U.S. Supreme Court Cassell v. Carroll, 24 U.S. 11 Wheat. 134 134 (1826)
Cassell v. Carroll
24 U.S. (11 Wheat.) 134
ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT
COURT OF MARYLAND
The title and claim of Charles Lord Baltimore, his heirs and representatives, to the quit rents reserved by the proprietary of the late Province (now State) of Maryland was extinguished by the agreement between the heirs, devisees, and personal representatives of the said Lord Baltimore and of his son and heir, Frederick Lord Baltimore, made in 1780, and confirmed by an act of the British Parliament in 1781.
It seems that a bona fide assignment for a valuable consideration made by a husband of a debt actually and presently due to his wife devests, in equity, the title of the wife.
But however this may be in general, the agreement made in 1780, including the quit rents then actually due (if at all) to Louisa Browning, the daughter of Charles Lord Baltimore, and assigning them to Henry Harford, the devisee of Frederick Lord Baltimore, having been entered into in England by the husband of Louisa Browning and her committee (she being a lunatic), and the consideration having actually gone beneficially for her use, and the whole transaction having been between British subjects under the direction of the High Court of Chancery and confirmed by an act of Parliament, transferred a complete legal and equitable title to the assignee.
This was an action of debt brought by the plaintiff in error in the court below for the recovery of certain quit rents alleged to be due from the defendant to the plaintiff's intestate. The special verdict found by the jury stated the following facts.
The jury finds by its verdict that Charles the First, in the eighth year of his reign, granted to Caecelius Calvert, Baron of Baltimore, his heirs and assigns, forever, in fee simple, the Province (now State) of Maryland by a charter dated 8 June, 1633. Caecelius Calvert died in 1675, and left Charles, afterwards Baron of Baltimore, his son and heir, who entered into the said province and was seized thereof. The said Charles, in 1711, granted, according to the laws of the province, to Charles Carroll, Esq., father of the defendant, a patent for a tract of land containing ten thousand acres,
"to have and to hold the same unto him, the said Charles Carroll, his heirs and assigns, forever, to be holden of us and our heirs, as of our manor of Baltimore, in free and common soccage by fealty only for all manner of services, yielding and paying therefor yearly unto us and our heirs, at our receipt at the City of St. Mary's, at the two most usual feasts in the year, viz., at the feast of the annunciation of the blessed Virgin
Mary, and St. Michael the Archangel, from and after the second day of April, which shall be in the year of our Lord 1723, the rent of one hundred pounds sterling in silver and gold."
The defendant inherited the said tract of land from his father and is now seized and possessed of the same. On 31 December, 1698, the said Charles Lord Baltimore executed a deed by which he settled the Province of Maryland on himself, remainder on his son Benedict for life, remainder on the heirs male of the body of the said Benedict, remainder to the said Charles in fee. There were trusts created in the said deed, all of which are determined. The said Benedict died in 1714, and Charles, his father, in 1715. The said Benedict left issue male Charles his heir, afterwards Lord Baltimore, and Proprietor of Maryland. Benedict left other sons, all of whom died without issue.
The last mentioned Charles entered into the Province of Maryland and was seized thereof, as the law requires, and on 11 July, 1730, executed a deed to trustees to the use of the said Charles and his assigns for life, remainder to the use of the first and other sons of the said Charles in tail male successively, remainder to the use of the said Charles in fee. There were other trusts created in the deed, but they were all determined at the death of Mary, the wife of the said Charles, which took place in 1769.
In 1692, an act was passed by the Legislature of Maryland which declares that no manor, land,
tenements, or hereditaments whatsoever within the province shall pass from one to another except the deed or conveyance be acknowledged before certain magistrates and enrolled or recorded. This act was in force when the indenture of 31 December, 1698, was executed, but the said indenture was not acknowledged or recorded. The Legislature of Maryland, in 1715, ch. 47, passed an act which requires deeds and leases for more than seven years to be acknowledged and recorded within six months from their date. It also declares all deeds not acknowledged and recorded according to the provisions of the act of 1692 to be void. The deed of 11 July, 1730, was neither acknowledged nor recorded.
The last mentioned Charles Lord Baltimore had issue only one son named Frederick, and two daughters, one named Louisa (who is the plaintiff's intestate) and the other named Caroline. The said Charles Lord Baltimore, being seized of the Province of Maryland as aforesaid, made his will in 1750, and devised the Province of Maryland to trustees for the use of his son Frederick and his assigns for life, remainder to the use of the sons lawfully begotten of the body of the said Frederick successively, in tail male, remainder to the daughters of the said Frederick, "and in default of such issue, then to the use and behoof of Louisa, my eldest daughter, her heirs and assigns, forever." Charles Lord Baltimore died seized 23 April, 1751. The
said Frederick Lord Baltimore died without lawful issue on 4 September, 1771.
Louisa, the plaintiff's intestate, was married to John Browning on 15 May, 1762, and remained covert baron of the said John until 1792, when he died. The said Louisa was a lunatic from the year 1780 till the day of her death, which took place in November, 1821. She has never been in the State of Maryland since the death of her father. Letters of administration were regularly granted to the plaintiff on 17 April, 1823.
Frederick, the son of Charles Lord Baltimore, entered into the Province of Maryland and was seized thereof as the law requires. On 1 July, 1761, the said Frederick and Caecelius Calvert, his uncle, executed a deed of bargain and sale, to Thomas Bennet and William Sharp, of the Province of Maryland and its appurtenances for the purpose of docking the entail of the province. On 8 April, 1767, the said Frederick executed a deed of lease and release of Ann Arundel Manor and all other manors held by the lord proprietary in the province to Bennet Allen, and recoveries were afterwards suffered of the said manors in pursuance of the said deed of lease and release. On 4 March, 1771, Frederick Lord Baltimore made his will, and devised the Province of Maryland, and all its appurtenances, to Henry Harford.
That upon the death of the said last mentioned Frederick, Baron of Baltimore, Henry Harford,
the devisee named in his will, was a minor, and a ward under the guardianship of the Court of Chancery in England, and so continued until 1779. That the said Henry Harford, as devisee as aforesaid, was recognized and acknowledged by the provincial government of Maryland as the lawful proprietor under the charter, and by his guardians, with the knowledge and consent of the British government, entered into the possession of the government of the Province of Maryland and received the rents and revenues thereof as proprietor until the beginning of the disturbances which separated the United States of America from the British government. That those disturbances began in 1774, at which time the people of the Province of Maryland took the government of the said province into their own hands and ousted the officers of the proprietor, and the government of the said province so continued in the hands of the people until the Declaration of Independence, 4 July, 1776. That no quit rents nor any revenues which fell due in the said province after the year 1773, were paid to the proprietor or his officers; that after the Revolutionary War, the British government paid to the said Henry Harford Ł60,000, as a compensation for his losses in Maryland by the Revolution, and paid to the above-mentioned John Browning and to Robert Eden, who married the above-mentioned Caroline, Ł10,000 each as a compensation for their losses in the said province by the said Revolution. That suits in the Chancery Court of
England were instituted in 1772 by the said Browning and wife and the said Eden and wife against the said Harford to recover the province and revenues of the said Province of Maryland, which suits continued until 1782, when the said bills were dismissed by the complainants.
In 1780, the Legislature of Maryland passed an act which declares that
"The citizens of Maryland, from the declaration of independence, and forever, be and they are hereby declared to be exonerated and discharged from the payment of the aforesaid quit rents, and that the same shall be forever abolished and discontinued."
In 1780, an agreement was entered into in England by deed between Henry Harford of the first part, John Browning, the husband of Louisa Browning, and Sir Robert Eden and Caroline his wife (the said Louisa and Caroline being the heirs at law of Frederick Lord Baltimore). of the second part, Sir Cecil Wray, the committee of the real and personal estate of the said Louisa (she being a lunatic), of the third part, and Hugh Hammersley and Peter Prevost, two of the executors named in the will of Frederick Lord Baltimore, of the fourth part, all the said parties being British subjects. The agreement makes an absolute cession of the province, and revenues, &c.;, from the time of the decease of Lord Frederick, to Henry Harford and his heirs, upon the payment (among other things) of Ł10,000 to John Browning and Louisa his wife, and Ł10,000 to Sir Robert Eden and Caroline his wife, in the manner stipulated in the
agreement. It also provided in the event of the restoration of Henry Harford to the possession of the province and its revenues, growing, or in arrear, for an additional sum of Ł10,000, for the benefit of each of said ladies, payable out of the same. The agreement further stipulated for an application to the British Parliament for an act to confirm the same, and to vest in Henry Harford and his heirs, the title to the province, and its revenues, with a provision that the agreement should be void unless the royal assent should be given to the act within three years. The act, accordingly, passed, and was assented to by the King within the period prescribed. It vests the title to the province, and its revenues, and quit rents, &c.;, absolutely in Henry Harford and his heirs, subject only to the payment of the sums before mentioned, and some others not material to be stated.
Upon this special verdict, a judgment was entered in the court below pro forma, by consent, for the defendant, and the cause was brought by writ of error to this Court.
MR. JUSTICE STORY delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is the case of an action of debt, brought by the plaintiff as administrator of Louisa Browning, against the defendant, for the recovery of certain quit rents asserted to be due to the intestate, as Proprietary of the Province of Maryland, and accruing between the years 1771 and 1780. In the Circuit Court for Maryland District, upon the trial of the cause upon the general issue, a special verdict was found, upon which that court gave judgment pro forma for the defendant, and the cause has been brought before us for a final decision, by a writ of error.
The cause has been here argued with great ability and care. Many important and difficult points have been discussed at the bar, upon which, if we were called to pronounce a decision, we should wish for more time and consideration to mature our judgment. But, as we have all come to a conclusion upon one point, which finally disposes of the whole cause, it is deemed proper at once to put the parties in possession of our opinion, without attempting to analyze the learning which is involved in others of more complexity, and would require more extensive researches.
For the purposes of the present decision, it is assumed (without, however, meaning to intimate
any real opinion on the subject) that every other difficulty in respect to the title and claim of Louisa Browning to the quit rents in controversy, is overcome, and the question of the effect of the agreement concluded between the parties in June, 1780, and subsequently confirmed by Parliament in the year 1781, is that to which the court has addressed its attention. If that agreement, so confirmed and executed, as the case finds, extinguished, in point of law, the title of Louisa Browning to these quit rents, and passed it to Henry Harford, there is an end to the present suit. And such, upon the best consideration of the case, in our judgment, was the legal effect of that agreement so confirmed and executed.
The agreement is quadripartite between Henry Harford of the first part, John Browning, the husband of Louisa Browning, and Sir Robert Eden, and Caroline his wife (the said Louisa and Catharine being the heirs at law of Frederick Lord Baltimore) of the second part, Sir Cecil Wray, the committee of the real and personal estate of the said Louisa, she being a lunatic, of the third part, and Hugh Hammersly and Peter Prevost, two of the executors named in the will of Lord Frederick, of the fourth part. The object of the agreement was to make a final settlement between the parties of all differences, and particularly to settle the title to the Province of Maryland and all the hereditaments and revenues connected therewith. It makes an absolute cession of the province and revenues, &c.;,
from the decease of Lord Frederick to Henry Harford and his heirs upon the payment (among other things) of Ł10,000 to John Browning and Louisa his wife, and Ł10,000 to Sir Robert Eden and Caroline his wife, in the manner stipulated in the agreement. It further stipulates, in the event of the restoration of Henry Harford to the possession of the province and its revenues, growing or in arrear, for an additional sum of Ł10,000 for the benefit of each of these ladies, payable out of the same, but as that event never occurred, it is unnecessary to dwell further upon it. The other sums were duly and regularly paid. The agreement further stipulated for an application to be made to the British Parliament for an act to confirm the same, and to vest in Henry Harford and his heirs, the title to the province, and its revenues, &c.;, with a provision that the agreement should be void unless the royal assent should be given to the act within three years. The act passed, and was assented to by the King within the period prescribed. It vests the title to the province, and its revenues and quit rents, &c.;, absolutely in Henry Harford in fee, subject only to the payment of the sums before mentioned and some others not material to this cause.
What is there, then, to prevent the agreement and act from having full effect? The parties were all British subjects resident within the realm; the act of Parliament was passed upon their own application and agreement; all persons in interest were fully represented, so far as by law
they were capable of being represented; the conditions stipulated have been complied with; the confirmation was absolute, and the intention was to extinguish at law as well as in equity, every claim of Louisa Browning to the quit rents now in controversy.
It has been argued that the agreement contemplated a restoration of Henry Harford to the possession of the province and the payment of large sums consequent thereon, and that, this being a material ingredient in the contract, which became incapable of execution, the agreement ought not to be enforced or held obligatory. It would be a sufficient answer to this objection that the parties, at the time of the execution of the agreement, knew perfectly well that the province had assumed independence and that the chance of restoration depended upon the issue of the war then waged between the United States and Great Britain. They acted upon that state of things and provided for the payment of these additional sums only in the event of an unsuccessful struggle on the part of the province. The stipulation, therefore, has not failed, in point of consideration, from the misconduct of either party, but the event in which alone it was to have any effect never has occurred. The payment was conditional, and the condition has never arisen upon which alone the contract could act.
But there is another answer presented by the very terms of the agreement itself. It is that the parties expressly agreed that the title to the
province, &c.;, should vest absolutely upon the payment of the first Ł10,000, and of course the other provisions were to rest in covenant only between the parties, and were not to be construed to defeat or devest that title. The act of Parliament treats it in that way, and vests the title in Henry Harford in fee conclusively.
It has been further argued that it was not competent for John Browning, the husband, as such to convey the title to these quit rents belonging to his wife so as to bar her, in case of survivorship, from the right of recovery, and that, she being a lunatic, no act done by her committee could in any manner touch her rights.
It is to be recollected that the quit rents, as claimed, were debts then actually due (if at all) to Louisa Browning. They were not future contingent or reversionary interests vested in her. How far in respect to such interests the husband or the committee of a lunatic is by law authorized by a conveyance or assignment to dispose of her rights is a question which we are not called upon to decide and upon which we give no opinion. The case here is of choses in action actually due to the wife. There can be no question that he was entitled to receive them to his own use or to extinguish them by a release. What, then, is there to prevent him from disposing of them by assignment, at least in equity?
It does not appear to us that it has ever yet been decided that a bona fide assignment for a valuable consideration made by a husband to a third person of a debt actually and presently
due to his wife, does not devest, in equity, the title of the wife. So far as authorities have gone, they seem to proceed upon a different and opposite doctrine. The cases of Lumb v. Milnes, 5 Ves. 517, and Mitford v. Mitford, 9 Ves. 87, are distinguishable. They were cases of a general assignment under the bankrupt laws, which are not supposed to do more than place the assignees in the same situation as the bankrupt himself. The case of Hornby v. Lee, 2 Madd. 16, turned upon another distinction, that the interest was not a present, but a reversionary interest. But without deciding any general principle, we think that under the particular circumstances of this case, where the consideration has actually gone beneficially for the wife, and the whole transaction has been under the direction of a court of chancery and been confirmed by Parliament, the assignment was, to all intents and purposes, valid to assign the rents. If, in ordinary circumstances, such an assignment would pass an equitable title only, we think the act of Parliament makes it, to all intents and purposes, a legal title and assignment. Without dwelling upon the known principles of the paramount and omnipotent authority over private rights and authorities which is often attributed to Parliament, it may be justly said that it is competent for the legislature, upon the application and with the consent of all the parties in interest, to give a legal and conclusive effect to their own agreements and to pass that at law which the parties, in the most
unreserved manner, intended to pass. A title so passed and so confirmed by authorities perfectly competent to make it ought under such circumstances to be recognized as valid in the tribunals of every other country.
This is a summary exposition of the views of the Court upon this subject, and it at once disposes of the whole matter in controversy. The judgment of the circuit court is therefore
Affirmed with costs. *
* MR. JUSTICE DUVALL, being a landholder in Maryland, did not sit in this cause.