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Opinion of the court.
he would have had no occasion to speak of owing any one named Berry at all. Mr. Beale, “said he had charge of their money, and borrowed it.” That was the way in which he owed Miss Rosalie, and that certainly was not the way in which he owed the complainants. If he owed them anything, it was because he had fraudulently sold their slaves, and not because he had borrowed their money.
That the laches were gross; the lapse of time in connection with the death of the party charged with mal-administration, conclusive. In Prevost v. Gratz,* this court says:
“Fraud or breach of trust ought not lightly to be imputed to the living, for the legal presumption is the other way; and as to the dead, who are not here to answer for themselves, it would be the height of injustice and cruelty to disturb their asbes, and violate the sanctity of the grave, unless the evidence of fraud be clear beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Mr. Justice DAVIS delivered the opinion of the court.
It is undeniable that the waste and misappropriation of property for which relief is sought, occurred prior to 1830.
This is apparent, not only by the testimony of the living witnesses, but by the papers in the suit commenced in the County Court of Prince George's County, Maryland, where the property was situated, in behalf of the children, for whom Benjamin Berry, in his deed, made provision, by tineir uncle and next friend, for the same cause of action as that comprised in the present suit.
While it is not necessary for the purposes of this case to decide whether this decree can be treated as a former adjudication of the matters in controversy, yet it is quite clear that forty years ago a Maryland court of equity, sitting on the spot where the transactions occurred, while they were fresh in the memory of men, did not believe Beale guilty of the breach of trust with which he was charged, and that the near kindred of the complainants acquiesced in the result of that suit.
* 6 Wheaton, 481, 498; and see Pratt v. Vatier, 9 Peters, 416; and Knight 0. Taylor, 1 Howard, 161, 168.
Opinion of the court.
Whether Beale, under the deed of Benjamin Berry, was the trustee of a mere dry, legal estate, or whether his duties and responsibilities extended further, it is not important to determine. In any aspect of the case, there has been such gross laches on the part of the cestui que trusts that they have disentitled themselves to the relief which they seek to obtain. It is an established rule with courts of equity, independent of any statute limiting the time in which suits can be brought, that they will not entertain stale demands. This rule is necessary from considerations of public policy, and because it is impossible to do entire justice when the transactions sought to be impeached have become obscure by lapse of time, and the evidence on the subject is liable to be lost. Story, referring to the rule imposing diligence upon parties seeking relief, says: “Hence, if there be a clear breach of trust by a trustee; yet, if the cestui que trust or beneficiary has for a long time acquiesced in the misconduct of the trustee, with full kuowledge of it, a court of equity will not relieve him, but leave him to bear the fruits of his own negligence or infirmity of purpose.
This rule, requiring the party injured to seek redress in reasonable time, has so often received the sanction of courts of equity in this country and England, that it is unnecessary to cite authorities to sustain it. Whether the lapse of time is sufficient to bar a recovery must, of necessity, depend upon the particular circumstances of each case.†
By the terms of the deed in this case, the interest of Mrs. Berry in the property terminated on her marriage or death, and if the eldest child was of age or married, on the happening of either of these events the entire trust ceased, and the trustee was directed to convey the estate, real and personal, to the children and their heirs. It is alleged that Mrs. Berry was married to Owings in 1830. If this were so, it would account for her conduet in converting the personal property to her use, but the evidence on the subject of this
* Equity Jurisprudence, & 1284.
Opinion of the court.
marriage, although rendering it highly probable that it did occur, is insufficient to establish it.
It is conceded, however, that she was married to Ferguson in 1843, at which time the eldest child was not only of full age, but had been married and was then a widow. These occurrences, according to the terms of the deed, terminated the trust, but in point of fact it was terminated in 1834 or 1836, when the real estate was sold by order of the Prince George's County Court. This sale is set up in the answer, and Mrs. Hume testifies that the farm was sold by commissioners appointed by the court, and that her husband, in 1836, received from them in person, her share of the proceeds. It is in evidence that Mrs. Crosby was married in 1844, and she must have arrived at full age before that time.
It thus appears that all grounds of action, existing in this case, must have occurred between twenty and thirty years ago, and that the alleged breach of trust for which the estate of Beale is asked to account took place thirty-seven years before the institution of this suit.
Why have these complainants slept upon their rights for this great length of time, and why have they delayed invoking the aid of a court of equity until the person charged with misconduct is dead? It is plain this unusual delay places them on the defensive, and requires satisfactory explanation before they can obtain relief.
It is alleged in the bill as an excuse for not suing earlier that Beale put the complainants off from time to time with promises to settle his trusteeship, and did not deny that he was largely indebted to them on that account. This allegation receives support only in the testimony of Mrs. Hume, who had no right to testify as to any conversation or transaction with the decedent unless the opposite party or the court wished her to do it.* This rule of exclusion was imposed by Congress in the interest of dead men's estates, but as the record does not disclose any objection to the competency of the witness her testimony will be treated as if right
* 15 Stat. at Large, 533.
Opinion of the court.
fully given. She says, in general terms, that she called on Beale repeatedly to settle, and that he promised to do so, and that these promises induced her not to sue him. This is the extent of her testimony on the subject, and her statement is so general and so obviously necessary to avoid the bar of the statute of limitations and of lapse of time, which were pleaded, that it carries little weight with it. It would never do to hold that a stale demand of such long standing could have vitality imparted to it, on the mere statement of a party in interest that the decedent promised to settle. There must be some corroborating circumstances to call into activity the powers of a court of equity, and these are wholly wanting in this case. No one was ever present at any of these conversations, and there is no specification of time or place, nor does she say that Beale ever admitted any indebtedness on account of this trust. Besides, she never wrote to him, nor did he ever write to her on the subject, which is a little remarkable, considering her destitute situation from 1837 to the commencement of this suit. Indeed, the letters which she did write to him in 1837 and 1846 are inconsistent with the idea that she thought he intended to defraud her, which she now says she always entertained.
There is nothing in the record except this testimony that tends even to show that Beale ever admitted he was chargeable for the wrongful conversion of the property in question, He expressly disclaims this liability in the Maryland suit in 1830, and the court could not have rendered the decree it did without being satisfied at least that he was not personally concerned in the waste of the property. It is hard to believe, on the unsupported testimony of a party in interest, that Beale at different times during a long life confessed a liability which he repudiated on the occasion of that litigation.
It is a little singular that Beale should have confined his promises to Mrs. Hume, and not extended them to Mrs. Crosby. Mrs. Crosby does not testify, and we do not learn that either herself or husband, with whom she lived for thirteen years, ever manifested disapprobation of Beale’s con
duct. If the other sistėr; Rosalie, who died unmarried in 1860, considered Beale had wronged her, she would not have intrusted him, as she did, with the management of her sbare of the money received from the sale of the farm.
There is one other point in connection with the testimony of Mrs. Hume worthy of comment. She swears that, in 1834 or 1835, she advised her husband against suing Beale, for the reason that he was poor and nothing could be made out of him, and that her husband used to lend Beale money and supersede his debts for him. If this be so, the theory on which this case is prosecuted falls to the ground, for the whole effort is to show that Beale got so rich immediately after the conversion of the personal estate that he must have shared the proceeds. It is argued that the conversations wbich Beale had with Douglass refer to the obligations arising from his breach of trust, and that, therefore, Mrs. Hume is sustained by the testimony of Douglass. But manifestly Beale is not talking on this subject; he is talking about the sum of $3000 which Miss Rosalie Berry got from the sale of the farm and placed in his hands to loan. This money he owed the estate of Miss Berry, and was desirous of paying to her next of kiu, Mrs. Hume and Mrs. Crosby.
It is needless to pursue the subject further. If Beale was guilty of misconduct in his character of trustee, the complainants had full kuowledge of it and acquiesced in it for a great length of time, and there is nothing shown in the evidence to overcome the decisive influence of this knowledge and acquiescence.
ALLEN V. MASSEY.
1. Under the statute of frauds of Missouri, as interpreted by the highest
court of that State, an interpretation which this court will follow, a sale of household furniture in a house occupied jointly by vendor and vendee, both using the furniture alike, and there being no other change of possession than that the vendor, after going around with the vencee and