THOMPSON V. MAXWELL LAND GRANT & RY. CO., 168 U. S. 451 (1897)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Thompson v. Maxwell Land Grant & Ry. Co., 168 U.S. 451 (1897)

Thompson v. Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company

No. 91

Argued November 2-3, 1897

Decided December 6, 1897

168 U.S. 451


That which has been decided on one appeal or writ of error cannot be reexamined on a second appeal or writ of error brought in the same suit.

Whenever a case comes from the highest court of a state for review, and, by statute or settled practice in that state, the opinion of the court is a part of the record, this Court may examine such opinion for the purpose of ascertaining the grounds of the judgment.

Although the judgment and the mandate in a given case in this Court express its decision, it may examine the opinion for the purpose of determining what matters were considered, upon what grounds the judgment was entered, and what has become settled, for the future disposition of the case.

In the former decision of this case, 95 U. S. 95 U.S. 391, the decree was reversed on the ground that the bill, as it stood, was technically a bill of review, but it was further decided that certain matters then in issue were sufficiently and effectually determined by the proofs already in, and the reversal did not throw open the case for additional proofs upon such matters.

An infant is ordinarily bound by acts done in good faith by his solicitor or counsel in the course of the suit to the same extent as a person of full age, and a decree made in a suit in which an infant is a party, by consent of counsel, without fraud or collusion, is binding upon the infant and cannot be set aside by rehearing, appeal or review.

A compromise made in a pending suit which appears to the court to be for the benefit of an infant, party to the suit, will be confirmed without reference to a master, and, if sanctioned by the court, cannot be afterwards set aside except for fraud.

The facts in this case are as follows: in 1841, the Republic of Mexico made a grant to Charles Beaubien and Guadalupe Miranda of a large tract of land, generally known of late as the "Maxwell Land Grant," so known because Lucien B. Maxwell, having acquired title from Beaubien and Miranda or their heirs, was, or at least claimed to be, for many years the sole owner. In September, 1859, the heirs of Charles Bent, namely, Alfred Bent and his two sisters, Teresina Scheurick

Page 168 U. S. 452

and Estefana Hicklin, brought a suit in the District Court for the County of Taos in the Territory of New Mexico against Beaubien, Miranda, and Maxwell, claiming that, under a parol contract, their father, Charles Bent, was interested with Beaubien and Miranda in the ownership of the grant, and praying the such interest be established and decreed, and that it be also set off to them by partition. In June, 1865, upon the pleadings and proofs, the court decreed to them an undivided fourth part of the grant, and appointed commissioners to make partition, giving specific directions for their guidance. Nothing was done under this decree. Soon thereafter, negotiations were entered into between plaintiffs and Maxwell for a compromise of the litigation on the basis of Maxwell's paying them a money consideration to relinquish their claim. It was agreed by the three plaintiffs that Alfred Bent and Aloys Scheurick, the husband of one of the sisters, should act in the matter as their agents, to sell to Maxwell for the best price they could obtain, but never less than $21,000, or what Beaubien's heirs received. This compromise was advised and approved by their counsel. A conference was had in September or October, 1865, at Maxwell's residence at which Alfred Bent demanded $21,000, and Maxwell offered $18,000. Alfred Bent returned from that conference to Taos, where the family resided, without having effected a definite agreement as to the price. The plaintiffs, however, considered the sale as good as made; but Alfred Bent advised his co-plaintiffs that they could get a few thousands more by being quiet a few days, insisting, however, on having as much as the Beaubien heirs should receive. The plaintiffs expected to close the bargain in a few days, were ready to make the deeds as soon as the matter was settled, and the deeds were in fact written out by Scheurick, the husband of one of the plaintiffs. Before the compromise was consummated, and on December 15, 1865, Alfred Bent died, leaving surviving him his widow, Guadalupe Bent, and three infant children, Charles, Julian, and Alberto Silas, aged, respectively, six, four, and one years. On April 12, his widow was appointed administratrix of his estate and qualified. Just before his death, Alfred Bent made a will by

Page 168 U. S. 453

which he gave and bequeathed to his wife, "for the maintenance of her and my three children, Charles, William, and Silas Bent, all of my real and personal property." But this will was not presented until March, 1867, when it was approved and admitted to probate. Beaubien, one of the original grantees, had left six children surviving. Maxwell married one of them, and between April 4, 1864, and January 1, 1870, purchased the interests of the other five for a consideration of not more than $3,500 each. On April 9, 1866, the death of Alfred Bent was suggested, and his minor children and heirs, Charles, Julian, and Alberto Silas, were, by order of the court, substituted as complainants in place of their father. On April 12th, the mother of these minors, Guadalupe Bent, was by the court appointed guardian ad litem and commissioner in chancery for such minors, with full power to execute deeds or carry into execution all sales or transfers made of their interest in and to the real estate described in the suit to Lucien B. Maxwell. A settlement with Maxwell was concluded by Aloys Scheurick, acting for his wife, his wife's sister, and her husband, and the widow, as guardian ad litem for the minor children of Alfred, which was acceptable to all the parties, by which Maxwell was to pay the sum of $18,000 for the conveyance of the interest of the Bent heirs. This compromise was advised by their leading counsel. In May, the two sisters, by separate deeds, conveyed their interests to Maxwell, and, during the same month, Guadalupe Bent, as guardian ad litem, and reciting the order of April 12th, also executed to Maxwell a conveyance of the interest of the minors. Each of these conveyances purported to be for the sum of $6,000. At the next term of the court, about four months after the execution and delivery of these deeds, and on September 10, 1866, a further order or decree was entered, which reads as follows:

"Whereas an interlocutory decree was rendered at a former term of this Court in the above cause, decreeing one-fourth of the land mentioned in the petition herein to the complainants in this cause, and appointing commissioners to divide and set apart the portion so decreed, and whereas said interlocutory decree was never carried into effect, and whereas since the

Page 168 U. S. 454

time of the rendition of said decree, a mutual agreement has been made between the parties to this cause, settling and determining all the equities to the same:"

"It is therefore hereby ordered, adjudged, and decreed by the mutual consent and agreement of the said complainants, as well as of the said defendants in this cause, that the interlocutory decree above mentioned, together with all orders made under and by virtue of the same, be set aside; and, by the mutual consent and agreement of the said parties, it is hereby further ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the said Lucien B. Maxwell, one of the defendants in this cause, pay to the said complainants the sum of eighteen thousand dollars, to be divided among them per stirpes -- that is, to the said Aloys Scheurick and Teresina Bent, his wife, one third part, and to Alexander Hicklin and Estefana Bent his wife, another third part, and to Charles Bent, Julian Bent, and Alberto Silas Bent, the children and heirs of Alfred Bent, deceased, the remaining third part; to be equally divided among the said last named, and to be paid into the hands of Guadalupe Bent, widow of the _____ Alfred Bent, deceased, and guardian ad litem for said children for the purposes of the said division."

"And, upon the further consent and agreement of the said parties, it is hereby further ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the said Alexander Hicklin and Estefana Bent, his wife, the said Aloys Scheurick and Teresina Bent, his wife, and the said Guadalupe Bent, guardian ad litem for Charles Bent, Julian Bent, and Alberto Silas Bent, children and minor heirs of the said Alfred Bent, deceased, within ten days from the day of the date of this decree, make, execute, and deliver to the said Lucien B. Maxwell good and sufficient deeds of conveyance of all their right, title, interest, estate, claim, and demand of, in, and to the lands in controversy in this cause; the said Guadalupe Bent, guardian ad litem as aforesaid, in the name of Charles Bent, Julian Bent, and Alberto Silas Bent, minor heirs as aforesaid, and the said Alexander Hicklin and Estefana Bent, his wife, and the said Aloys Scheurick and Teresina Bent, his wife, in their own names. And, by further consent and agreement between the said parties, it is hereby further ordered, adjudged,

Page 168 U. S. 455

and decreed that the costs of this suit shall be paid, each of the said parties to pay the separate costs in the same made by themselves."

In April, 1870, Maxwell, claiming to have the full title to the entire grant, conveyed all except a few acres to the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company. In August of that year, Maxwell and the Maxwell Company filed a bill in the district court against the appellants Guadalupe Thompson and her husband (the former being the widow of Alfred Bent, who had since intermarried with George W. Thompson), and the three minor children of Alfred Bent, which, after reciting in a general way the history of the grant and the proceedings in the former suit, alleged that it was doubtful whether the order and decree of September, 1866, fully expressed the agreements of the parties or fully cancelled and discharged all claims that the infant heirs of Alfred Bent had in the land, and prayed that the defendants be adjudged to have no interest in or title to the premises, equitably or otherwise, and that the plaintiffs' title be quieted. Subsequently the bill was amended, and thereafter, the defendants having answered and proofs having been taken, a decree was entered sustaining the prayer of the bill, and quieting the title of the plaintiffs in the premises. This decree was affirmed on appeal by the supreme court of the territory, but on further appeal to this Court was reversed, 95 U. S. 95 U.S. 391, and the case remanded to the territorial courts for further proceedings. Subsequent proceedings having been had therein, a new decree was entered by the district court in favor of the plaintiffs, which, on appeal to the supreme court of the territory, was affirmed, and from such decree of affirmance this appeal has been taken.

Page 168 U. S. 456

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