U.S. Supreme Court
Mulligan v. Corbins, 74 U.S. 7 Wall. 487 487 (1868)
Mulligan v. Corbins
74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 487
A statute of a state releasing "whatever interest" in certain real estate may "rightfully" belong to it is not a law impairing the obligation of a contract in a case where an agent of the state, having by contract with it acquired an interest in half the lot, undertakes to sell and conveys the whole of it. In such case -- and on an assumption that the agent does own one half -- the statute will be held to apply to the remaining half alone.
Solomon Brindley, a free colored man, was the owner, in chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
1808, of a small house and lot of trifling value on Upper Street, in the City of Lexington, and was now dead. It did not appear when he died, or that he ever transferred the title to the property, but at a very early day, William T. Barry occupied it, and this occupancy was continued after his death by his legal representatives until 1843, when it was sold, as Barry's property, on an execution in favor of the old Bank of Kentucky (then mainly owned by and under the control of the state), and purchased for Martha Ann Corbin, and Martha Ann Corbin, her daughter, two of the defendants in error, who occupied and claimed it until November, 1855.
At this date, T. B. Monroe Jr., an attorney-at-law, was employed by the auditor of public accounts, in conformity with a statute of Kentucky, [Footnote 1] by a written contract, to sue for and recover the property, as having escheated on the death of Brindley, it being agreed that Monroe was to have for his compensation a moiety of the property recovered. Monroe, in the execution of his employment, prosecuted a suit in the name of one Baxter, the agent appointed to take charge of escheated estates in Fayette County, where the property was situated, and procured a judgment of eviction, and afterwards undertook to sell the property to Mulligan, the plaintiff in error, and to deliver possession to him. The record did not show that Baxter was a party to this sale or had sanctioned it. At this point of time the legislature stepped in, and on the 4th of April, 1861, passed a statute enacting
"That whatever interest in a small house and lot on Upper Street, in the city of Lexington, which was conveyed, in the year 1808, by Thomas Bodley to Solomon Brindley, may rightfully belong to the state by escheat, or otherwise, since the death of the said Brindley, without any known legal heirs, be, and the same is hereby, released to and vested in Martha Ann Corbin for her life, and her daughter, Martha Ann, absolutely after her said mother's death. The said property having been
bought, in the year 1843, as the property of William T. Barry, claiming and possessed of it, after said Brindley's death, and conveyed, in 1844, to the said mother and daughter, and who have occupied it as theirs ever since said sale and conveyance."
Mulligan, having filed a petition against the Corbins to recover possession of the property, insisted that this act of 1861 was inhibited by the Constitution of the United States, because it impaired the obligation of the contract which the auditor made with Monroe. The Court of Appeals directed the petition to be dismissed, and Mulligan brought the case by writ of error here.