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JOHNSON V. CHRISTIAN, 128 U. S. 374 (1888)

U.S. Supreme Court

Johnson v. Christian, 128 U.S. 374 (1888)

Johnson v. Christian

No. 15

Submitted October 13, 1888

Decided November 5, 1888

128 U.S. 374


When a person who has been in the habit of dealing With an agent has no knowledge of the revocation of his authority, he is justified in acting upon the presumption of its continuance.

A court of equity will not enjoin a judgment at law unless it is shown that the complainant was prevented from resorting to a legal defense by fraud or unavoidable accident, without fault or negligence on his part; but it will do so if the matters set up in the bill as a ground of relief constitute equities as a defense in the action at law.

In the United States courts, a recovery in ejectment can be had upon the strict legal title only, and a court of law will not uphold or enforce an equitable title to land as a defense in such action.

On the only issue of fact raised by the pleadings, the allegations of the bill are sustained by the proof.

This was a suit in equity brought in the United States circuit court in 1883 by the appellees, George Christian and Jerry Stuart, against the appellant, Joel Johnson, praying an injunction to restrain him from enforcing a judgment in ejectment which he obtained in that court against said appellees for the recovery of certain lands in their possession, and to quiet their title to said lands against the claims of said appellant.

The bill alleged that one Julia J. Johnson, on the 8th day of March, 1871, as guardian of appellant, then a minor, loaned through her agent, Lycurgus L. Johnson, to one James F. Robinson, out of the funds of said appellant, $9,387.95, for which said James F. Robinson delivered to said Lycurgus L. Johnson notes for the amount, payable to Mrs. Julia J. Johnson, as guardian, and to secure said loan executed to Johnson a deed of trust conveying to him, as trustee for said Julia J. Johnson, as guardian for appellant, certain lands therein described, with the usual power of sale upon failure to pay the aforesaid notes when due; that after this transaction, the said appellees bargained for and purchased from Robinson a tract

Page 128 U. S. 375

of 500 acres, being part of the land conveyed by the aforesaid trust deed, the said complainants agreeing to pay therefor 120 bales of cotton, which they averred to be a fair and adequate consideration, and the full value of the lands.

The bill further alleged that the said purchase was made with the full knowledge and consent of the said Lycurgus L. Johnson, who, in his capacity as said trustee and also as general agent of the said Julia J. Johnson, as guardian aforesaid, agreed and contracted that if the complainants would pay over to the said Julia J. Johnson the price agreed to be paid for said lands according to the terms of the purchase from Robinson as above stated, the amount should be credited on the debt of Robinson, and the said tract purchased by them should be released from the deed of trust. That this contract and agreement of her said trustee and agent was ratified and confirmed by the said Julia J. Johnson, as guardian, who received the entire consideration agreed by them to be paid for said land, with a full knowledge of and acquiescence in said contract and agreement. That the said complainants had, in accordance with the stipulations and requirements of said trustee and agent, paid over the price agreed for said 500 acres of land, every dollar of the proceeds of which had gone to said Julia J. Johnson, as guardian of appellant, who had since then become of age.

The complainants further stated that afterward, the said Lycurgus L. Johnson having departed this life, his administrators advertised and sold, under the deed of trust, all the lands mentioned therein, including the said tract of 500 acres bought and paid for by complainants; and that they were bought in by the defendant, Joel Johnson, who was then of lawful age.

That afterwards said defendant, claiming by virtue of said sale and purchase, instituted his suit in ejectment on the law side of the court, and that the complainants not being admitted to interpose in said ejectment suit their equitable defense to the same, he did at the term 1888 obtain a judgment in ejectment against them, and now seeks to oust them of the possession of said lands by writ of possession founded on said judgment.

Page 128 U. S. 376

The prayer of the bill was that the judgment in ejectment may be enjoined, and that the title of the complainants may be quieted, and such further relief, etc.

Joel Johnson, in his answer, denied that said Lycurgus L. Johnson was the agent and business manager of said guardian, Mrs. Julia J. Johnson, or that he acted as such in and about her business as guardian, and asserted that if any contract or agreement such as that alleged in the bill was made with said appellees by said Lycurgus L. Johnson, it was not made with the knowledge or by the authority of said Julia J. Johnson, as guardian aforesaid, expressed or implied, nor in any manner recognized or ratified by her receipt of any of the consideration paid by said appellees for said land with knowledge of any such contract or agreement. Further answering, he said,

"That if complainants are not protected by their vendor, it will be a great wrong to them, but one for which this defendant is not in any manner responsible."

The complainants filed a general replication to this answer. A preliminary injunction was granted which the court, on final hearing, made perpetual. From this decree, the defendant appealed.

Page 128 U. S. 377

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