Stanley v. Colt (1866) – Case Brief Summary (U.S. Supreme Court)

In Stanley v. Colt (1866) 72 U.S. 119, the will of Stanley gave certain real property to a religious corporation and provided that the property should be leased in the manner set forth in the will and never sold. Pursuant to an enabling act of the legislature of the state of Connecticut, where the property was situated, portions of this property were sold, one parcel to the defendant Colt against whom ejectment was brought by the heirs at law of the testator.

The Supreme Court of the United States held that the action was properly dismissed, holding that the will simply established a code of regulations to guide the trustees and which would continue for all time; and that this was wholly inconsistent with the idea that the estate might be defeated by a breach of any one of them; that it was a devise in fee upon trust; that the heirs at law could not take advantage of a condition broken, although the cestui que trustcould compel an observance of the trust by a suit in equity.

The court held that there was a condition created by the use of the word "provided," which was an appropriate word to constitute a common law condition in a deed or will, but that this is not the fixed and invariable meaning attached to it by the law and on the contrary it gives way to the intent of the parties as gathered from an examination of the whole instrument.

The Supreme Court of the United States considered an act of the Connecticut Legislature authorizing the sale of land held in a charitable trust created by a will specifically forbidding sale of the land.

The constitutionality of the act was assailed on the ground among others that it impaired the obligation of a contract.

Justice Nelson, after referring to the power of a court of equity to authorize the sale of lands in a charitable trust, said:

"This power, in the state of Connecticut, it appears, is exercised by its legislature, as in the present instance. Many acts of the kind have been referred to in the argument, extending through a long series of years down to the present time.

"We cannot doubt that the power exists in the legislature, and it is not for this court to revise the facts upon which it has seen fit to exercise it. Judgment affirmed."