U.S. Supreme Court
Shriver's Lessee v. Lynn, 43 U.S. 2 How. 43 43 (1844)
Shriver's Lessee v. Lynn
43 U.S. (2 How.) 43
The following words in a will, viz.:
"I give and bequeath unto my brother, E. M., during his natural life, 100 acres of land. In case the said E. M. should have heirs lawfully begotten of him in wedlock, I then give and bequeath the 100 acres of land aforesaid, to him, the said E. M., his heirs and assigns forever; but should he, the said E. M., die without an heir so begotten, I give, bequeath, devise, and desire that the 100 acres of land aforesaid, be sold to the highest bidder, and the money arising from the sale thereof, to be equally divided amongst my six children,"
give to E. M. only an estate for life, and not a fee simple conditional.
Under the statute of Maryland, passed in 1785, 1 Maxey's Laws, chap. 72, the chancellor can decree a sale of land upon the application of only a part of the heirs interested; and as he had jurisdiction, the record must be received as conclusive of the rights adjudicated.
The decree of the chancellor must be construed to conform to the sale prayed for in the petition, and authorized by the will; and a sale beyond that is not rendered valid by a final ratification.
A sale ordered by a court, in a case where it had not jurisdiction, must be considered as inadvertently done, or as an unauthorized proceeding, and in either branch of the alternative, as a nullity.
This was an ejectment for 100 acres of land, lying in Alleghany County in that state.
The plaintiff, who was also plaintiff in the court below, claimed title under a sheriff's sale, but the opinion of the court, upon a case stated, being against him, he brought it up to this Court.
The facts were as follows:
In 1789, Zachariah Magruder was in possession of a tract of land called George's Adventure, containing 456 acres. His title was admitted, upon all sides, to be good.
In that year he made his will, which contained the following bequest chanrobles.com-red
to his wife:
"I also give to my said beloved wife the full use of my dwelling plantation, containing in the whole, cleared and uncleared, after the legacy hereafter given is taken out, about 356 acres, called George's Adventure, to be by her peaceably and quietly possessed and enjoyed without molestation during her natural life."
After sundry other bequests, he goes on to say:
"Item. -- I give and bequeath unto my brother, Elias Magruder, during his natural life, 100 acres of land, being part of a tract of land called George's Adventure, lying and being in Washington County, and state aforesaid, to be laid off at the upper end of the tract aforesaid, so as to include the plantation whereon he now lives. In case the said Elias Magruder should have heirs lawfully begotten of him in wedlock, I then give and bequeath the 100 acres of land aforesaid to him, the said Elias Magruder, his heirs and assigns, forever; but should he, the said Elias Magruder, die without an heir so begotten, I give, bequeath, devise, and desire, that the 100 acres of land aforesaid be sold to the highest bidder, and the money arising from the sale thereof to be equally divided among my six following children, to-wit, Samuel Beall Magruder, William B. Magruder, Richard Magruder, Josiah Magruder, Norman Bruce Magruder, and Nathaniel Beall Magruder."
"Item. -- I devise, give, bequeath, and desire, that the remaining part of my land, called George's Adventure, being about 356 acres, lying and being in Washington County, and state aforesaid, to be sold to the highest bidder, by and at the discretion of my executrix and executor hereafter named, and the money arising from such sale to be divided equally amongst my six sons, to-wit: Samuel Beall Magruder, William Beall Magruder, Richard Magruder, Josiah Magruder, Norman Bruce Magruder, and Nathaniel B. Magruder."
After some further provisions, the testator appointed his wife and son executrix and executor.
In 1796, Zachariah Magruder died, and his brother Elias took possession of the 100 acres, which were laid off agreeably to the directions of the will. The title of the defendants is derived wholly from Elias Magruder, who conveyed the 100 acres to David Lynn, their ancestor, in fee simple in 1806.
In 1805, four of the six children mentioned in the will, filed a petition in the high Court of Chancery of Maryland, stating that the executrix was dead; that the letters testamentary which had been granted to the executor had been revoked; that no sale of the real chanrobles.com-red
estate had been made; that the testator devised that the remaining part of his land called George's Adventure, being about 356 acres, should be sold to the highest bidder, and the money equally divided amongst his six children, including the petitioners. The petition prayed the court to grant them relief, by appointing a trustee to sell all the property devised to be sold, and apply the proceeds to the purposes directed by the will.
The chancellor granted the prayer, and decreed that the real estate directed to be sold in the will, should be sold, and appointed a trustee in the usual way.
The decree ran thus:
"That Roger Perry be, and he is hereby appointed trustee for making the said sale, and that the course and manner of his proceedings shall be as follows: he shall first file with the register of this Court a bond executed by himself and a surety or sureties approved by the chancellor,"
The decree was passed at December session, 1805.
On 10 March, 1806, Elias Magruder conveyed to David Lynn, as has been already stated, the 100 acres of land upon which he, Elias, lived.
On 22 March, 1806, the trustee proceeded to sell the 356 acres mentioned in the will, stating in his report that he excepted the 100 acres devised to Elias Magruder, saying, "The 100 acres, part of said tract devised to be sold in case Elias Magruder should die without heirs, as expressed in the will, still remains unsold."
The report passed through the regular process, and was finally ratified in June, 1807, the net proceeds of sale being equally amongst the six children of Zachariah Magruder.
At some period prior to 1 January, 1812, Elias died unmarried, not having at the time of his decease nor ever having had any heir or issue begotten by him in wedlock.
On 15 February, 1812, the trustee proceeded to sell, as he said in his report,
"all the remaining part of the real estate of Zachariah Magruder, deceased, consisting of 100 acres of land, part of a tract of land called George's Adventure, it being that part devised to Elias Magruder,"
when Walter Slicer became the highest bidder and purchaser.
This report was finally ratified in February, 1813, and, in August, 1813, the trustee executed a deed to Slicer, describing the 100 acres by the same metes and bounds by which they had been originally located when Elias Magruder took possession under the will. chanrobles.com-red
In October, 1817, one Arnold, for the use of David Shriver Jr. the lessor of the plaintiff in this cause, and one Lamar, for himself, brought suits against Slicer in the County Court of Alleghany County, and in February, 1818, one Evans, also for the use of Shriver, brought suit against Slicer in the same court.
The defendant in the present case relying, as a ground of defense, upon an outstanding title existing in Lamar or his heirs under these proceedings, and the plaintiff resting his title wholly upon them, their progress is exhibited in a tabular form, showing the history of each one, up to the consummation by a sale of the 100 acres now in dispute.
In 1827, Shriver, the purchaser under the two elder judgments, brought suit in the circuit court of the United States, he being at that time a citizen of Virginia, against David Lynn, the assignee of Elias Magruder, as already stated.
In 1836, the death of David Lynn was suggested and his devisees became defendants.
In 1839 a verdict was found for the plaintiff subject to the opinion of the court upon a case to be stated; upon which case, when stated, the opinion of the court below was in favor of the defendants and judgment rendered accordingly. To review this opinion, the writ of error was sued out.
It was agreed at the trial of the cause,
"that the court might, in deciding this case, presume from the aforesaid proceedings in chancery any fact which they would direct a jury to presume from said proceedings. "