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decided: November 7, 1938.



Hughes, McReynolds, Brandeis, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Black, Reed

Author: Reed

[ 305 U.S. Page 93]

 MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

These cases concern the validity of a lease, a contract for maintenance, and a deed conveying or assigning rights of Eliza R. P. Christian, an incompetent, to a one-third undivided interest in land on the Island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii.

The Supreme Court of the Territory of Hawaii in two opinions on separate appeals set aside the deed and refused to set aside the contract or lease. A decree was entered directing the reconveyance to the incompetent of her previously conveyed interest in the tract with adjustments for improvements.*fn1 The Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused to review the first decree on the ground that no final order had been entered.*fn2 Appeals were taken from the second decree by the incompetent and, after severance, by the Waialua Agricultural Company, Limited. The Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the Supreme Court of Hawaii and remanded the cause to that court with directions to remand to the trial court, with instructions to grant relief against the deed upon restitution of the consideration and to take further proceedings in respect to the issues concerning the validity of the lease and contract.*fn3 The petition for rehearing was denied. 94 F.2d 806. Certiorari and cross-certiorari were sought by the respective parties and granted by this Court to review the questions

[ 305 U.S. Page 94]

     presented because of the action of the Circuit Court of Appeals in reversing conclusions of the Supreme Court of Hawaii as to applicable principles of law.*fn4

The incompetent, Mrs. Christian, was born at Makaha in the Hawaiian Islands on December 30, 1885. She was brought to Honolulu by her father in the early 1890's. By 1901 they had gone to live with Mrs. Annie Holt Kentwell, a cousin and one of the nine children of Owen J. Holt. Except for short periods when the incompetent was in boarding school, they lived with her continuously thereafter. The incompetent's grandfather, R. W. Holt, had died in 1862, leaving a will which devised an equal undivided portion of the real estate involved in these cases to each of his three sons for life and then to the heirs of each in fee simple. One of these sons was John Dominis Holt, the father of the incompetent. The father was living at the time of the execution of the documents here questioned, dying in 1922.

That portion of the grandfather's estate involved in these cases consisted of approximately fourteen thousand acres of land. At the time of the first transactions here considered, one of the sons, Owen J. Holt, had died leaving nine children, each entitled to a one-twenty-seventh interest in fee simple in the tracts. A second son, James R. Holt, was living but had conveyed his life estate to his son, James Lawrence Holt. This son had also purchased the contingent remainder of his brother, Robert Holt, and the life estate of the incompetent's father, John Dominis Holt. Subject to whatever risk there was that his father, James R. Holt, born in 1838, would have other children after 1905, James Lawrence Holt was, in the year last mentioned, the owner of a one-third interest in the property, plus the life estate of his uncle, John Dominis Holt, in another third. James Lawrence Holt had transferred

[ 305 U.S. Page 95]

     all these interests to John F. Colburn as Trustee. The property in 1905 was "wholly uncultivated and covered with noxious weeds, including such well-known pests as lantana and klu. The taxes at that time were four years in arrears."

On March 17, 1905, the administrator de bonis non with-the-will-annexed of R. W. Holt, several of the heirs of his son, Owen J. Holt, and the Hawaiian Realty and Maturity Company, Limited, executed a lease to the Waialua Agricultural Company, Limited, for twenty-five years at an annual rental of $9,000. The administrator was treated in this lease as having title to two-thirds of the whole. The owners of the contingent remainders, one of whom was the incompetent, joined with the lessors in covenanting that the lessee while paying said rent "shall peaceably and quietly hold and enjoy the use and possession of said demised premises . . ."

On the 31st day of August, 1906, the incompetent entered into a contract for maintenance with her cousin, Annie Holt Kentwell. This instrument evidenced an assignment of her title and interest in and to any and all rents, issues and profits due or payable under the above lease or "by virtue of being the only child of John Dominis Holt, the elder, and devisee under the will of R. W. Holt, deceased, together with all and every her right to demand, receive, collect and receipt for all such rents, issues, and profits from whomsoever due during the term of" her natural life. The consideration for the contract was the assumption by Mrs. Kentwell of the support and maintenance of the incompetent. The instrument appears in a footnote.*fn5

[ 305 U.S. Page 96]

     A deed was executed on May 2, 1910, in which the incompetent and her husband, Albert Christian, her father, John D. Holt, and Annie Holt Kentwell, and her husband, were parties grantor and James Lawrence Holt was grantee. This deed in consideration of $35,000 conveyed

[ 305 U.S. Page 97]

     "one undivided third part of interest" subject to the grantee's interest and to the lease of 1905. The deed evidenced the intention "to convey all the interest of the said Grantors, whether present, prospective or in remainder, vested or contingent, of every name and description in and to said lands or which they or either of them may hereafter acquire in and to the said lands." The deed further declared that the grantors assigned and set over to the grantee "all claims and demands which they may have arising out of either said instruments [i. e., the ones dealing with James Lawrence Holt's interests and the lease] or in any other way against the said James Lawrence Holt, the said Waialua Agricultural Company, Limited, or the said John F. Colburn, said Trustee," with exceptions not material here. The grantors further agreed to warrant the property conveyed against the claims and demands of all persons.

[ 305 U.S. Page 98]

     The grantee, James Lawrence Holt, and his trustee, John F. Colburn, conveyed the interest and rights acquired by this deed together with the other one-third undivided interest then belonging to James Lawrence Holt to other grantees. By successive conveyances the incompetent's property, covered by the deed of 1910, came into the ownership of the Waialua Agricultural Company, Limited, a defendant in the trial court.

Beginning at about the time when the tract came into the possession of Waialua under the lease, Waialua acquired, through various conveyances, fee simple interests of seven of the nine children of Owen J. Holt. When this action began in 1928, Waialua held in fee simple by color of title twenty-five twenty-sevenths of the property. Under the lease of 1905 it began to improve the property. The lease provided that the improvements would revert to the lessors. After the conveyances in 1910 of the life and remainder interests, covering two-thirds of the fee, Waialua made further important installations. Besides the fourteen thousand acres of the Holt lands, the Waialua plantation includes an additional thirty-six thousand acres. The properties are developed and operated as a unit, -- 9,904 acres in sugar cane, 11,625 acres in pineapple, the balance uncultivated or used for servicing the crop lands. The record shows a total expenditure of $630,722.12 for improvements on the Holt lands between April 1, 1905, and April 5, 1928, when Waialua was notified the deed was questioned. In addition, reservoirs, ditches and other improvements, off the Holt lands but necessary for their use, have cost Waialua $514,594.94. No description is necessary other than to say that the improvements consist of reservoirs and ditches, roads, pumps, communication systems, camps, overseers' houses, and the other usual fixtures and appurtenances necessary for the operation of a large irrigated plantation.

[ 305 U.S. Page 99]

     After the lease had been in operation for a few years, it was found that some 6,500 acres of the Holt lands were suitable for the growing of pineapples. After trying multiple subtenancy, an agreement was made in 1922 with the Hawaiian Pineapple Company giving it an option to lease all the Waialua pineapple lands at $15 per acre. Under the option Waialua invested over three million dollars in the Pineapple Company stock and the Pineapple Company leased 6,475 acres of the Holt lands for seventeen and one-half years ...

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