Слике страница
PDF
ePub

Opinion of the Court.

jurisdiction shall be first tried and determined in the appropriate tribunal in such manner as counsel

may

advise." Thereupon, on January 8, 1890, complainants filed their original bill in this cause, to which Augusta P. Glover interposed a demurrer and answer, and also filed a cross bill in which her husband joined. This was followed by a variety of answers, motions, demurrers and amendments unnecessary to be set forth in detail, as the material facts already sufficiently appear. Subsequently a considerable amount of oral and documentary evidence was taken and returned; and the cause having been transferred to the Court of Appeals of the District in pursuance of the act of Congress approved February 9, 1893, that court on November 8, 1893, entered a decree that the complainants were entitled to the relief prayed for, and that the cause be remanded to the Supreme Court with directions to enter a decree in conformity with the opinion of the court. 1 App. Cas. D. C. 466. From this decree Augusta and her husband appealed to this court.

Mr. Charles J. Bonaparte for appellants.

Mr. Henry E. Davis for appellees.

Mr. Justice Brown, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

The object of this bill is to determine certain questions in aid of another branch of the same court, sitting as an orphans' court, and already in possession of a petition by the complainants to establish an indebtedness against the estate of their mother, action upon which petition was suspended by that branch of the court, awaiting the determination of these questions.

The theory of the complainants is that the amount of Mrs. Patten's indebtedness to her daughters was adjusted and settled by mutual agreement of the parties, evidenced by the instrument of September, 1885, at the sum of $102,600 each: that defendant, Augusta P. Glover, received her share upon her marriage, by a transfer of $80,000 of the United States bonds,

Opinion of the Court.

worth $102,800, and that the complainants received a credit in October, 1887, of $11,250 each.

The theory of the appellants is that the relation of the testatrix to her children was that of trustee, and not of debtor, and that the will, by reason of its provisions, operated the extinguishment, discharge and payment of the complainants’ claims, and that said claims ceased to be provable as debts against the estate.

Several assignments of error are filed, which will be disposed of in their order.

1. That Helen was improperly joined in the bill as complainant, because she was not a party to the instrument of September, 1885. Being a minor, she did not sign the instrument, and would not have been bound by it if she had done so; but if there were any indebtedness to the children, it arose from the fact that the mother was guardian of all of them; that the law made no discrimination between them, and such indebtedness was due as much to Helen as to the others. While the instrument makes no mention of the children by name, it was evidently intended as much for her benefit as that of the other sisters, and upon her arriving at her majority, she had her election either to disaffirm it, or to adopt it as an adjustment of the amount due to herself. She chose the latter alternative, and in her petition to the orphans' court, of May 10, 1889, for the allowance of her claim, avers: “That the petitioner, Helen Patten, being fully advised in the premises, now adopts and accepts saiel agreement and the settlement aforesaid as though she had duly participated in the same at the time of the making thereof." An infant may affirm a contract or settlement thus made for her benefit, and may sue upon it as if she were originally a party to it. Irrespective, however, of any promise which the law might imply from the procurement by Mrs. Patten of the execution of this instrument by her daughters, if there were any indebtedness arising from her relation as guardian to her children, it existed in favor of Helen as much as the others, and as evidence of the amount of such indebtedness this document is as potent in her behalf as in that of her sisters.

VOL. CLX-26

Opinion of the Court.

2. The second assignment, that there is a non-joinder of necessary parties defendant, is based upon the theory that there are three legatees interested in the estate to the amount of $15,000; that there is no averment that these legatees have been paid, or can be paid in full, out of the personal estate if the claims of the complainants and those of other creditors are satisfied. There is nothing in this objection. The complainants do not sue as executrices, but expressly aver that they bring the suit “in their own right” as creditors of their mother's estate, and for the purpose of establishing their debt. To such a suit other creditors are not necessary parties. The case of Dandridge v. Washington's Executors, 2 Pet. 370, 377, is directly in point. This was a suit brought by the plaintiff against the executors of the will of Mrs. Martha Washington to obtain payment of legacies bequeathed to him in her last will. In reply to an objection that the residuary legatees under the will should have been made parties, Mr. Chief Justice Marshall observed : " They have undoubtedly an interest in reducing the sum to be allowed out of it to the complainant, but they have the same interest in reducing every demand on the estate. Whatever remains sinks into the residuum, and that residuum is diminished as well by the claims of creditors and specific legatees as by this. In all such cases the executors represent the residuary legatees and guard their interests. It is a part of that duty which requires them to protect the interests of the estate. In such suits the residuary legatees are never made parties. To require it would be an intolerable burden on those who have claims on an estate in the hands of executors." If this be the law with respect to residuary legatees, who are necessarily and directly interested in defeating every other claim against the estate, with much greater force is the rule applicable to specific legatees, who are in much less danger of being affected by the allowance of other claims. That such legatees need not be joined is as clearly settled as that other libellants need not be joined as respondents in a suit in admiralty to establish a claim against a vessel, although they may be admitted to defend. Wiser v. Blachly, 1 Johns. Ch. +37; Pritchard v.

9

Opinion of the Court.

Hicks, 1 Paige, 270; West v. Randall, 2 Mason, 181; Daniel's Ch. Prac. c. 5, $ 2.

3. That there is no equity in the bill. Defendants' position in this connection is, that the case made is an indebtedness created by the instrument of September, 1885, to which Helen was not a party ; that there was no agreement by Mrs. Patten to pay the sum named, or any sum whatever, and that the paper constituted a mere offer on the part of each of her children to receive a specified sum in satisfaction of her claim against her as guardian; that this paper, therefore, is no contract, and contains no promise on the part of the mother; that the only right which the complainants have to come into equity arose from the fact that, being executrices, they cannot sue themselves, and, therefore, cannot recover by action at law the debt due them by their testatrix; that, if the bill failed to show that they could have sued at law during their inother's lifetime, or could now sue her executrices, were they some one else than themselves, they have no better standing in equity than at law.

This, however, is a somewhat inaccurate statement of the complainants' case. The averment of the amended bill is (paragraph 6) that in her lifetime the said testatrix was indebted to the complainants and the defendant Augusta P. Glover, by reason of the fact that they had inherited from their father an estate which was received and retained by the testatrix as their guardian, and that in “September, 1885, the amount of indebtedness of said testatrix in the premises, on account of the estate aforesaid, was adjusted, settled and determined by mutual agreement of the said testatrix on the one part, and on the other the complainants and the said defendant, except the complainant Helen Patten,” who was a minor. The amended bill further avers (paragraph 12) that “it then was and for a long time theretofore had been the duty in law of said testatrix, guardian as aforesaid, to deliver to them and each of them their said estate as aforesaid, the same consisting in contemplation of law exclusively of money; that thereby the said testatrix, as guardian aforesaid, was and had theretofore become in law the debtor of the complainants,

Opinion of the Court.

and the said defendant and each of them without regard to said paper so drawn and signed as aforesaid, and the said paper was only in law an adjustment, accounting and settlement between the said testatrix, guardian as aforesaid, on the one part, and the complainants and said defendant, on the other, having for its object and purpose the ascertainment of the amount of indebtedness of the said testatrix to the complainants and the said defendant and each of them.”

As, under the laws of Nevada, the children were entitled to one half their father's estate, and as the mother received the entire estate and dealt with it as if she were the sole proprietor, although she was in fact guardian and trustee for her children as to their share, it requires no argument to show that she held a moiety in trust for them; was bound to account to them whenever an account was demanded, and was bound to pay to each of them one fifth of such moiety. Regularly this accounting should have been made to the court in Nevada, which granted the letters of administration, but as there was no one interested in the estate except herself and her children, she adopted the easier course of settling with them directly, and procured from them their assent to the instrument of September, 1885. While Helen was not a party to this instrument, by reason of non-age, as she stood in the same position to the estate as her sisters, and was equally a creditor of her mother, there is no reason why the instrument may not be used as an acknowledgment of her mother's indebtedness to her, as well as to the others. The fact that the sisters became executrices of their mother's will did not cancel such indebtedness, but rendered it impossible to bring an action at law, inasmuch as they would be plaintiffs in their own right and defendants as executrices. They did, however, petition the orphans' court for the allowance of their claims, making their sister, the only person interested adversely to them, a party to the proceeding. That court, instead of passing on the matter directly, thought it a proper subject for the advice of a court of chancery, and directed this bill to be filed. We are of opinion that upon its face it discloses a good cause of action.

« ПретходнаНастави »