21 L.Ed. 215
15 Wall. 624
APPEAL from a decree of the Circuit Court for the District of Louisiana; the case being thus:
In the year 1856 Mrs. Myra Clark Gaines filed a bill in the court below against the city of New Orleans, in which she sought to recover valuable real estate in New Orleans owned by one Daniel Clark, including a certain block or square described, on which a draining-house and out-buildings, with a draining-machine for draining the city, was now and had been for many years situated.
The bill alleged that she was the only and legitimate child of Clark; that Clark had left a valid will, made in 1813, by which he devised all his estate to her; that this will having been lost or destroyed, and she a minor till 1827 and ignorant of her parentage and rights, a provisional will, dated in 1811, of which Richard Relf and Beverly Chew were executors, and Clark's mother, Mary Clark, was universal legatee, was admitted to probate and ordered to be executed; that the will of 1813, which revoked the will of 1811, was subsequently found, and, in 1856, established; that Relf and Chew, under pretended authority as executors of Clark and as attorneys in fact of his mother, had, in 1821, without right or authority, and in bad faith, sold this lot and others at public auction to one Evariste Blanc; that Blanc, equally without right or authority, and in bad faith, had sold it and others, by act of sale, on the 26th of September, 1834, to the city of New Orleans; that the city had notice of the fraudulent character of the proceedings of Relf and Chew, & c., and of the worthlessness of the title, &c., which they acquired. The bill prayed a delivery of the property and an account of the rents and profits.
After a long and expensive litigation, including an appeal to this court, Mrs. Gaines succeeded in her case, and in pursuance of a mandate from this court, the court below, in June, 1870, entered a decree in her favor; decreeding that she was Clark's only legitimate child, and as his universal legatee was entitled to the lots in question; that the sale by Relf and Chew and that also by Evariste Blanc was wholly unauthorized and illegal, and utterly null and void; and that the city of New Orleans at the time it purchased the property was bound to take notice of the circumstances which rendered the actings and doings of Chew and Relf in the premises utterly null and void, and 'ought to be deemed and held, and was thereby deemed and held, to have purchased the property in question with full notice that the sale at auction, under the pretended authority of the said Richard Relf and Beverly Chew, and the said act of sale to the said Evariste Blanc were unauthorized, illegal, null, and void, and in derogation and fraud of the persons entitled to the succession of Daniel Clark. The court further decreed that Mrs. Gaines, as Clark's only and legitimate child and universal legatee, was entitled to the property with all the yearly rents and profits accruing from it since it came into possession of the city, on the 26th of September, 1834, and decreeing an account accordingly, referred it to the master to take the same.
The master reported that the city had never rented the lot on which the draining-house and machinery was built, nor received from it any rents or profits except by an increase of the city revenue, brought about by the fact that the draining-machine had drained a large part of the city, and by making it of use had largely augmented the property in the city that was taxed. While, therefore, he 'found it difficult to fix the amount of rents and profits for which the city was liable on this lot,' he presented certain facts and figures from which the court could reach an equitable result. These were thus: The city, it was estimated, had received from increased taxation of other property, during the term embraced by the order (including interest), $208,825.
Now, this particular lot of land, it was testified, was originally worth $200. The buildings erected by the city, independent of the machinery, cost $18,000. The putting up of the machinery was finished July 1st, 1835 or 1836 (some witnesses testifying to the one year and some to the other), and it was testified that a fair rental of the land and building was $2400 a year. The expense of repairs was $500.
The master, accordingly—disallowing to the city the benefit of the 'prescription of three years,' which it set up against the claim for rents—charged the city on this basis:
Rental value from July 1st, 1835, to
November 1st, 1870,..... $84,800 00
Interest on the rents, at five per cent.,. 72,800 00
--------- $157,600 00
And allowed the city:
Expenses of repairs,..... $17,166 66
Interest on repairs,...... 15,166 55
--------- 32,333 21