LYON V. POLLOCK, 99 U. S. 668 (1878)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Lyon v. Pollock, 99 U.S. 668 (1878)

Lyon v. Pollock

99 U.S. 668


1. A., at the commencement of the late rebellion, owned property in San Antonio, Texas, consisting principally of real estate and stock in a gas company. Apprehending that his life was in danger in consequence of his avowed hostility to secession, he fled from the country and by a power of attorney authorized B. to sell the property for whatever consideration and upon such terms as he might deem best, and to execute all proper instruments of transfer. B. took possession of the property, which he retained until July, 1865, when he gave the charge of it, with the business and papers in his hands, to C. A. thereupon wrote to C.,

"I wish you to manage [my property] as you would with your own. If a good opportunity offers to sell every thing I have, I would be glad to sell. It may be parties will come into San Antonio who will be glad to purchase my gas stock and real estate."

Held that C. was thereby authorized to contract for the sale of the real estate, but not to convey it.

2. A deed executed to a purchaser, though invalid as a conveyance, may be good as a contract for the sale of the property described therein.

The appellant, Lyon, in 1873, recovered judgment in the circuit court of the United States against the appellees, Pollock and wife, in an action for two parcels or lots of land situated in the City of San Antonio, in the State of Texas. Thereupon the appellees brought the present suit on the equity side of the court to enjoin the enforcement of the judgment, and to compel a conveyance to them of the title to the land, or, if that relief could not be granted, to obtain a decree for the value of their improvements, in accordance with a statute of the state.

The bill of complaint states as grounds for relief that the judgment was obtained upon the trial of the legal title, and

Page 99 U. S. 669

that their rights are of an equitable nature, constituting an equitable title to the land. It sets forth that on the 24th of August, 1865, Lyon, being owner of the lots, executed an instrument, a copy of which is appended and made part of the bill, authorizing one I. A. Paschal to sell any and all real estate of which he, Lyon, was then seised in the County of Bexar, in Texas, and that the premises in controversy are a portion of this property; that previously, and up to the 1st of July, 1865, one W. A. Bennett had been the attorney and agent of Lyon, having full power to manage, control, and sell all or any portion of his property, real or personal; that about this time, Bennett transferred the business of his agency to Paschal, and communicated the fact to Lyon; that the latter thereupon executed the instrument mentioned; that after this transfer and the delivery of the instrument, Paschal was treated and recognized by him as his duly authorized agent and attorney, and, as such, he sold the premises in controversy to the complainants in October, 1865, for the sum of $425 and executed a conveyance to them.

The bill further states that Lyon subsequently made no claim to the lots, but acquiesced in their sale, and did not attempt to exercise any control over them, nor pay any taxes on them; that the complainants at once took possession of the lots, and have since been in their undisturbed use and enjoyment, claiming the same as their own, and have paid the state, city, and county taxes, and have made permanent improvements on them of the value of $6,250; that the lots sold for their full value; and that Paschal used the money received from the sale, with Lyon's consent, in part payment of assessments on stock owned by him in the San Antonio Gas Company, a corporation existing in the County of Bexar.

The instrument mentioned in the bill as authorizing Paschal to sell Lyon's real estate is a letter of Lyon, of which the following is a copy, omitting immaterial portions:

"MONTEREY, Aug. 24, 1865"


"MY DEAR SIR -- I am just in receipt of a letter from Mr. Bennett informing me that he has placed all my papers for safekeeping in your possession. In better or safer hands he could not

Page 99 U. S. 670

have given them. The position you have occupied during the past four years of the war is a very enviable one, as glorious as it has been dangerous. I congratulate you upon the issue. I am sure you have no reason to regret your decision to abide by the Union. . . . I am unable to go to San Antonio at present. My family are sick in the North, and demand my presence there. Mr. Kinney's death leaves a large business in my hands to be settled. I wish you to manage as you would with your own. If a good opportunity offers to sell every thing I have, I would be glad to sell. It may be parties will come into San Antonio who will be glad to purchase my gas stock and real estate. I shall be glad if you find time to write to me. If you will, give me a description of affairs as they exist at present. I shall probably remain here two months yet. . . . I enclose a letter for my wife. It is impossible to send letters by Matamoras. The road has been blockaded for a long time. If you have a regular mail, I shall be greatly obliged if you will mail this letter; if no mail, will you do me the favor to send by private hands to New Orleans?"

"Most respectfully yours,"


The previous power of attorney to W. A. Bennett authorized him to take charge of and control all Lyon's property of every kind, real and personal, in the County of Bexar, in Texas, and to sell and convey the same upon such terms and upon such conditions as he might deem best, and to collect and receipt for all debts, rents, and profits due or to become due to Lyon, and to represent him in all matters relating to the stock of the gas company.

The answer of Lyon to the bill admits that on the 24th of August, 1865, he was the owner of the lots in controversy, that prior to the 1st of August of that year, W. A. Bennett was his lawful agent and attorney, authorized to manage his property and sell it or any part of it, and that prior to the 24th of that month, he transferred his papers to Paschal for safekeeping, but it denies that the letter of attorney from him to Bennett contained any power of substitution. It admits the writing of the letter by him to Paschal acknowledging the receipt of Bennett's letter informing him of the transfer of the papers, but denies that he conferred, or intended by it to confer, any authority to sell the property, or that he afterwards

Page 99 U. S. 671

treated or recognized Paschal as his agent or attorney with such authority. It also denies that Lyon ever ceased to regard the lots as his property or that he has ever acquiesced in their sale, and avers that he was prevented from taking possession of the property after the sale only from fear of bodily harm. It also avers ignorance by Lyon of the payment of taxes on the property or of the alleged improvements, and that the payment of the taxes and the improvements, if made, were without his knowledge or consent.

In explanation of his absence from Texas, the answer states that when the rebellion broke out, it was known that he was a Union man, opposed to the secession movement, and that his life was in consequence threatened by a secret combination of men known as "the Knights of the Golden Circle," and that he was compelled to leave the country secretly and in haste; that after the war was at an end, he believed that his life would have been in imminent danger had he returned to Texas and attempted to recover his property. It avers that if the money received by Paschal were appropriated for the payment of assessments upon stock of the San Antonio Gas Company, such disposal of it was unauthorized and without his knowledge or consent. It also refers to the judgment at law recovered by him in the circuit court of the United states for the lots in controversy, and insists that it settled all questions between the parties as to the property in suit.

To the answer a replication was filed and proofs were taken which showed that rumors had reached Lyon as early as 1867 that sales of some of his real estate had been made by Paschal and that assessments had been levied on his stock in the gas company, and generally tended to establish the allegations of the bill. In the opinion of the court below, they sufficiently established the equitable right of the complainants to a conveyance of the premises from Lyon. A decree directing such conveyance, with a perpetual injunction against the enforcement of the judgment for the possession of the lands, was accordingly entered, from which the present appeal is taken.

Page 99 U. S. 672

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