeds from the other tenants in common, and had demised parts of the same &c.

The bill alleged that the church was a religious corporation in the City of New York, incorporated under the laws of New York. The complainants had applied to the church for a statement of chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 41 U. S. 457

the title under which they claimed the property, and for a list of papers, and the inspection of their rent roll, and an account of the rents and profits. In March, 1822, the bill alleged that the defendants returned to the chancellor of New York an inventory, in which they set forth that these lands were held by them as

"sundry lots devised to the church by John Haberdinck, called the Shoemaker's land, as mentioned in a former inventory, situated in the second and third wards of the City of New York,"

and the defendants alleged the said will was valid.

The parts of the will set out in the bill of the complainants relating to the property claimed by the complainants were as follows:

"Item. I, the said John Haberdinck, does hereby give, devise and bequeath unto the minister, elders and deacons of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of the City of New York and their successors forever all my [the testator's] right, title and interest, and property in and to an equal fifth part, share and proportion of all that tract or parcel of land situate, lying, and being upon Manhattan Island within the City of New York, called or known by the name of Shoemaker's Field or land, on the north side of Maiden Lane or path, &c., the which tract or parcel of land contains, by estimation, sixteen acres."

The will then described the different lots according to the partition, and proceeded,

The will then described the different lots according to the partition, and proceeded,