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October 1, 1876


APPEAL from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The facts are stated in the opinion of the court. Submitted on printed arguments by Mr. J. W. Kirker for the appellants. No counsel appeared for the appellees.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Miller delivered the opinion of the court.

Michael O'Hara was adjudged a bankrupt Dec. 9, 1867, and the appellees duly appointed assignees, to whom an assignment of his effects was made in due form. As such assignees, they filed in the Circuit Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania the bill in chancery on which the decree was rendered from which the present appeal is taken. The bill alleges that a conveyance of certain real estate made by said O'Hara and his wife, Frances, on the tenth day of July, 1866, to William Harrison and G. L. B. Fetterman, in trust for the use of the wife, was a fraud upon creditors, and prays that the deed be declared void, and that O'Hara, his wife, and Barr, her guardian, be decreed to convey the land to complainants, that they may sell it for the benefit of O'Hara's creditors, free from the embarrassment created by said deed of trust.

The bill also alleges that Mrs. O'Hara is a minor, and that A. M. Barri is her legal guardian.

A subpoena was issued on the fifth day of April, 1869, and served on the 7th, on O'Hara, for himself and wife, and on Barr; and on the seventh day of May following, without appearance, and without answer by any defendant, the bill was amended, was taken as confessed, and a final decree rendered. This decree enjoined the defendants from setting up any claim to the land, and ordered all of them to convey and release the same to the assignees; and, in default of such conveyance within thirty days, Henry Sproul was appointed commissioner to do it in their name. A copy of this decree was served on the defendants May 10; and on the 14th of June the order was complied with, by a deed made by O'Hara, his wife, and Barr, which on its face purports to be in execution of the order, and for the consideration of one dollar. It will thus be seen, that within less than five weeks from the filing of the bill, and without any actual service of the writ or other notice on her, a decree was entered against a woman who was both a minor and a feme covert, without the appointment of a guardian ad litem, without any appearance by her or for her, depriving her of fourteen acres of land now within the limits of the city of Pittsburg. It is from this decree that she appeals.

By the thirteenth rule of practice of the courts of equity of the United States, as it stood when the subpoena in this case was served, a delivery of a copy to the husband was good, where husband and wife were sued together; but the rule was amended by this court in 1874, so as to require a personal service on each defendant, or by leaving a copy for each at his or her usual place of abode, with some adult member of the family. The service in the present case would not now be good, though it must be held to have been so at the time it was made.

It would be very strange if a decree obtained under such circumstances could stand the test of a critical examination. We are of opinion that there are several errors sufficient to justify its reversal.

1. It was the duty of the court, where the bill on its face showed that the party whose interest was the principal one to be affected by the decree was both a minor and a feme covert, and that no one appeared for her in any manner to protect her interest, to have appointed a guardian ad litem for that purpose. If neither her husband nor he who is styled her guardian in the bill appeared to defend her interest, it was the more imperative that the court should have appointed some one to do it. There is no evidence in the record, except the statement in the bill, that Dr. Barr was her guardian. If he was not, then there was no one served with notice, whose legal duty it was to defend her. If he was her guardian, there is no evidence of the precise nature of his duties or power, as there are several classes of guardians. As to the particular property now in contest, she had a trustee, in whom the title was vested for her use, and whose duty it would have been to protect her interest in it; but, strangely enough, he was not made a party. It was, therefore, error in the court to proceed to a decree without appointing a guardian ad litem. 1 Daniell's Ch. Pr. 160, c. 4, sect. 9; Coughlin's Heirs v. Brents, 1 McLean, 175; Lessee of Nelson v. Moore, 3 id. 321.

2. If Mrs. O'Hara had been under no disability, it was error to have entered a final decree for want of appearance of the return day of the writ, or during that term.

'According to the practice of the English Chancery Court,' says Mr. Justice Washington, in Pendleton v. Evans's Ex'r, 4 Wash. C. C. 337, 'a bill cannot be taken pro confesso after service of subpoena, and even after appearance, until all the processes of contempt to a sequestration have been exhausted; after which the bill is taken pro confesso, and a decree passes which is absolute in the first instance.' He then comments on the practice of the New York Chancery Court, which, instead of a proceeding in contempt, required a rule to answer to be served on the defendant; and, if this was not obeyed, the bill might be then taken pro confesso. He then adds: 'The principle which governs the practice in both these courts is, that the defendant stall not be taken by surprise, but shall have sufficient warning before a decree is entered against him by default.' He then states the practice by the rules adopted by the Supreme Court for the Federal courts, as follows: 'If the answer, the subpoena being returned executed, be not filed within three months after the day of appearance and bill filed, then defendant is to be ruled to answer, and, failing to do so, the bill may be taken for confessed, and the matter thereof decreed immediately; but this decree is only nisi, to be made absolute at the term succeeding that to which service of a copy of the decree shall be returned executed, unless cause to the contrary be shown.' And in the case of Read v. Consequa, 4 Wash. C. C. 180, where a bill on which an injunction had been allowed had remained unanswered, and without appearance of defendant, who had been duly served five years before, he refused to grant an order taking the bill pro confesso because it would be irregular.

What a contrast to the speed with which the decree was entered in the case before us!

Rules 18 and 19 of the equity practice as now existing have modified those which are mentioned by Judge Washington, and, unless the defendant demur, plead, or answer, on or before the rule-day next succeeding his appearance, the plaintiff may enter an order in the order-book that the bill be taken pro confesso, and the matter thereof decreed at the next succeeding term. But in the case before us the final decree was entered on the day fixed for appearance, or, at most, at the same term.

The standing rule now requires defendant to plead by the next rule-day after appearance, which is the same as if a special rule were taken on him to do so.

It is, therefore, clear that final decree could not be made, even under the present rules, until the term of the court next succeeding the day of default.

The remarks of Mr. Justice Washington show that these rules are not merely technical and arbitrary, but are made to prevent a defendant ...

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