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October 1, 1877


ERROR to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The facts are fully stated in the opinion of the court.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Bradley delivered the opinion of the court.

Mr. George W. Biddle for the defendant in error.

No counsel appeared for the plaintiffs in error.

This is an action of ejectment brought in the court below in June, 1871, by James Turnbull, Jr., a subject of Mexico, against Ario Pardee, a citizen of Pennsylvania, to recover one undivided eighth part of a tract of land in Hazel Township, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, containing four hundred and thirty-nine and one-half acres, known as the Mary Kunkle tract. Turnbull having died pendente lite, King and other heirs-at-law were substituted in his stead. Edward Roberts and the executors of Algernon S. Roberts, deceased, were admitted to defend with Pardee as his landlord of the premises in question. Plea, general issue.

On the trial, evidence was given tending to show that Alexander Turnbull died seised of the premises in question on the tenth day of July, 1826, leaving a widow and four children his heirs-at-law; namely, James, Alexander, Jane, and Margaret, all of full age. The widow died in 1832. Alexander Turnbull, Jr., one of the heirs, died in Philadelphia, in 1835, leaving the plaintiff, his son and sole heir-at-law, then in the thirteenth year of his age. It thus appeared that the plaintiff, as heir-at-law of his father, was entitled to any interest in the lands in question of which his father may have died seised. He left Philadelphia for Mexico in 1850, in the twenty-eighth year of his age.

The defendants gave in evidence a judgment on bond and warrant, rendered in the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County on the twenty-second day of February, 1827, against James Turnbull and Alexander Turnbull, Jr. (two of the heirs of Alexander Turnbull), at the suit of William Drysdale, administrator of Alexander Turnbull, Sen., for the sum of $4,980: also, a fi. fa. and venditioni exponas issued on said judgment; a levy under said writs upon the premises in question; a return by the sheriff of a sale thereof for the sum of $25 on the fourth day of August, 1827; and a deed in pursuance of such sale, to John N. Conyngham, the attorney of the plaintiff in the judgment, bearing date the 14th of April, 1828: also, a deed from Conyngham to Drysdale, the administrator, and plaintiff in the judgment, for a like consideration, dated the 10th of July, 1828. Both of these deeds were recorded on the thirteenth day of January, 1832. The sheriff's deed purported to convey all the right, title, and interest of James Turnbull and Alexander Turnbull, Jr., in and to the premises in question; and the deed from Conyngham conveyed all his title and interest to Drysdale. The interest thus levied on and sold was, of course, one undivided half of the premises in dispute. The claim of the plaintiff is, that this purchase at sheriff's sale by the attorney of the administrator inured, in equity, to the benefit of the heirs or distributees of his grandfather, by way of a resulting trust, which would give him a right to one undivided eighth part of the property.

Jane Turnbull, one of the heirs-at-law of Alexander Turnbull, bull, Sen., was the wife of William Drysdale, the administrator aforesaid. Therefore, at this period, July, 1828, the legal title acquired by William Drysdale in the shares of James and Alexander, together with that of his wife and her sister Margaret, who was unmarried, made up the entire legal title to the premises in dispute.

The defendant then gave in evidence a warranty deed in feesimple for the whole premises from William Drysdale and his wife and Margaret Turnbull to the defendant Edward Roberts, and Algernon S. Roberts, now deceased, for the consideration of $46,500, which deed was recorded Nov. 23, 1846; and also extracts from the assessment-books of Hazel Township, Luzerne County, showing the assessment of the property to the Robertses from 1847 down to the commencement of the suit. Evidence was also given tending to show continued notorious and adverse possession of the property by the defendants from 1846 to the commencement of the suit, by opening and working coal-mines thereon, building coal-breakers, railroads, houses, and other structures, and cutting wood over the whole tract.

The question raised in this case was, whether the resulting trust which it is contended arose in favor of the heirs or distributees of Alexander Turnbull, Sen., upon the purchase made by Drysdale, his administrator, through his attorney, Conyngham, under the judgment and execution against James and Alexander Turnbull, was still valid and in force at the commencement of this action, or whether it was barred by efflux of time.

The associate justice who tried the cause charged the jury as follows:––

'1. That though William Drysdale acquired the legal title to the land in controversy by the deed of John N. Conyngham to him, dated July 16, 1828, and recorded Jan. 13, 1832, yet he held in trust for the estate of which he was administrator, or rather for the heirs of the estate (there being no creditors), and held one undivided eighth part thereof for Alexander Turnbull, Jr., or his assigns; that this was not an express trust; that it was not declared in the deed of Conyngham, or to Drysdale, but that it was a trust which the law implied, growing out of the relation of the parties. Drysdale, then, was the legal owner, while at the same time there was an equitable right in the heirs of the elder Turnbull to require him to convey the property to them, or, if he had sold it at an advance, to require him to account for the proceeds of his sale.'

'The right of Alexander Turnbull, Jr., and that of the plaintiff, who claims as his heir, is merely an equitable one. I will not, however, now instruct you that the plaintiff cannot recover in this ejectment solely for that reason, but I call your attention to the question, whether the equity which arose when the sheriff's sale was made to Conyngham, and subject to which Drysdale took the land, survived until this suit was brought. Such rights do not live for ever. If they are not asserted within a reasonable time, they die, and generally what is a reasonable time is determined in analogy to the Statute of Limitations. If it be an implied equitable right to land, ordinarily it cannot be enforced after twenty-one years.'

'It is true, if a party in whom such a right is vested has no knowledge of its existence, or means of knowledge, the law admits of longer delay in asserting the right.' Reference was then made to the evidence which the jury was directed to consider, with the instruction, that if they found 'the plaintiff's father, Alexander Turnbull, Jr., or the plaintiff, had knowledge in 1828, when the trust arose, or in 1832, when the deed to Drysdale was recorded, or at any time more than twenty-one years before 1871, when this suit was brought, or that they, or either of them, had means of knowledge that Drysdale, the administrator, had taken the title to himself, and therefore held it in trust, the claim was too stale, that any equity in the plaintiff's favor that may once have existed cannot now be enforced, and that the plaintiff cannot recover.'

2. The jury was further instructed, 'that, by the Act of Assembly of April 22, 1856, entitled, 'An Act for the greater certainty of title and more secure enjoyment of real estate,' it was enacted that no right of entry shall accrue or action be maintained to enforce any implied or resulting trust as to realty but within five years after such equity or trust accrued, with the right of entry, unless such trust shall have been acknowledged by writing to subsist by the party to be charged therewith within the said period; with a proviso, that, as to any one affected with a trust by reason of his fraud, the limitation shall begin to run only from the discovery thereof, or when by reasonable diligence the party defrauded might have discovered the same; and with a further proviso, that any person who would sooner be barred by the act should not be thereby barred for two years after its passage.' This act, the jury were instructed, embraced such a trust as the plaintiff is seeking to enforce in this action; and they were charged, that if they found Drysdale was guilty of no fraud in taking the deed to himself, as he did, or ...

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