KIRK V. HAMILTON, 102 U. S. 68 (1880)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Kirk v. Hamilton, 102 U.S. 68 (1880)

Kirk v. Hamilton

102 U.S. 68


1. In 1853, M. & Co., judgment creditors of A., filed their bill in the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia against him and others setting forth that he had, without consideration and with intent to defraud his creditors, conveyed to the other defendants his real estate in that district. It was adjudged, May 30, 1860, that certain lots of ground be sold by a trustee to pay M. & Co. and such other creditors as might come in according to the practice of the court. The trustee subsequently reported that, having sold a part of the lots and realized more than sufficient to pay M. & Co., he had discontinued the sale. His report was confirmed Nov. 28, 1802. An order of the court, Nov. 14, 1883, recites that certain other creditors of A. had filed petitions in support of their claims, and directs that he being then a nonresident, notice of the character and object of the petitions be given him by publication. Publication was made accordingly, and, the defendants

Page 102 U. S. 69

failing to appear, the bill was taken as confessed. The case was referred to an auditor, who reported that the claims were in excess of the proceeds of the sale remaining in the hands of the trustee. His report was confirmed. Thereupon the trustee, without any order other than that entered May 30, 1860, proceeded to sell the remainder of the lots to B. for $950. The sale was confirmed and the cause referred to an auditor to state the accounts of the trustee and report a distribution. A. appeared before the auditor and objected to the allowance of the simple contract debts. The report of the auditor was confirmed, and the lots were conveyed by the trustee's deed bearing date Dec. 14, 1860, to B., who entered thereon and made improvements to the value of $4,000. A., who then resided upon a lot adjoining the premises, asserted no claim to them except as to three feet for an alley, and he afterwards admitted that even in regard to that part he was mistaken. A., Dec. 21, 1872, claiming that the trustee's sale was void and passed no title, and having obtained a deed from the party to whom he had in trust previously conveyed the lots so purchased by B., brought ejectment against the latter. Held that without affirming that the sale to B. was valid in the absence of a special direction by the court to the trustee to sell after the first order had been executed, A.'s failure to object to its validity and apply to the court to set it aside, and his not asserting any title to the premises although he had knowledge that B., claiming them under a judicial sale confirmed by a court of general jurisdiction, was expending money and making improvements thereon, constituted an equitable estoppel which precludes the maintenance of the action.

2. Dickerson v. Colgrove, 100 U. S. 578, cited and approved.

This was an action of ejectment brought Dec. 21, 1872, by George E. Kirk against Charles O. Hamilton and Catherine Hamilton, to recover parts of lots 7 and 9 in square 437 in the City of Washington. The defendants pleaded not guilty. A verdict was returned in their favor, and, a new trial having been refused, judgment was entered on the verdict. Kirk sued out this writ.

Six bills of exceptions were taken by Kirk. The nature and scope of the questions thereby raised will be understood from a statement of the principal facts appearing in the record of a suit in equity, commenced in the year 1859 by D. W. Moore & Co. in the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia against him, Walter Lenox, Henry Maylor, Naylor, Richard H. Clarke, A. Austin Smith, Hugh B. Sweeney, John Robinson, Major Garnett, John H. Goddard, Jr., Job W. Angus, Charles Stott, and William S. Martin, in order to obtain satisfaction of several unpaid judgments against him, amounting to less than

Page 102 U. S. 70

$200, previously rendered in favor of the complainants by justices of the peace.

The bill alleged that the complainants did not know of any property belonging to Kirk upon which execution could be levied; that he was the owner of a large amount of real estate in Washington, which he had conveyed for the purpose of hindering, delaying, and defrauding them in the recovery of their judgment debts, to-wit, lot 78 in the subdivision of square No. 465, and parts of lots 7, 9, 10, 11, and 12 in square No. 437; that by deed of August, 1853, he conveyed part of lots 7 and 9 to the defendants Lenox and Naylor in trust to secure the Washington Building Association the sum of money therein mentioned; that by deed of March 24, 1856, he conveyed a portion of the same lots to the defendants Clarke and Smith in trust to secure the defendant Sweeney in the payment of a promissory note for $1,600; that by deed of April 14, 1854, he had conveyed parts of lots 10 and 12 in square 437 to the defendant Robinson in trust to secure the defendant Garnett in four promissory notes of $131.25 each; that by deed of Oct. 13, 1854, he had conveyed the west half of lot 11 in square 437 to the defendant Goddard in trust to secure the defendant Angus in the payment of a promissory note for $500; that it was provided in the deeds that if the several debts respectively mentioned therein were not paid at maturity, then the several parcels of ground thereby conveyed should be sold, and the balance remaining after satisfying the several debts to be paid to Kirk; that Kirk had purchased of one William S. Martin lots 43, 44, 45, and 46 in square 465, and for the purpose of defrauding, hindering, and delaying his trustees had caused the latter, by deed of April 22, 1858, to convey the same to him, as trustee for his wife and children; that the several pieces of property largely exceeded in value the debts secured thereby, and that if the debts were genuine and still unpaid (which was denied), then the interest of Kirk therein was liable in equity for the payment of the judgments, after satisfying any sums due on the debts described in the conveyances.

The bill further alleged that on 22d March, 1856, Kirk, for the pretended consideration of $4,000, conveyed to the defendant Stott, his heirs and assigns, lot 78 in subdivision of square

Page 102 U. S. 71

465, and parts of lots 7, 9, 10, 11, and 12 in square 437; that the deed was purely voluntary and with the intent to defraud and delay the creditors of Kirk, and in any event, if a consideration passed, it was upon a secret trust to reconvey to Kirk whenever the sum of $4,000 was repaid.

It also alleged that the several deeds were duly recorded, and prayed that the deed from Kirk to Stott be declared null and void as against the complainants, and that the parcels of ground mentioned in the several conveyances be sold for the payment, "first, of such sums as were shown to be due on account of debts, and next, of the amount or amounts due to complainants on their judgments, and the costs" of suit.

Special interrogatories to the several defendants were embodied in the bill.

On 21st November, 1859, summons was issued and returned 28th November, 1859, as served on all the defendants except Garnett and Martin.

At the May Term, 1860, a decree was, for want of an appearance and answer at rules, entered pro confesso against all of the defendants except Garnett and Martin. It ordered that parts of lots 7 and 9 in square 437, and lot 78 in subdivision of square 465

"be sold, or so much thereof as may be necessary, for the payment of said complainants' claim and others who may come in as creditors of the said George E. Kirk by petition, in the manner and form required by law and the practice of the court, and that Edward C. Carrington be and is hereby appointed trustee to make such sale,"


After advertisement as required by the decree, the trustee sold lot 78, with improvements, for $1,480. In his report of sale, he says:

"Your trustee, having sold sufficient property to pay and satisfy the claims provided for in said bill and decree, discontinued the sale of the other property mentioned in said proceedings."

On 28th October, 1862, the report of sale, no exception thereto having been filed, was confirmed, and the cause referred to the auditor to state the trustee's account and make distribution of the fund realized. After satisfying the claims of Moore & Co. and costs of suit, there was left a surplus in the trustee's hands of $1,008.52.

Page 102 U. S. 72

In an order entered Nov. 14, 1863, it is recited that certain creditors of Kirk had filed petitions, seeking the payment of numerous judgments and claims against him. Upon the ground that he was a nonresident living beyond the jurisdiction of the court, an order was made that notice of the character and object of the petitions be given him by publication, for six weeks, warning him to appear in person or by solicitor, on or before the second Monday of January, 1864, "at rules to be held in the clerk's office" of the court, otherwise the petitions and claims would be taken as confessed against him. Due proof of publication of that order was filed Jan. 23, 1864. On 2d February, 1864, this order was entered:

"It appearing to the clerk that the defendants Geo. E. Kirk, Walter Lenox, Henry Naylor, R. H. Clarke, A. A. Smith, H. B. Sweeney, John Robinson, J. H. Goddard, Jr., Job W. Angus, and Charles Stott have failed to appear and answer in this suit, it is, this second day of February, 1864, on motion of A. Lloyd (by Fred. H. Norton), solicitor for complainants, ordered by the clerk that the bill and the matters thereof be taken for confessed against the above defendants."

By an order of the 12th of February, 1864, the cause, with the said petitions and claims, was referred to the auditor of the court with instructions to state the trustee's account and make distribution of the balance of the fund in his hands. A report of distribution was made showing that judgments and claims were proven in excess of the funds remaining in the trustee's hands upon the sale of lot 78. His report of distribution was approved April 9, 1864.

Thereupon the trustee, Carrington, without any further order, and by virtue of the original decree of May 30, 1860, advertised, and on the 19th of April, 1864, sold at public auction the demanded premises, being the parts of lots 7 and 9 described in the bill, to Charles O. Hamilton for $950. The sale was subsequently confirmed, and by an order of Dec. 12, 1864, the cause was referred to the auditor to state the accounts of the trustee and report a distribution. In his report, the auditor says:

"Pending this last reference of December, 1864, and before the case was confirmed, Kirk returned from the South, and has appeared by Mr. Laskey, his counsel, upon

Page 102 U. S. 73

this reference. The simple contract debts are not admitted by him, but he states that he has offsets in bar against some if not all of them."

Appended to the auditor's report there is the following paper:

"The defendant Kirk does not admit the simple contract debts, but contests the same, and requires the said claims before they be allowed by the auditor to be established by competent proof. R. H. Laskey, atty. for deft."

The report was confirmed Feb. 5, 1865, and the purchase money having been paid, Carrington, the trustee, by his deed of Dec. 14, 1865, conveyed the premises to Hamilton, who thereupon went into possession. The remaining facts are stated in the opinion of the Court.

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