Byers v. Surget (1856)

In Byers v. Surget (1856) 60 U.S. 303, lands to the amount of 14,000 acres, and estimated at from $40,000 to $70,000 in value, were sold by the sheriff in satisfaction of a judgment for costs of $39, to the attorney for the successful party, and conveyed to him for $9.31. The sale was pronounced to have been fraudulent and void, and a reconveyance of the property was decreed. It appeared that the owner of the property had no knowledge of the suit until he was informed of the sale of the land; that the attorney for the successful party, the defendant, assumed himself the power to tax the costs, the right of selecting the final process, of prescribing the description and quantity of the property which he chose to have seized in satisfaction, of directing the sheriff as to the various steps to be taken by him, and of becoming the purchaser himself for the petty sum of $9.31. Of this proceeding, Mr. Justice Daniel, in delivering the opinion of the court, remarked: "Such is the history of a transaction which the appellant asks of this court to sanction, and it seems pertinent here to inquire under what system of civil polity, under what code of law or ethics, a transaction like that disclosed by the record in this case can be excused, or even palliated." The Supreme Court also said: "It is insisted that inadequacy of consideration, singly, cannot amount to proof of fraud. This position, however, is scarcely reconcilable with the qualification annexed to it by the courts, namely, unless such inadequacy be so gross as to shock the conscience; for this qualification implies necessarily the affirmation that, if the inadequacy be of a nature so gross as to shock the conscience, it will amount to proof of fraud."