124 US 183 Richards v. Mackall
124 U.S. 183
8 S.Ct. 437
31 L.Ed. 396
January 9, 1888.
[Statement of Case from pages 183-187 intentionally omitted]
W. B. Webb and Enoch Totten, for appellant.
W. Willoughby, for appellee.
Mr. Justice HARLAN, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court.
1. Is appellee entitled to relief in a court of equity in respect to the sale of June 13, 1870? In Badger v. Badger, 2 Wall. 95, it was said that a party who makes an appeal to the conscience of the chancellor should 'set forth in his bill specifically what were the impediments to an earlier prosecution of his claim; how he came to be so long ignorant of his rights, and the means used by the respondent to fraudulently keep him in ignorance; and how and when he first came to a knowledge of the matters alleged in his bill; otherwise, the chancellor may justly refuse to consider his case, on his own showing, without inquiring whether there is a demurrer or a formal plea of the statute of limitations in his answer.' So, in Sullivan v. Railroad Co., 94 U. S. 811: 'To let in the defense that the claim is stale, and that the bill cannot, therefore, be supported, it is not necessary that a foundation be laid by any averment in the answer of defendants. If the case, as it appears at the hearing, is liable to the objection by reason of the laches of the complainants, the court will, upon that ground, be passive and refuse relief.' In the latter case, it was said that equity would sometimes refuse relief where a shorter time than that prescribed by the statute had elapsed without suit. See, also, Hume v. Beal, 17 Wall. 336; Marsh v. Whitmore, 21 Wall. 184, 185; Hayward v. Bank, 96 U. S. 617; Speidel v. Henrici, 120 U. S. 377, 7 Sup. Ct. Rep. 610.
These principles, applied to the present case, lead to a reversal, upon the ground that the appellee, upon his own showing, has been guilty of gross laches in applying for relief. When the sale to Richards was made the appellee had in his possession a tax deed to himself, conveying the legal title to the whole of lot 7. While h says he was advised by counsel that that deed was of no value, and for that reason he did not put it upon record, he fails to suggest, in his pleadings, any reason why it was not sufficient to invest him with the legal title to the premises. The evidence fairly justifies the conclusion that he was induced, by reason of his embarrassed financial condition, to keep it from record, in order thereby to confuse the title to the property, and increase the difficulties in the way of creditors reaching it for his debts. Be that as it may, and assuming that the tax deed was invalid, the appellee having gone into possession of lot 7, and improved it, with the consent of his father, and under the latter's promise to convey it to him, he was entitled, at any time after the sale to Richards, to raise the identical questions now presented, as to the invalidity of the sale and conveyance. He made, as we have seen, an effort, before the sale, to have it stopped; but he did not prosecute the suit brought for that purpose; and after the sale, so far as the record shows, he took no legal steps whatever to prevent a conveyance being made to the purchaser or to have the sale set aside. It is true he alleges that he complained to Richards of the injustice done by the sale, and endeavored to procure a compromise with him; that the latter repeatedly promised to do what was right, and to release his claim on the property when he was reimbursed by rents and profits for the money he had expended; that Richards promised to render an account of his claim, but no account was ever rendered, except one so extravagant that it could not be considered; and that he has never been able to effect any arrangement with him. The evidence does not sustain these allegations. Appellee testifies that in August, 1873, his father tendered to Richards the amount of his judgment, together with all the expenses and costs of all kinds. But he admits that the appellant declined to accept the money. While appellant was, perhaps, willing to surrender his purchase, shortly after it was made, if he had been reimbursed his expenditures in connection with the property, there is no satisfactory proof that he ever recognized the legal or equitable right of the appellee or of any one else to deprive him of the full benefit of that purchase. We find nothing whatever in the record to excuse the failure of the appellee to institute legal proceedings, in due time, to have the sale set aside. He knew that the appellant relied upon the sale, and upon the faith of it expended large sums. He knew that the premises here in dispute were in fact levied on for his debts, and were intended to be sold in satisfaction of those debts. But after the property has largely increased in value, and after sleeping upon his rights for nearly 12 years, with information during the whole of that period, of every fact now relied upon by him, appellee asks the aid of a court of equity to set aside the sale and conveyance, and adjudge him to be the owner of the property; and, chiefly because of a mistake of the officer in not so describing the premises in the advertisement of sale and in the conveyance, as to properly identify them. In our judgment, he is not in a position to claim the interference of a court of equity. For that reason alone the judgment must be reversed, and the cause remanded, with direction to dismiss the bill. It is so ordered.