124 U.S. 98
8 S.Ct. 364
31 L.Ed. 369
WYLY et al.1
January 9, 1888.
[Statement of Case from pages 98-101 intentionally omitted]
Robert Mott and Wm. A. Maury, for appellant.
John T. Ludeling and J. R. Breckwith, for appellees.
Mr. Justice MATTHEWS, after stating the facts as above, delivered the opinion of the court.
The first point raised in argument on the part of the complainant is as to the validity of the proceeding in the court of East Carroll parish, by which Frederick W. Boyd was, in the language of the Louisiana law, destituted of his office as dative testamentary executor, and the defendant Egelly substituted in his place. It is alleged in the bill, and insisted upon in argument, that this proceeding was had without any actual, and without any legal constructive, notice to Boyd, and that it is therefore null and void. It is charged, as a consequence, that Egelly became, not the rightful executor, but executor de son tort, and that of this Wyly had notice imputed to him by law, because shown by the the record. It is thence argued, as an inference reasonably to be deduced, that the proceeding must have been in pursuance of the fraud charged in the bill, and, taken in connection with the subsequent proceedings and their result, constitutes proof of the fraud charged.
It appears from a transcript of the record of the proceedings in question that on July 16, 1868, there was filed in the office of the parish court for the parish of Carroll a petition on behalf of certain creditors of the succession of James Railey, among whom are named Edward Sparrow and J. W. Montgomery, in which it is alleged that Frederick W. Boyd, after qualifying as dative testamentary executor in 1866, had leased out the plantation for one year, and cultivated it himself during the year 1867; that he had never filed any account of his administration, but had appropriated and used the rents and revenues of the estate for his individual benefit, without paying any of the creditors any portion of their just dues; that he had abandoned his administration, and had no domicile or residence in the state, and was permanently absent therefrom; that he had never given any sufficient bond for the faithfulness of his administration, the sureties thereon being insolvent, and had no property in the parish nor in the state, and that he had left no power of attorney authorizing any one to represent him in the management of the estate. The petitioners therefore prayed that the office of the said Boyd and the administration of the estate might be declared to be vacated and unrepresented; that Boyd be decreed to have abandoned his trust; and that, in order to protect the interest of the creditors, an administrator be appointed to finish the administration of the estate, and that Egelly be appointed thereto. This petition was signed on behalf of the petitioners by Sparrow and Montgomery as their attorneys, and was verified by the affidavit of Montgomery.
Among the papers on file in the matter of this proceeding in the parish court appears one styled 'Opposition of F. W. Boyd,' which is as follows: 'To the Hon. Geo. C. Benham, Parish Judge in and for the Parish of Carroll, State of Louisiana: The petition of Frederick W. Boyd, a resident of the state of Mississippi, with respect shows that he is the duly-appointed executor of the last will and testament of Jas. Railey, late resident of your said parish and state; that he had duly administered the property of the succession of the said Railey since his appointment and confirmation as executor under the will. Petitioner further shows that an application has been made to your honorable court praying that E. R. Egelly, Esq., be appointed dative testamentary executor of the said succession, notwithstanding your petitioner is acting as executor of the same. Wherefore your petitioner prays that the said application be rejected, and that the said applicant pay all costs of this proceeding, and for all general relief.' This is signed by Goodrich, Pilcher & Montgomery, as attorneys. There are no official marks upon it showing the fact or date of its being filed. The testimony of Charles M. Pilcher, one of the firm who signed it, is that the document was written by him from a memorandum given to him by his partner Goodrich who was the member of the firm who had charge, during the administration of Boyd, of the business of the succession of the Railey estate. The witness states that the paper was prepared and filed, as he believes, on behalf of Boyd, by virtue of authority of the firm to act for him; and he states as his belief that when prepared and filed it was upon a full sheet of paper, upon the back of which the style of the case was noted, and on which would also be indorsed the fact and date of its being filed in court, and that the paper bears evidence of having been since mutilated by this half sheet being torn off. F. F. Montgomery, the only other surviving member of the firm whose name appears signed to the paper in question, was examined as a witness, and has no recollection of the paper nor of the transaction, but testifies that the document is in the handwriting of his partner Pilcher. Another witness, R. J. London, testified that he was deputy-clerk of the court at the time when these proceedings took place, and, having examined the document, stated that he believed it to be the original opposition of Boyd to the appointment of C. R. Egelly; that his impression is that it was marked 'Filed,' and put among the mortuary papers of the succession of James Railey by himself as deputy-clerk, though the part of the sheet upon which the title was written and the filing indorsed thereon seemed to have been torn off. The handwriting is that of Charles M. Pilcher. He says: 'I know that an opposition was filed, and my impression is that the document mark d 'B' is the one. The opposition I refer to was regularly filed and put away among the mortuary papers, as was customary in like cases.'
Frederick W. Boyd was not called by the complainant as a witness, though he was a party defendant in the cause, having entered his appearance in person, but filed no answer, permitting a decree to be taken against him by default. If the facts were as alleged on behalf of the complainant,—that this proceeding, by which he was removed from his office, was without notice to him, the fact could easily have been established by his oath. The allegations contained in the petition for his removal—that he had abandoned his duties, and deserted his trust, as dative testamentary executor of the estate of Railey, and that he had no domicile or place of residence in the locality or in the state—are not denied by him, nor does he deny that the firm of Goodrich, Pilcher & Montgomery were authorized to oppose the application for his removal, and that they in fact appeared for him for that purpose. The conclusion, therefore, cannot be resisted that he was an actual party to the proceeding which resulted in his removal from his office as executor, and that the appointment of Egelly in his place, to continue the unfinished administration of the succession, was valid.
The next point urged in support of the equity of the bill is that the sum at which the plantation was valued by the appraisers, and sold to the defendant Wyly, is so grossly inadequate, compared with the true value of the property, as to shock the conscience of the court, and to furnish full proof of the fraudulent means by which it was effected, and of the fraudulent motives and intent of the parties in effecting it. A large mass of testimony in the case bears upon this point. It is undoubtedly true that, compared with the previous appraisements of the property, and with its real value, prior to the breaking out of the civil war in 1861, the price at which the plantation was sold to Wyly appears grossly out of proportion, and several witnesses are called who do testify that the appraisement was below what it ought to have been when made, in 1868. On cross-examination, however, some of these very witnesses also show by their testimony that the standard in their own minds by which they test the fairness of the appraisement is their opinion of the intrinsic value of the property to hold and to use in reference to the future, and not the actual market value of the property at the time to be sold for cash. It also abundantly appears, from the evidence in the cause, that immediately at the close of the war, in 1865, and during that year and the following year, 1866, there were a great many speculative enterprises entered into by persons from the northern states investing large sums of cash capital in the cultivation of cotton plantations in the expectation of large profits. These expectations were not realized; on the contrary, almost universally they resulted in disaster; the pecuniary losses usually absorbing the entire amount invested. A reaction immediately set in, producing a corresponding depression in values. There was scarcely and cash capital in the country for investment. In addition to this, the labor of the country was disorganized as a result of the war, and of the political and social disorders which followed it. According to the proof in the case, this disorganization seemed so complete and so hopeless as proof in the case, this disorganization seemed so complete and so hopeless as to paralyze the business and industry of the community, and to lead quite a number to such a despair of the situation as to induce them to abandon the country in order to better their fortunes by emigration to Mexico and South America. The result of the testimony on this point is stated very moderately by the district judge, BOARMAN, in his opinion in this case, in the following extract, (18 Fed. Rep. 355:) 'In the early years after the war, the testimony in this case affirms what is historically known o be true, that the section of the state in which the Raleigh plantation is situate was, by overflows and other physical and moral causes, almost entirely bereft of its old-time prosperity and value. The plantation was greatly damaged by previous overflows, and had but little fencing; and it is shown by defendant Wyly that he, shortly after purchasing it, expended $25,000 in improvements. Defendant has shown, whatever may have been the general causes that depreciated property on the Mississippi river in 1868, that many thousand acres of land, as valuable as the plantation in question, were sold for prices not unlike the paltry price at which Wyly bought his place. The testimony as to the scarcity of ready money, as to the price for which much valuable land sold when disposed of at forced sale, and as to the political, moral, and physical bankruptcy of the country, leads me to believe that the complainant and the unpaid creditors of her father's succession were victims to the indifferent management and neglect of the executor, and to the physical and moral prostration of the country, which was apparent everywhere in Louisiana in the early years following the end of the war, rather than to the acts of any of these several defendants.' The defendant Wyly took a more hopeful view, and, upon the basis of a well-grounded faith in the future of his country, he was willing to invest his money in real estate, abandoned by its owners, upon valuations made under the authority and with the sanction of the proper judicial tribunals of the locality.
We have examined with scrutiny and weighed with care all the evidence in this cause, and every consideration urged upon us by the zeal and ability of the counsel for the complainant, with a view to ascertain and secure to her her just rights. We are unable to discover any sufficient proof of the particulars of the fraud by which, as she complains, she has been wronged. The sale to the defendant Wyly, however advantageous it has proved to be to him, in our opinion, has not been impeached. The decree of the circuit court was therefore right, and is hereby affirmed.
Affirming 18 Fed. Rep. 355.