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Jackson v. Ludeling Vicksburg Shreveport and Texas Railroad Company/Dissent Field

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United States Supreme Court

99 U.S. 513

Jackson  v.  Ludeling Vicksburg Shreveport and Texas Railroad Company


MR. JUSTICE FIELD dissenting.

I agree with the court that the decree should be reversed, but I do not agree with it in allowing the defendants compensation for expenditures and improvements upon the road whilst they were in control of it. This court has held, after elaborate consideration, that they were possessors in bad faith, having obtained control of the road fraudulently. I know of no law and no principle of justice which would allow them any thing for expenditures upon property they wrongfully obtained and wrongfully withheld from the owners, who were constantly calling for its restitution. Why should the owners pay for expenditures they never ordered, or for the construction of works they never authorized? The defendants knew all the time the vice of their title; they knew they were not possessors in good faith; they concocted the scheme by which the fraudulent sale was made; and this court has so adjudged.

In the courts that administer the common law the rights of the owner are paramount and exclusive. An occupant without title is not recognized as entitled to compensation for improvements. Heron, in his History of Jurisprudence, says: There is no case 'decided in England, Ireland, or the United States, grounded upon common-law principles, declaring that an occupant of land, without a special contract, is entitled to payment for his improvements as against the true owners, when the latter had not been guilty of a fraud in concealing the title.' p. 715.

And courts of chancery do not give to an occupant compensation for improvements, unless there are circumstances attending his possession which affect the conscience of the owner, and impose an obligation upon him to pay for them or to allow for their value against a demand for the use of the property. Putnam v. Ritchie, 6 Paige (N. Y.), 390; Story, Eq. Jur., sect. 799; Mill v. Hill, 3 H. L. Cas. 828; Gibson v. D'Este, 2 Y. & C. 542; Mulhallen v. Marum, 3 Dru. & W. 317. To a possessor whose title originates in fraud, or is attended with circumstances of circumvention and deception, no compensation for improvements is ever allowed. Railroad Company v. Soutter et al., 13 Wall. 517; Morrison v. Robinson, 31 Pa. 456; Van Horne v. Fonda, 5 Johns. (N. Y.) Ch. 388, 416; Russell v. Blake, 2 Pick. (Mass.) 505; McKim v. Moody, 1 Rand. (Va.) 58; Morris and Others v. Terrell, 2 id. 6.

The learned counsel for the appellants who argued this case showed, I think, conclusively, by reference to numerous adjudications and approved text-writers, that the civil law as enforced in Europe and in Louisiana draws the same line of demarcation between the possessor in good faith and the possessor in bad faith in allowing for improvements and expenditures on the property of another. Pothier, the great legal writer, referring to the rule that no man ought to enrich himself at the expense of another, upon which compensation for improvements is here claimed, says: 'A bona fide possessor may properly oppose it against an owner, but it is not available to a mala fide possessor. The owner can reply to the latter that equity did not empower him to take possession of his land and to make thereon such changes as he desired and so put the owner to charges that were burdensome, and that he might not wish to bear, and which this possessor had no right to impose. If the latter suffers from the failure to reimburse him, he must blame himself, as being in fault, and no one can complain of consequences he has brought upon himself.' Trait e du Droit de Propri et e, sect. 350.

The civil law as thus stated corresponds with what a great chancellor of England said of the interference of equity to allow one the value of improvements on another's property. 'If a person,' he said, 'really entitled to the estate will encourage the possessor of it to expend his money in improvements, or if he will look on and suffer such expenditures, without apprising the party of his intention to dispute his title, and will afterwards endeavor to avail himself of such fraud, the jurisdiction of equity will attach in such a case. But does it follow from thence that if a man has acquired an estate by a rank and abominable fraud, and shall afterwards expend his money in improving the estate, that therefore he shall retain it in his hands against the lawful proprietor? If such a rule shall prevail, it will certainly justify a proposition which I once heard stated at the bar of the Court of Chancery, that a common equity of this country was to improve a man out of his estate.'

I prefer in this case to stand by the ancient law, than to follow any new doctrines supposed to arise out of the character of railroad property. To me it seems that the peculiar character of that property requires the special application of the old law; for just in proportion to the value of this property is the temptation to get possession of it, and if plunderers can, when compelled to restore it, be allowed for their expenditures and alleged improvements, there will be an added incentive to plunder.

I therefore dissent from so much of the decree of this court as allows for expenditures upon property the possession of which the defendants did not obtain in good faith.

NotesEdit

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).