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decided: December 22, 1890.



Author: Fuller

[ 137 U.S. Page 563]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

Apart from the prayers for process, an account, and for general relief, the specific relief sought is, that the two deeds of B. Mackall, Sr., trustee, and Louis Brand, trustee, to Joseph B. Hill be decreed to be null and void, together with all deeds, written instruments, and claims of title whatever derived through the same, that complainant be adjudged to be the owner of the property free and clear from all claims and demands of the defendants or either of them.

The deed of complainant to Mackall, Senior, was dated May 5, 1866, and recorded June 5, 1867. The deed of Mackall to Hill was dated June 26, and recorded July 2, 1873. Brand's title was derived through a conveyance by complainant to Morsell, dated March 13, 1867, and the conveyance of Morsell, Mills and complainant to him, dated July 14, 1868. The deed from Brand to Hill was dated and acknowledged July 29, 1873, and presumably recorded the same day, though the record gives the date as July 28. The bill was filed June 1, 1885. The death of Mackall, Sr., was stated to have occurred February 28, 1880. This attack was delivered, then, more than nineteen years after the deed to Mackall; about seventeen after that to Brand; and nearly twelve years after the other two deeds were recorded.

It is charged that the deed of May 5, 1866, was given to secure complainant's two notes, amounting to nearly $600 in the aggregate, for the purpose of borrowing money for the use of father and son, but that no money was ever borrowed thereon; and that the deed to Brand was given to secure a note for $2000 payable to Mackall, Sr., for the same purpose, likewise not carried out.

Counsel for complainant insisted, upon the argument, that the deed from Mackall, Jr. to Mackall, Sr., was void, because Mackall, Sr., took the acknowledgment, and that the sales made by Brand and Mackall, Sr., to Hill were invalid by reason of the omission to advertise for the time prescribed, and the want of publicity in the conduct of the sales, and because

[ 137 U.S. Page 564]

     these transactions were merely covers for the purchase by Mackall himself in fraud of complainant's rights.

If the general rule that an acknowledgment is not essential to the validity of a deed as between the parties applies, the fact that a grantee cannot take the acknowledgment of a conveyance to himself would be immaterial in this case. The execution of this deed to Mackall was expressly averred by complainant and its delivery conceded, but he alleged that it was given to secure notes for the purpose of borrowing money for himself and his father, and that this was not done.

There is no prayer for specific relief in relation to it, nor do we think the averments such as would entitle complainant to resort to the prayer for general relief, to set it aside, by reason of the want of acknowledgment, if that were a proper ground; and, if void upon its face, as now contended, the interference of a court of equity would seem to be unnecessary. Phelps v. Harris, 101 U.S. 370, 375. We shall not, therefore, review the various statutes of Maryland, acts of Congress, and authorities referred to by counsel as tending to justify the position that in the District of Columbia a deed is not operative, even as between the parties, notwithstanding delivery, unless it be acknowledged and recorded.

As already stated, nineteen years after the conveyance to Mackall, Sr., seventeen after that to Brand, twelve after the deeds to Hill, and five after Mackall's death, the son charges the father with what his counsel calls "actual, active and intense fraud;" and, in explanation of the delay in seeking to be relieved from the consequences of this conduct on his father's part, says that "soon after the execution of the deeds made in 1874," (the conveyances by Hill and Mackall, Sr., to Leonard Mackall, and by McKelden and Timoney to Casilear, were in 1874,) his father became reconciled to him, and they lived together and shared the benefit of all property possessed by each in common, and his father constantly assured him that he would rectify all that was wrong in said conveyances to the best of his ability, which assurance was relied upon by complainant and was satisfactory to him; that his father drew up forms of reconveyance to him of such property

[ 137 U.S. Page 565]

     or parts thereof, one of which he signed and delivered to complainant; and that "in February, 1880, he did execute a reconveyance of all his interests in said property, which was entirely satisfactory to complainant, though such reconveyance was attacked by his said brothers and sisters, and a decree was made adjudging the same to be void as to the property herein claimed by complainant, from which decree, however, they claim to have taken an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, and which appeal they claim is now pending, though such claim is not admitted by complainant. While such litigation was pending, however, there was, as believed by complainant, no propriety in bringing suit to ...

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