MCCONIHAY V. WRIGHT, 121 U. S. 201 (1887)

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U.S. Supreme Court

McConihay v. Wright, 121 U.S. 201 (1887)

McConihay v. Wright, 121 U.S. 201 (1887)

Argued March 21-22, 1887

Decided April 11, 1887

121 U.S. 201


The test of equity jurisdiction in the courts of the United States -- namely the adequate remedy at law -- is the remedy which existed when the Judiciary Act of 1789 was adopted, unless subsequently changed by Congress, and is not the existing remedy in a state or territory by virtue of local legislation.

A mining and manufacturing corporation in Virginia acquired title by deed to 10,000 acres of land in that part of the state which afterwards became West Virginia, and then, under a law of Virginia, acquired title, by condemnation, to a strip of land for a right of way to it from the Kanawha River over adjoining lands. The company becoming embarrassed, judgment creditors commenced proceedings in equity to secure the marshaling of the assets of the corporation and their application to the payment of its debts. These proceedings resulted in a sale to C, which sale was confirmed and a deed executed. Subsequently C filed a bill to enforce certain trusts accompanying the purchase, and then an amended bill making the corporation a party. In the latter it was averred that the tract for the roadway had been sold under the decree, and had been left out from the deed by the commissioner by mistake, and the bill prayed that the tract should be decreed to be conveyed to C. The company answered by the same counsel representing C, admitting these facts to be true. The court decreed a sale of all the property, including both tracts, which was made accordingly, and the sole confirmed, and a deed to the purchaser made. Held that the title of the corporation in the tract acquired by condemnation passed to the purchaser under the second sale as fully as if conveyed by the company by a deed under its corporate seal, and that under the circumstances, the employment of the same counsel by the company and by C was not evidence of fraud.

The provisions of § 20 of the Act of the State of Virginia of March 11, 1837, relating to railroads are not applicable to the railroad constructed by the Winifrede Mining and Manufacturing Company, or, if applicable, the charter of the company was in that respect altered by the Virginia Code of 1849, and this conclusion is not affected by the fact that the charter was granted by the legislature after the enactment of the code, but before it went into operation.

If the insolvency of the Winifrede Company and the sale of its property as an entirety, including land acquired by condemnation for use as an outlet from its mines to a navigable river, constituted an abandonment of the property thus acquired and a cesser of use, it did not thereby revert to the original owner, but the forfeiture could be enforced, if at all, only by the state. chanrobles.com-red

Page 121 U. S. 202

The complainant in this case, Theodore Wright, the appellee, a citizen of the State of Pennsylvania, filed his bill in equity September 24, 1881, against the appellants, citizens of the State of West Virginia, the object and prayer of which were to quiet his title to certain real estate described therein. The title of the complainant to the premises in controversy is derived from the Winifrede Mining and Manufacturing Company, a corporation of the State of West Virginia. That company was chartered by a special act of the Legislature of Virginia February 16, 1850, and made a body politic

"for the purpose of exploring, digging, mining, raising, and transporting coal and other minerals and substances, and for manufacturing mineral, vegetable, and other articles in and from the Counties of Kanawha and Boone and such other counties as may hereafter be created out of parts of said counties."

The third section of its charter is as follows:

"That it shall and may be lawful for the said company to erect and construct a slackwater navigation from some convenient point on Kanawha or Coal Rivers contiguous to their said lands and along the bed of the said Coal River to the Great Kanawha, provided however that nothing in this act contained shall be so construed as to prevent the said rivers from being and remaining public highways free for the navigation of all the citizens of this commonwealth, and also to construct such railroad or railroads from any point on their said lands to the Great Kanawha River or any other navigable stream in the valley of the Kanawha River and its branches, or to connect with any other railroad or improvement which is now or may hereafter be authorized by the State of Virginia in the said valley of the Kanawha and its branches, and, to enable the said company to carry out the provisions in this section contained, they are hereby invested with all the rights, powers, and privileges and subjected to all the limitations and restrictions contained in an act entitled 'An act prescribing certain general regulations for the incorporation of railroad companies,' passed March 11, 1837, so far as the same are applicable to and not inconsistent with the provisions of this act."

By the second section of the charter, the company was chanrobles.com-red

Page 121 U. S. 203

authorized to purchase and hold lands, not exceeding 10,000 acres at any one time, in the said Counties of Kanawha and Boone or in any new counties that had been or might thereafter be formed and created out of parts of said counties.

In pursuance of the authority given by its charter, the Winifrede Mining and Manufacturing Company of Virginia, on the 8th of January, 1853, acquired by deed a title in fee simple to a tract of land containing about 10,000 acres. John McConihay owned land between this tract and the Kanawha River. For the purpose of acquiring a right of way for a railroad and a depot on the banks of the Kanawha River in order to transport its coal, the Winifrede Company, by judicial proceedings, appropriated a tract through the lands of McConihay, being a narrow strip four or five miles long, connecting its tract of coal land with the bank of the river. That strip, appropriated in that way and for that purpose, is the subject of the controversy in this suit. A demurrer interposed by the defendants was overruled, and the case was heard finally upon bill, answer, replication, and proofs. A decree was rendered in favor of the complainant, from which the defendants prosecute the present appeal. chanrobles.com-red

Page 121 U. S. 205


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