HALLETT V. COLLINS, 51 U. S. 174 (1850)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Hallett v. Collins, 51 U.S. 10 How. 174 174 (1850)

Hallett v. Collins

51 U.S. (10 How.) 174


In order to constitute a valid marriage in the Spanish colonies, all that was necessary was that there should be consent joined with the will to marry.

The Council of Trent, in 1563, required that marriage should be celebrated before the parish or other priest or by license of the ordinary and before two or three witnesses. This decree was adopted by the King of Spain in his European dominions, but not extended to the colonies, in which the rule above mentioned, established by the Partidas, was permitted to remain unchanged.

An ecclesiastical decree, proprio vigore, could not affect the status or civil relations of persons. This could only be effected by the supreme civil power.

In 1803, Collins obtained from the military commandant at Mobile a permit to take possession of a lot of ground near that place, and made a contract with William E. Kennedy that the latter should improve it so as to lay the foundation for a perfect title, and then they were to divide the lot equally.

Kennedy's ownership of a hostile claim, whether held then or acquired subsequently, enured to the joint benefit of himself and Collins, and when Kennedy obtained a confirmation of his title under the acts of the commissioners appointed under an act of Congress, he became a trustee for Collins to the extent of one-half of the lot.

The deeds afterwards made by Kennedy, under the circumstances of the case, did not destroy this trust, but the assignee, having full knowledge of the trust, must be held bound to comply with it.

This assignee obtained releases, for an inadequate consideration, from the heirs of Collins, who had just come of age, were poor, and ignorant of their rights. These releases were void.

Before Kennedy conveyed to the assignee just spoken of, he had conveyed the property to another person who held it as a security for a debt and who, when the debt was paid, transferred it to the same assignee to whom Kennedy had conveyed it. This added no strength to the title, but only gave to this assignee a claim to be reimbursed for the money which he paid to extinguish the debt.

The absence of the complainant from the state and the late discovery of the fraud account for the delay and apparent laches in prosecuting his claim.

The controversy had its origin in transactions long anterior

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to the acquisition of the country by the United States, and involved also the discussion of events long afterwards, so that the case became very complicated and the record voluminous. Being an appeal in chancery, all the evidence was brought up to this Court. Instead of giving a narrative of the case, it appears best to set forth the grounds of complaint in the bill and of defense in the answer.

The defendant in error, Sidney E. Collins, was complainant below in a bill in equity against the heirs and executors of Joshua Kennedy, deceased, and others. The bill sets forth that the complainant is both heir and devisee of his late father, Joseph Collins, and sole heir-at-law of his deceased brothers George and Joseph, the co-heirs and co-devisees with himself of his father's estate. That Joseph Collins, his father, had obtained a grant of a certain lot of land from the Spanish government in or near the City of Mobile. That William E. Kennedy claimed an interest in the same lands through a grant to one Alexander Baudain. That on 21 November, 1806, Collins and Kennedy entered into an agreement to divide the land between them, Kennedy to have the northern half and Collins the southern, Kennedy covenanting "to improve the lot by fencing and ditching so that it might not be forfeited." That in pursuance of this agreement, Kennedy held possession of the lot and made the necessary improvements during the time that Spain held possession of the territory. That when it came into possession of the United States, the Collins and Baudain permits or claims were both laid before the commissioners. That the first report of Mr. Crawford, the commissioner, was unfavorable to both. That Collins being at this time dead, his claim was not revived by Kennedy, but it was renewed under the Baudain grant alone, and in July, 1820, a favorable report was made in favor of Kennedy in virtue of the Baudain grant, and the legal title confirmed in him by the Act of 8 May, 1822. That in the meantime, to-wit, on 2 March, 1820, a deed was made by W. E. Kennedy reciting the original agreement between Collins and himself, and conveying the southern half of the lot to James Inerarity, the administrator of Collins, for the use of the estate, with a covenant for further assurance to Inerarity or the heirs of Collins, on the issuing of the patent for the land.

The bill also charges, that about this time W. E. Kennedy became very intemperate; that his brother Joshua, who had unbounded influence over him, and was a witness to the deed to Inerarity, and acquainted with the title of Collins' heirs in the property, contrived a scheme to defeat it and defraud the heirs. That in pursuance thereof he obtained a deed from W. E. Kennedy to

Page 51 U. S. 176

Samuel Kitchen, his father-in-law, for the Collins half of the lot, antedated so as to appear to be prior in date to the deed to Inerarity. That Joshua Kennedy transacted the business in Kitchen's name, at first without his Kitchen's knowledge, and paid the consideration, if any was paid, and afterwards took a transfer from Kitchen to himself, for a nominal consideration. That in 1824, in further pursuance of the same scheme, he procured a deed from W. E. Kennedy for all his property, and, among other things, a claim or grant from the Spanish government to one Price of a very suspicious character, which had been rejected by the commissioners. That having succeeded in obtaining a confirmation of the Price claim in 1829, he surveyed it over the claim of Baudain previously confirmed to W. E. Kennedy in right of Baudain, in 1822, and took a patent under it. That this was done for the purpose of complicating the title and defrauding the heirs of Collins. The bill charges also that Joshua Kennedy, in further prosecution of this scheme, had certain proceedings entered on the docket of the Circuit Court of Mobile in the name of William Kitchen against James Inerarity, and, without bill, answer, or pleadings of any kind to furnish any key to the claim of Kitchen, a decree was entered, in pursuance of which Inerarity made a deed to Kitchen for the Collins half of the land, in consideration of Kitchen paying to him a debt claimed by Forbes & Co., of which firm Inerarity was a partner against Collins' estate, amounting to the sum of $2,233, the property conveyed being then worth $75,000, and now $200,000. That having thus complicated the title of the heirs of Collins to the land in dispute, Joshua Kennedy applied to George and Sidney E. Collins, the heirs, as soon as they came of age, representing that their claim was of no value whatever, and utterly hopeless, but that, for the sake of peace and quieting his title, William Kitchen was willing to give them each the sum of $1,000. That by means of these fraudulent misrepresentations, he obtained deeds from them to Kitchen releasing their claims. That William Kitchen was a brother-in-law of Joshua Kennedy, and a young man without means residing in the family of Kennedy, and his name was used by him for a cover, and that he took a conveyance from Kitchen as soon as the complete title was supposed to be thus fully vested in him by these fraudulent schemes and contrivances.

The bill prays for a conveyance of the land, and an account of rents and profits.

The matters of defense set forth in the several answers of the defendants, and relied upon in the argument of the case, were substantially as follows:

1. That the will of Joseph Collins was not properly proved.

2. That the complainant and his brothers were illegitimate,

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and therefore incapable of inheriting from their father or from one another.

3. That Collins had no valid claim to the property. That his concession was abandoned after its rejection, and no possession ever taken under it, nor any attempt made by Collins or his heirs to obtain a title under it.

4. That Joshua Kennedy held the lot under a grant from the Spanish government to Thomas Price and a confirmation of the same by the United States, and a patent issued in 1837.

5. That the deed to Inerarity was

"a special transaction, and not a recognition of title in Collins' heirs, given to enable Inerarity to recover a debt due from Collins' estate to John Forbes & Co., or as a compromise."

That the deed to Samuel Kitchen was prior in date to that of Inerarity. That Kitchen was a bona fide purchaser without notice, that he paid for the land through Joshua Kennedy, who was indebted to him, and that in pursuance of his purchase Kitchen took possession of the lot and made improvements, and afterwards gave Joshua Kennedy a written obligation to convey to him, and that the "transaction was closed" in 1834 by his making a deed to William Kitchen at the request of Joshua Kennedy.

6. That the title of Collins, whatever it was, if any, was extinguished and transferred to William Kitchen by the deed of Inerarity made under a decree of the court and in consideration of the payment of the debt claimed by Inerarity in behalf of Forbes & Co. against Collins' estate.

7. That the claim of complainant was extinguished by his own release and that of his brother to William Kitchen for a consideration paid by Joshua Kennedy.

8. And lastly, the answers, denying all fraud, insist that the full value of the property was paid by Kennedy to the administrator and heirs, and that the sale and releases so made have been acquiesced in by complainant for many years, without any offer to return the consideration or annul the deeds, until after the death of Joshua Kennedy.

The immense mass of evidence taken under the authority of the circuit court occupied a printed volume of nearly five hundred pages. The following is an abstract of the points which the complainant sought to establish. It is not necessary to refer to the evidence in support of each point.

1. That the plaintiff claimed the south half of the Baudain claim in Mobile as the devisee of his father and the heir of two brothers under a Spanish grant to his father and articles of agreement between his father and William E. Kennedy and possession under them and a deed confirmatory of them.

2. That the title of Alexander Baudain became perfect

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by the confirmation of the United States under an Act of Congress dated 8 May, 1822, relative to claims of lots in Mobile.

3. That a fraud was practiced in the deed made by William E. Kennedy to Samuel Kitchen, and that Joshua Kennedy was a party to it.

4. The participation of Joshua Kennedy in the preparation of the deed to Samuel Kitchen, his beneficial interest in that deed, and his conception of the fraudulent design, are shown by the use that was made of it, by the relations between the parties, and by the fact that all the benefits flowing from it came to him.

5. That Joshua Kennedy brought forward the claim of Price for the fraudulent purpose of superseding the Baudain claim, in which Collins had an interest, and thus obtaining the whole for himself.

6. That Kennedy, after having obtained a confirmation and location of the Price claim, purchased from the children of Collins all their rights under circumstances which show the purchase to have been invalid.

7. That the deeds from the children of Collins were made to William Kitchen, and ought to be set aside.

8. That William Kitchen conveyed to Joshua Kennedy, who obtained a patent in 1837 for the Price claim, covering the land in which Collins had an interest.

9. That the children of Collins left the State of Alabama, and the fraud was not discovered until after the death of Joshua Kennedy in 1838 and in the progress of a suit which ensued thereupon. The plea of limitations therefore does not apply.

10. That the purchase money paid to the children of Collins was greatly below the real value of the property.

On the other hand, the points which the defendants endeavored to establish by the evidence were the following:

1. That Joseph E. Collins was never married to Elizabeth Wilson.

2. That the agreement in 1806 between William E. Kennedy and Joseph E. Collins was not a settlement of conflicting claims under the Baudain grant.

3. That Kennedy had a right to waive the conditional concession from Collins and throw himself upon his own better title, and that in fact he did disavow all title derived from Collins.

4. That the deed made in 1820 from William E. Kennedy to Samuel Kitchen was not fraudulently made for the benefit of Joshua Kennedy.

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5. That the purchase made by Joshua Kennedy from the children of Collins was fair and bona fide; that their interest was only contingent, after paying their father's debts; that the property was a marsh liable to be overflowed, and at the distance of several squares from the business parts of the city whose value was entirely speculative, and that Kennedy paid as much as their interest in it was worth.

6. That Joshua Kennedy never attempted to complicate the title or obscure the rights of other persons.

7. That the enhanced value of the property is owing entirely to Joshua Kennedy's industry and judgment in reclaiming and defending it at great expense, and that a court of equity should not deprive his heirs of this advantage without clear proof of fraud.

It has already been mentioned, that the evidence taken in the cause was very voluminous to sustain the above positions upon both sides, some of which indeed are rather inferences in law than distinct allegations of fact.

But the two classes are so intermingled together that it appeared impossible to separate them and yet give a thorough explanation of the case.

On 13 April, 1847, the cause came on for argument in the circuit court, which rendered the following decree, viz.:


"This cause this day came on to be heard, and it is ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the deeds of Sidney E. Collins and his brother, George Collins, to William Kitchen, be set aside, and that the representatives of Joshua Kennedy account for the rents and profits received from the said south half of the said lot of land, and also the money derived from the sale of any portion thereof, together with interest thereon, and that the said representatives be allowed for all permanent improvements made on the said land; also the money paid to Sidney E. and George Collins, with interest; and that it be referred to the master to take an account between the parties, in conformity to the principles of this decree."

From this decree, the defendants appealed to this Court.

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