decided: November 29, 1897.
APPEALS FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF THE TERRITORY OF NEW MEXICO.
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MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.
The question first arising in this case is in regard to the correctness of the decisions of the courts below in allowing complainant's exceptions to portions of the answer of the defendant Harrison and in sustaining the demurrer to defendant's cross bill. The decision of the two matters rests in this case upon essentially the same foundation. If the allegations of the defendant's answer to the original bill are impertinent, it would follow that in this case the cross bill would be multifarious, and that the demurrer on that ground should be sustained. The allegations in the two pleadings are of the same nature, only in the cross bill they are very greatly extended and set forth in almost infinite detail.
Impertinence is described by Lord Chief Baron Gilbert to be: "Where the records of the court are stuffed with long recitals, or with long digressions of matter of fact, which are altogether unnecessary and totally immaterial to the matter in question." 1 Daniell's Chancery Pl. & Pr., (5th Am. ed.) marginal paging, 349. It is also said that impertinence is the introduction of any matters in a bill, answer or other pleading
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in the suit which are not properly before the court for decision at any particular stage of the suit. Wood v. Mann, 1 Sumner, 578. "The best test to ascertain whether matter be impertinent is to try whether the subject of the allegation be put in issue in the matter in dispute between the parties." All matter not material to the suit is regarded as impertinent. Woods v. Morrell, 1 Johns. Ch. 103; 1 Daniell, supra, 349, note.
As to multifariousness, it was said in Shields v. Thomas, 18 How. 253, 259: "There is, perhaps, no rule established for the conducting of equity pleadings, with reference to which (whilst as a rule it is universally admitted) there has existed less of certainty and uniformity in application, than has attended this relating to multifariousness. This effect, flowing, perhaps inevitably, from the variety of modes and degrees of right and interest entering into the transactions of life, seems to have led to a conclusion rendering the rule almost as much an exception as a rule, and that conclusion is, that each case must be determined by its peculiar features. Thus Daniell, in his work on Chancery Practice, vol. 1, p. 384, quoting from Lord Cottenham, says: 'It is impossible, upon the authorities, to lay down any rule or abstract proposition, as to what constitutes multifariousness, which can be made universally applicable. The cases upon the subject are extremely various, and the court, in deciding upon them, seems to have considered what was convenient in particular cases, rather than to have attempted to lay down an absolute rule.'" Continuing his opinion, the learned justice in the above case said: "Justice Story, in his compilation upon equity pleading, defines multifariousness in a bill to mean 'the improperly joining in one bill distinct and independent matters, and thereby confounding them.' . . . Justice Story closes his review of the authorities upon this defect in a bill with the following remark: 'The conclusion to which a close survey of the authorities will conduct us, seems to be, that there is not any positive inflexible rule as to what, in the sense of a court of equity, constitutes multifariousness, which is fatal to a suit on demurrer.'"
Upon consideration of the various cases, we think that in
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allowing the exceptions to the answer and in sustaining the demurrer to the cross bill, the courts below committed no error. The facts which the defendant Harrison endeavored to set up in his answer and cross bill were not relevant to the matters properly in issue in this suit. Neither the convenience of the parties nor their rights in regard to the matters set forth in the original bill would be aided by entering upon an inquiry relating to the matters set up in the answer and cross bill. It is clear that an investigation and accounting, such as is asked for in the cross bill, would take a long time, probably many years, to finish, involving as it would an inquiry into the amount of the community property of the elder Perea and his wife in 1842, and what should be found to be the actual increase springing from the same; also an inquiry into the transactions of the administrators of the estate of the elder Perea and into their liability on account of the same, together with the taking of evidence upon the subject of the fraudulent character of the decree of the probate court discharging the administrators of that estate. It would in addition include an inquiry into the question whether the administrators, if the decree were set aside, had been guilty of such conduct in the care and management of the estate coming into their hands as would make them liable for any loss sustained by the estate in consequence of such action. In fine, it is seen that the character of the investigation demanded by the cross bill and of the relief sought thereby is extensive enough to call for an almost interminable amount of research and labor. These considerations are not of the slightest moment when weighed against the legal rights of the parties interested in the question; and their right to have such investigation made and adequate and proper relief granted is not a matter of discretion or of favor. If they have not slept upon their rights and if they come into court at the proper time and in a proper action, the court will enter upon the necessary investigation and grant such relief as they may be entitled to. On the other hand, these considerations are most material and vital upon the question of the necessity or propriety of such an investigation in this suit which was
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brought for a different purpose, and which would be necessarily greatly delayed in its termination if such an inquiry should be now entered upon.
Let us look for a moment at the simple character of this suit. It is brought to recover as administrator the assets of the estate of the minor already mentioned, the possession of which the defendant Harrison does not deny. He shows no right to them as against the complainant, because the facts he sets up in his answer form no defence. Nor do the same facts when set forth in the cross bill constitute a cause of action against this complainant, proper to be proved and defended against in this suit, as against the demand of the complainant herein. It is plain that the complainant, as the surviving administrator of the estate of the deceased minor, was entitled to the immediate possession of all the assets of such estate. Upon the death of the minor the guardianship of the mother ceased, and as she was thereupon appointed administratrix, her continuing to hold the assets of the estate from the time of such appointment was as administratrix and not as guardian. The counsel for Harrison says in his brief that he is disposed to concede this proposition. It is plainly true. Her right or duty to account, as guardian, did not affect the title to the property upon the death of the ward. That title became vested in the administrator and administratrix upon their appointment. 1 Williams on Executors, (6th Am. ed.) 696. The plaintiff herein, as coadministrator, had the same legal title to the assets that she had. The advantage of possession was with her. But on the death of the administratrix the complainant remained the sole surviving administrator, and in him was vested the exclusive title and the right to the immediate possession of the assets of the estate of the deceased minor. Instead of obtaining that possession he finds all the assets in the hands of the defendant Harrison, who refuses to give them up. Their amount is not really in controversy. The defendant shows no right or title whatever to them. It is no answer to the demand that the defendant should pay over the sum which is in substance acknowledged to be in his possession, to say that the
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minor's estate may be increased after an accounting shall be had and judgment obtained and the money paid over in the matter of the estate of the elder Perea. The claim upon that estate, so far as the defendant Harrison is concerned, either individually or as administrator of his deceased wife, is altogether too remote and too disconnected from the issues properly joined in the original suit herein to make it necessary, on his demand, to turn aside from their decision until that claim shall be hereafter and in this suit determined. It would be entering upon an investigation into matters connected with a different estate, an inquiry into which would involve innumerable questions which would have no bearing upon the decision as to the right of defendant to retain these particular funds now in his individual possession and treated by him as his own.
It must also be borne in mind that the defendant Harrison has an action pending against the complainant herein and the other and surviving administrator of the estate of the elder Perea, together with his other heirs-at-law, in regard to these very matters which are set up in his cross bill herein. Indeed, this cross bill contains nothing material beyond the allegations which are contained in the complaint in his first suit. The allegations in that suit are reintroduced in the cross bill word for word, and the relief prayed for in the cross bill is the same. From all the facts thus appearing in complainant's original bill, in the answer and the cross bill of the defendant Harrison, it is plain that the matters set up in the answer and in the cross bill in regard to which the defendant seeks investigation in this suit are not proper subjects of inquiry herein, because not connected with the issue sought to be decided in the original bill, and it would result in great and unnecessary delay in the decision of this suit to reverse this judgment and direct an investigation into matters which are foreign to its merits. We are of opinion the court below committed no error in allowing complainant's exceptions to the answer and in sustaining his demurrer to the cross bill.
The decision thus arrived at includes the main question in the case. There are some few other matters to be reviewed.
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Our further examination must proceed upon the finding of facts as made by the court below, for this being an appeal from the Supreme Court of a Territory those findings are conclusive upon this court. The jurisdiction of this court on such an appeal, apart from exceptions duly taken to rulings on the admission or rejection of evidence, is limited to determining whether the findings of fact support the judgment. Stringfellow v. Cain, 99 U.S. 610; Neslin v. Wells, 104 U.S. 428; Eilers v. Boatman, 111 U.S. 356; Idaho and Oregon Land Company v. Bradbury, 132 U.S. 509; Mammoth Mining Company v. Salt Lake Machine Company, 151 U.S. 447, 450; Haws v. Victoria Copper Mining Company, 160 U.S. 303; Gildersleeve v. New Mexico Mining Company, 161 U.S. 573; Bear Lake and River Water Works and Irrigation Company v. Garland, 164 U.S. 1, 18.
Objection is made to that portion of the decree which holds the defendant Harrison liable as an individual for the repayment of the amount of the assets of the estate found in his possession. The findings of fact amply justify this action of the court. It is found that immediately upon the intermarriage of the defendant Harrison with the widowed mother of the minor he took entire charge and control of her affairs, including the assets of the minor's estate; that he reduced them to money, mingled the same with his own funds, deposited them in bank to his individual credit and at the time of the final decree he retained the same subject to his individual control. The court also found that he made reports in the lifetime of his wife, and in her name to the probate court, which contained false entries to the advantage of his wife, and that together they obstructed the distribution of the estate among the heirs; that upon the death of his wife on the 20th of October, 1889, he was in possession of these assets with full knowledge of their trust character, and after her death he refused to pay over on demand, to the complainant as the sole surviving administrator of the estate of the minor, the assets pertaining to that estate. These facts show a persistent, deliberate and successful attempt to secure and retain the assets of this estate and to convert them to his own use
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individually. The facts found show that he was guilty of such conversion. Cases are cited by defendant's counsel where payments wrongfully made by an administrator to a third person could not be recovered directly from such third person at the suit of a creditor of the estate, the estate itself not being insolvent. Those cases and the one at bar have no resemblance to each other. This is a case where the whole assets of the estate have been wrongfully and knowingly taken and converted to the individual use of this defendant, and the action is brought to recover the same by the sole surviving administrator of the estate. Nor is it a question of following the specific property which was taken by the defendant. The finding is that he reduced the assets and property of the estate to money and mingled the same with his own funds, and has kept control of them ever since. The question of identification has nothing to do with the case. It is a bald case of the conversion of the whole estate of the minor, and his liability to pay it back is plain and clear.
Nor did the court below err to the prejudice of the defendant in the matter of charging him with interest at six per cent on the amount of the assets converted by him. The interest is charged by reason of his conversion of the whole assets of the estate. It is not a mere mingling of the funds with his own, while recognizing his liability to repay them and having them at the same time ready to respond when demanded. It is a wholesale conversion of the entire assets. The facts found make the inference perfectly clear that such conversion was intended from the time of his marriage with the mother of the minor. His false entries in the reports are very strong evidence in that direction.
Neither is it a question of what profits (if any) have been made by an individual who has mingled trust funds with his own and used them for his personal benefit, although never denying his liability to account. In such cases it is sometimes proper to inquire what profits have been made in order to charge the trustee with their amount, if greater than the usual rate of interest. This is not such a question. The defendant has, without the least right or title, taken moneys
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belonging to the estate of a deceased minor, and converted them substantially to his own use, while denying the right of the administrator of such estate to the possession thereof. He is properly charged, at least, with the usual interest without investigation into the question of what profits he may have made.
That portion of the decree which authorizes the complainant as administrator to retain his statutory commissions upon the full fund found due from the defendant is objected to, and the claim is made that he is not entitled to commission on any other sum than that which he actually receives and pays out. The decree determines the amount due from the defendant to the complainant as administrator. Strictly speaking, the complainant was entitled to a decree for the payment of that full sum by the defendant, after which he would be paid the distributive share legally coming to him. If that course had been followed and such a decree given, the complainant would have been entitled to his statutory fees, as administrator, upon the amount thus paid in; but by the favor of the court, the defendant Harrison was permitted, instead of making this formal payment, to retain in his possession the seventeen twenty-sixths of the estate which the court decided he would be entitled to receive from the administrator, upon his making distribution of such estate to the parties entitled to it. The court in pursuance of this course did not relieve the estate from the payment of the full amount of the commissions of complainant as administrator which he would have been entitled to, had the amount which the defendant retained been actually and physically paid over into his hands. As to this, the defendant has no good ground of complaint.
The defendant also objects to the allowance of the solicitor's fee which is charged against the fund. We think no error arises from this action of the court below. By the exertions of the solicitor the fund was recovered, and it was properly made to bear some portion of the expense of its administration. The amount was within the judicial discretion of the court, and in fixing that amount the trial court could proceed upon its own knowledge of the value of the solicitor's services.
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Trustees v. Greenough, 105 U.S. 527; Fowler v. Equitable Trust Co., 141 U.S. 411, 415.
These are substantially all the questions which arise upon the appeal of the defendant Harrison.
Upon the cross appeal of the complainant he seeks to modify the judgment of the Supreme Court in regard to the parties to the distribution, as he claims that the fund should be distributed, one half to the administrator of the deceased mother of the minor and the other half among his twelve half brothers and sisters, (children of the minor's father,) to the exclusion of the minor's half brother, Grover William Harrison, (the son of his mother by her husband Harrison,) who by the judgment of the court is permitted to share in such distribution. As the trial court made that decree and the complainant did not appeal from it, and the Supreme Court has simply affirmed that provision, the complainant's appeal from the latter decree does not, in our opinion, bring up this question for review. All that the complainant could claim in the Supreme Court was the affirmance of the judgment as given in the court below, because, as he had not appealed from it, he could not be heard to ask for its modification or reversal. When the Supreme Court affirmed that provision of the decree the complainant's appeal from that court would not bring the propriety of the provision for distribution before us.
Upon his cross appeal the complainant also asks for a modification of the decree with regard to the rate of interest charged against defendant, claiming it ought to be 12 instead of 6 per cent. We cannot interfere with the rate charged in the original decree, because the complainant has not appealed therefrom, and we do not think we ought to interfere with the rate of 6 per cent charged by the Supreme Court upon the total amount of the original decree from the time it was entered. It was to a certain extent discretionary with the latter court, and we think we are not called upon to alter and increase the rate charged by that court.
Although the complainant herein did not appeal from the original decree entered by the trial court, yet upon defendant Harrison's appeal therefrom the Supreme Court modified the
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decree in some particulars, and specially in regard to costs, charging them upon the fund instead of against the defendant Harrison individually, as was the decree below. This was a modification of the judgment against the interest of and unfavorable to the complainant herein, as it reduced the amount of the fund for distribution. This question can be reviewed upon the complainant's cross appeal. We are of opinion that there was no proper groun for the modification of the decree as to costs made by the trial court.
The defendant Harrison, by the finding of the court, has wilfully obstructed the distribution of the assets of this estate, and by his misconduct has rendered it necessary that the complainant should obtain possession of them by the institution of this suit, and the necessity for commencing it arose entirely out of his wrongful conduct. This is the finding as approved by the Supreme Court of the Territory. The other findings, showing the false accounts, the wrongful conversion of these moneys, and the wrongful and persistent refusal to pay them over, on demand made by the administrator, altogether make out a gross case against the defendant, and leave no reasonable foundation for permitting him, as the Supreme Court does, to defend this action entirely at the expense of the fund and with no personal responsibility for costs. We see no plausible ground for this privilege.
A clerical error seems to have been made in the distribution by the Supreme Court. One twenty-sixth part of the estate is undisposed of by the judgment. It provides for the payment of seventeen twenty-sixths to defendant Harrison, and distributes the remaining nine twenty-sixths, one ninth to each of eight named distributees. One name has been accidentally omitted. This can be corrected on application by the court below.
The provision making all the costs payable out of the fund cannot stand, and the decree should charge defendant Harrison with costs personally as in the original decree entered by the trial court, with the exception that the amount of the fee of the special master is retained at $500. All the costs in this court must be paid by the defendant Harrison
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personally. The decree of the Supreme Court of New Mexico is therefore
Reversed on the cross appeal of Perea, and the cause remanded with instructions to enter judgment in conformity with this opinion, with liberty to change the distribution upon application if it shall appear proper.
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