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HOUSE V. MULLEN, 89 U. S. 42 (1874)

U.S. Supreme Court

House v. Mullen, 89 U.S. 22 Wall. 42 42 (1874)

House v. Mullen

89 U.S. (22 Wall.) 42


1. A bill was filed by two parties, one of whom showed good cause for equitable relief, but the other of whom did not show what interest he had in the subject matter of litigation, or that he had any. The bill was demurred to on several grounds, one being the want of such showing (which by settled equity rule is a good ground of demurrer), and another ground being that the bill showed that the claim was barred by the statute of limitations, was stale &c.; an allegation about the bill not true in fact, it showing the reverse, and this ground of demurrer therefore failing. The court below "dismissed" the bill generally, and in this state the record was of course capable of being pleaded in bar to a new suit on the merits. This Court being of opinion that the only defect in the bill was that it did not show interest in both the parties while it did show cause for equitable relief in one, refused to affirm the decree below, as it would have done had the dismissal been without prejudice or because a party who showed no interest was a complainant. On the contrary, to prevent what might be great injustice in case of another suit on the merits, by the record being used in the way above mentioned, the court reversed the decree and remanded the case with directions to allow the complainant to amend his bill within a reasonable time, or, failing to do this, to dismiss it without prejudice.

2. When a bill by a widow claiming real estate alleges that certain persons named, being several in number, all claim through a deed made by her during coverture, which deed the bill alleges was void for want of her free consent in making it, no demurrer lies to the bill on the ground that the defendants were improperly joined, inasmuch as they had separate and distinct interests which could not be joined in one suit.

On the 27th of November, 1871, Eliza House filed a bill in chancery in the court below against Andrew Mullen and twenty-one others.

The bill set forth that on the 16th of March, 1838, the said Eliza being then a married woman, a conveyance was made by one Lawrence to a certain Gibson for the consideration of $2,700, of the half or undivided moiety of lot No. 22, in the Town of Selma, Alabama; that by mistake, this was recorded as a conveyance of the half of the undivided moiety of said lot; that by the terms of the conveyance, the

Page 89 U. S. 43

trustee was to hold the property in trust for the benefit of her the said Eliza during her natural life, after which he was to convey in fee simple to such child or children as she might have living at her death. The bill further alleged that Gibson died in 1841, and Reuben House, the husband of the complainant, in 1868; that from the date of the deed from Lawrence to Gibson, the complainant lived on the premises or received the rents and profits until 1846; that during this time, her husband and herself removed from Alabama to Florida; that the defendants were now in possession of the lot or parts of the same, claiming the whole of it as owners and asserting title under a deed which they alleged to have been made by the complainant and her husband in 1846 to one Walker, which deed the complainant alleged that she did not sign and seal as her voluntary act and deed, freely and without compulsion of her said husband.

The bill prayed for the appointment of a trustee in place of Gibson, who was dead. It also prayed for a partition with the defendants, for an account of rents and profits, and for such other and further relief as to equity belonged.

Before anything further was done, the complainant obtained leave to file an amended bill, and an entire new bill was accordingly filed by her and Mary Hunter, and Charles Hunter, husband of the said Mary. What interest Mr. and Mrs. Hunter had in the matter, or how either was related to anybody concerned in it, was nowhere stated. As for the rest, the same matters were alleged in the new bill as in the old. To this new bill the defendants demurred.

The grounds of demurrer set forth were:

1. That if the complainants had any rights as shown by the bill, they were separate and distinct, and could not be joined in this suit.

2. That the bill did not show any interest of Mary and Charles Hunter in the subject matter of the litigation.

3. That the defendants were improperly joined, inasmuch as they had separate and distinct interests which could not be joined in one suit.

Page 89 U. S. 44

4. And that the claim was stale and barred by the statute of limitations and by the long acquiescence of the complainants in the possession of the defendants as shown by the bill.

The decree ran thus:

"This cause coming on &c., . . . it is considered by the court that the said demurrer of the defendants . . . be sustained. It is therefore adjudged and decreed that the said bill of complaint of Eliza House, Mary Hunter, and Charles Hunter, be and the same is hereby dismissed out of this court."

The reader will observe that the dismissal was general and absolute, not one for error or defect of parties or without prejudice.

Page 89 U. S. 45

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