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Catron

United States Supreme Court

37 U.S. 241

Jenkins  v.  Pye

ON appeal from the circuit court of the United States of the District of Columbia, for the county of Alexandria.

In the circuit court, the appellees filed their bill against John J. Jenkins, and Mary, the wife of Robert Morrow, children of George Jenkins by a second wife; the said George Jenkins having died on the 8th day of April, 1831; to set aside a certain deed executed by Eleanor Jenkins, who was the daughter of George Jenkins and the had first intermarried with Mary died in 1818. George Jenkins had first intermarried with Mry Arell, who, as one of the heirs of Richard Arell, was entitled to considerable real estate; of which partition was made in 1797. She died, leaving but one child, the mother of the complainants; and her estate descended to her daughter, subject to a life estate in George Jenkins, as tenant by the curtesy. George Jenkins, after her decease, married and had children by his second wife, one of whom is one of the appellants in the case. The deed was duly executed by the mother of the complainants, on the 15th of March, 1813, and recorded on the 3d of November, in the same year; and conveyed in fee simple to George Jenkins, for a nominal consideration, all the real estate and ground rents to which she was entitled as the heir of her mother. The bill also sought to recover the value of certain real estate, part of that conveyed to George Jenkins, which was afterwards sold by him to different persons; and also the rents of part of the real estate left unsold at the death of George Jenkins, and received by the executor, after his decease. The complainants charge in their bill, that the deed executed by their mother, being made wholly without consideration, operated to create a resulting trust in favour of Eleanor Jenkins and her heirs: and they claim, if this cannot be sustained, that the deed was obtained by the undue influence of paternal authority; and was therefore void against the grantor and her heirs, in equity: and ask that it be vacated as to all the property conveyed by it, which was unsold at the decease of George Jenkins.

The answer of the defendants denies that any undue influence was exercised by George Jenkins over his daughter; who, when she executed the deed, was twenty-three years of age, and was at the time well acquainted with her rights, and with the value of the property. On the trial it was admitted, that no undue influence was exercised by the father; and it was in evidence, that when the deed was recorded, George Jenkins gave to his daughter two thousand dollars in bank stock. This, and the further consideration that the daughter was to receive a proportionate part of her father's estate, who, in addition to the property conveyed by the deed, was wealthy; and the estate conveyed being such as required large expenses for its preservation and improvement; were asserted to be a valuable consideration for the deed.

The circuit court decreed the deed to be null and void; because the same was made without 'any consideration,' and because the same was obtained 'soon after the minority of said Eleanor, and while she yet remained under his power and control, and uninformed of the nature and extent of her rights;' and having decreed also, that one of the appellants, John J. Jenkins, as administrator aforesaid, should pay three thousand six hundred and seventy-seven dollars and one cent, being a balance due, after deducting two thousand dollars, paid on the 3d of November, 1813, with interest from 8th of April, 1831, on account of money received for sales of part of said property; and also, the sum of one thousand one hundred and sixty-seven dollars and five cents, amount of rents alleged to have been received since the death of the said George Jenkins; and also, the sum of eighteen dollars and twenty-five cents, with interest from said 8th of April, 1831, which had been received by George Jenkins on the partition of the estate, for owelty of partition, awarded in 1797.

The defendants appealed to this Court. The case was argued by Mr. Robert I. Brent and Mr. Jones for the appellants, and by Mr. Simmes, and Coxe for the appellees.

Mr. Brent contended,

1st. That there can be no resulting trust as charged in the bill; because that doctrine is confined to cases where the trust results to a purchaser taking a conveyance in the name of a third person, or similar cases; 2 Atkyn's Rep. 256; 2 Mad. Chan. Prac. 113; 4 Kent's Com. (ed. 1832,) 305.

2d. The bill takes the alternative ground, in case the resulting trust fails; that the deed of March, 1813, executed by Eleanor Jenkins (the daughter) to George Jenkins, (the father,) was obtained by the undue influence of paternal authority.

The answer of the defendants positively denies the charge of undue influence; and this denial is conclusive to negative the charge in the absence of all other testimony.

The case of the complainants stands alone on the broad and naked principle that all transactions or dealings between parent and child by which a benefit passes to the former is interdicted, 'ipso facto;' by the policy of the law. We deny that such is the settled rule of law, and confidently assert, that in every adjudged case there was some circumstance of undue influence proved, and required by the court as a material ingredient. Huguenir v. Basely, 14 Vesey, 291; 2 Atkyns, 254, 258; 1 Peere Williams, 607; 1 Peere Williams, 639; 1 Atkyns, 402; 2 Atkyns, 85; 2 Atkyns, 160; 1 Mad. Chan. Prac. 309; Green v. Green, 1 Bros. Parl. Cas. 143; Lewis v. Pead, 1 Ves. Jr., 19; Pratt v. Barker, 1 Simon's Rep. 1; King v. Hamlett; 2 Mylne and Keene, 474, 480; Pothier, Oblig. (old edit.) 22.

3d. Admitting that this deed was purely voluntary, an absolute gift of all the property by a daughter twenty-three years of age to her father; still the conveyance ought to be sustained, because it may have been the true interest of Eleanor Jenkins to place herself on the same footing with her brother and sister by a different mother: her father was a man of large fortune, and it might be greatly to her benefit to divest herself of her remote reversion, and come in, share and share alike, with her brother and sister.

At all events, such a settlement would be reasonable and just towards her half-brother and sister; and on that ground alone would be valid; 1 Atkyns, 5, 6.

4th. Whatever may have been the abuse of parental authority by George Jenkins in procuring the deed of March, 1813; the equity of the complainants is lost by the lapse of time, (nineteen years,) and the circumstances of the case.

On this point it appears that Eleanor Jenkins was not married for two years after the date of the deed; and that she lived several years after her intermarriage with James Pye (the next friend of the infant complainants); that George Jenkins lived until 1831; and that not a word of complaint against the fairness of the deed of March, 1813, was ever uttered in the lifetime of either of the original parties to that deed. The Court would make wild work to unravel the transaction under such circumstances. Bower v. Carter, 5 Vesey, 875, 879; 17 Vesey, 97, 100; 1 Jac. & Walk. 63.

5th. But conceding all previous propositions, it appears that two thousand dollars was paid by George Jenkins to Eleanor Jenkins on the 3d November, 1813, the day of recording the deed; this was a full and adequate consideration for the reversion dependant on a robust life, and considering the dilapidated situation of the property. And it farther appears, that George Jenkins applied one thousand dollars to the education of Sarah M. Pye (one of the complainants); these facts prove the consideration paid, and to be paid, for the purchase of Eleanor Jenkins' reversionary interest.

6th. On the hypothesis that the deed of March, 1813 is to be annulled, then the court below erred in not allowing the appellants interest on the sum of two thousand dollars paid to Eleanor Jenkins, on the 3d of November, 1813; and in not crediting George Jenkins' estate with the advances made by him to the children of Eleanor Jenkins; and which could not be considered in the light of donations, if this deed is pronounced invalid. Slocum v. Marshal, 2 Wash. C. C. R. 401.

7th. The court erred in charging George Jenkins' estate with a sum of money paid him in 1797, in right of his wife, (the mother of Eleanor Jenkins) for owelty of partition; because, first, the bill did not claim it, 9 Cranch, 19; second, the husband was entitled to the money as personalty not realty, 1 Har. & Gill, 277.

Mr. Jones stated that there was nothing in this case, upon the bill, answer and evidence, but the case of a daughter of full age, having conveyed her residuary interest in her estate to her father; he having an intermediate estate for life in the property, as a tenant by the curtesy. At the time of the conveyance, he was in full life and health; and he actually lived eighteen years after the conveyance was made. There is no allegation of undue parental influence. This is disclaimed; and the high character of the father forbids such a belief. The father appropriated two thousand dollars of stock to the benefit of the daughter, on the day the conveyance was recorded; which amount he received from the sale, in fee simple, of a part of the estate, which was at the same time sold for three thousand dollars.

If the deed is to be set aside, it will be on the principle that such a conveyance by a daughter to a father cannot be made. That the relations of a child to a parent are such, as to forbid her the exercise of a fair and just discretion and judgment; and that a court of chancery will presume all such conveyances fraudulent, and will avoid them.

Mr. Jones denied that such principles were just to the relations of a parent to a child; and he denied that any such rule had been established by the decisions of courts of chancery.

No case had been cited, and none could be found, in which the mere fact of such a conveyance furnished a ground to vacate it. In all the cases there had been other matters which satisfied the chancellor that the deed should be avoided.

The presumption should be in favour of such a transaction as that before the Court. It was between a father and his child; between one who had every inducement, from nature and from duty, to take care of and protect and promote the interests of his child. Would the Court, against these bonds of union, against the influence of a relationship which should be believed to operate only for the benefit of the child, infer the violation of every duty, and believe that all these feelings were disregarded? Would they apply a rule to such a case, which could have had no origin but in a bosom devoid of every affection which should prevail in it? A court of chancery, to adopt such principles, must disregard the best and the most influential sympathies and affections of our nature; and must look at man as wanting in all that ornaments and dignifies him.

Mr. Semmes, for the appellees, after fully stating the facts, regretted that his absence from the Court during the opening argument of the counsel for the appellants on the previous day, would limit his remarks to a consideration of the causes of error assigned by the appellants in their printed brief. These assignments of error he would, however, take up seriatim; and felt confident that an investigation of them would disclose the whole merits of the controversy, both on the law and the facts.

The appellants contend that the decree ought to be reversed for the following reasons:

1st. That the court below erred in refusing to allow the appellants to amend their answer, upon newly discovered evidence, so as to plead the fact of a valuable consideration having been paid for the property conveyed in the deed, in order to let in proof of the same.

The prayer of the petition was properly refused. It was made after the hearin-after the court had pronounced their opinion in the case, and were about proceeding to enter a final decree. Petitions to amend the pleadings both at law and in equity are addressed to the sound discretion of the Court; when that discretion has once been exercised, it is absolute, and admits of no question. A refusal to permit such amendments can never be assigned as error in an appellate court. Were the action of the court below subject to such revision, it would cease to have a discretion in the matter. Amendments in an answer will never be permitted after the hearing. Cited 1 Harr. Chan. Prac. 226, et seq.; Rawlins v. Powell, 1 P. Wms. 297; Calloway v. Dobson, 1 Brockenborough, 119.

But the petition was rightly refused on the face of it. It does not allege the discovery of new evidence; but is in truth a prayer to amend, that a new version may be given to a fact already before the court, and on which they had judicially passed. The amendment desired was, that they might allege a transfer of two thousand dollars in bank stock, made November 3d, 1813, to be the consideration of the deed executed on March 15th, 1813. It was a petition for a new argument on the state of facts already considered by the court. The answer of Jenkins had alleged the transfer of large amounts of bank stock; the report of the master commissioner, and the certificate of the bank clerk, had ascertained that amount to have been the two thousand dollars in question; this was then before the court; was claimed as an offset in the court below by the appellants; and when, two years after the commissioner's report, the court were about proceeding to a final decree, this petition was put in for an amendment, by which a fact so well known might be wrested to a purpose that the zealous defence of the appellants below had never until that moment contemplated. This transfer of bank stock, which can never be admitted as the consideration of the deed from Eleanor to her father; will assume a more important aspect in considering the next cause of error in the appellants' brief.

The petition was, moreover, defective in a material point. While it alleged that this bank stock was the consideration of the deed, and prayed the amendment to let in proof of that fact; it did not allege the existence of evidence to substantiate the position, nor show a probable case to the court that such was likely to be proven. The petition to amend was, under all the circumstances, properly refused.

The next cause of error is:

2dly. That said deed does not operate as a resulting trust, as charged in this case.

Although it is perfectly competent for the appellees to insist that in this case a trust did technically result to the grantor and her heirs, yet they do not consider it necessary to rely on that point. That such trust on the facts of this case would have resulted, cited 2 Story's Equity, 440.

The facts show that the original parties to the deed must have contemplated a trust. The two thousand dollars now sought to be made the consideration of the deed, was part of the larger sum of three thousand dollars; for which one of the lots, covered by it, was sold a few days before to Harper & Davis. Here was a direct application by the grantee, to the use of the grantor, of part of the pro ceeds of the property.

It was a direct recognition of the implied trust by George Jenkins; and alone would warrant the inference that such was the contemplation of the parties. But this point in the appellants' brief, as well as the next, which is:

3dly. That there was no 'undue influence' used, as charged in this case; and that the evidence upon this point, so far as it goes, shows the reverse, may be properly included under the fourth; which is the only material question presented by the record. It may be as well, however, here to remark, that the appellees do not rely on any allegation of actual 'undue influence;' they do not impugn the validity of this deed, on any charge of actual fraud. The grounds on which they contend for its nullity, will be presently considered. The answer of Jenkins is conclusive as to the point of restraint and coercion. Being responsive to the bill, and uncontradicted by testimony, it disposes of that question. The appellees, then, must resort to higher and sterner principles of equity jurisprudence to sustain their case.

The next, and only important point made by the appellants, is:

4thly. That said deed is valid, both in law and in equity.

No doctrine of the law is more firmly established, or more frequently acted on by courts of equity, than that all agreements, contracts, and conveyances procured by fraud, imposition, or undue influence, are null and void. As the rule is imperative where actual fraud is established; so is it equally binding when the circumstances of the case, or the relations subsisting between the parties, are such as to raise the presumption of implied fraud, or to warrant the inference that one of the contracting parties might have been subjected to oppression, or undue influence. The rule may appear arbitrary and unjust at first sight, as calculated to impair the free exercise of volition in persons competent to contract; and as having a tendency to destroy vested rights, and operate injuriously on innocent third persons. Correctly viewed, however, it will not appear obnoxious to such objections. The policy of the law must lay out and define certain general principles as guides of action, and rules for construing all instruments and agreements.

Another broad department of equity jurisdiction is comprised in the protection it holds out to parties whom the law does not consider as altogether sui juris, in respect to the exercise of proprietary rights; or as liable to be influenced by circumstances peculiar to their age, capacity, or situation. Protecting weak and incapacitated persons from the effects of their own injudicious contracts, it well becomes the jealous spirits of the courts to have marked out certain social relations as peculiarly subject to suspicion and caution, in respect to all agreements between persons affected by considerations or motives arising out of the relationship in question. Where one party is not perfectly free to act, and the other party has availed himself of his power and influence in procuring a conveyance or contract, courts of equity dispense with proof of actual fraud or imposition; but inferring constraint from the relations of the parties, will set aside such contract or conveyance, as contrary to public policy. In all cases, the onus probandi is on the party setting up such contract, to show an adequate consideration, and the bona fide character of the transaction. The relations between guardian and ward, parent and child, solicitor or attorney and client, trustee and cestui que trust, master and servant, and the case of expectant heirs, and of reversioners, are jealously watched; and all contracts made during its existence, by the minor party, in each of these relations to the superior, are scrutinized jealously; and, in some cases, on bare suspicion of undue influence; in others, on the mere relation of the parties, fraud is inferred; and the contract or conveyance set aside. Contracts made soon after the termination of such relations, are, on the same principle of policy, subjected to the operation of the same wholesome rule. Nor will lapse of time, or the death of the fraudulent purchaser, so affect the case as to preclude the grantor, and those claiming under him, from setting aside the contract. Authorities cited, Morse v. Royal, 12 Ves. 371; Wright v. Proud, 13 Ves. 137; Murray v. Palmer, 2 Sch. and Lef. 474; Osmond v. Fitzroy, 3 P. Wms. 131; Huguenin v. Baseley, 14 Ves. 273; 2 Eden, 286; Rhodes v. Cook, 2 Sim. and Stu. 448; Davis v. Duke of Marlborough, 2 Swanst. 139; Gowland v. De Faria, 17 Ves. 20; Peacock v. Evans, 16 Ves. 512; Evans v. Lewellen, 1 Cox's Rep. 333; S.C.. 2 Bro. C. C. 120; Gwynne v. Heaton, 1 Bro. C. C. 1; Bell v. Howard, 9 Mod. 302; Young v. Peachy, 2 Atk. 254; and the case of Glissen v. Ogden, therein referred to; Heron v. Heron, 2 Atk. 160; Blunden v. Barker, 1 P. Wms. 639; S.C.. 10 Mod. 451; Broderick v. Broderick, 1 P. Wms. 239; Scrope v. Offley, 1 Bro. P. C. 276; Gould v. Okeden, 4 Bro. P. C. 198; Twisleton v. Griffith, 1 P. Wms. 310; Jeremy's Equity, 394, et seq.; 1 Story's Equity, 304 to 324, inclusive; and Waller v. Armistead's Administrators, 2 Leigh, 11.

The case at bar, is one peculiarly calling for the application of the principles recognised and established by the authorities cited. The case is that of a deed made without consideration, from a young daughter, not twenty-three years of age, to her wealthy father, with whom she resided: conveying all her property. Her father was tenant by the curtesy, and held the particular life estate; her estate was the reversion descended to her from her mother, and dependent thereon. She was then both under the parental influence, and presented the case of a young heir dealing for an expectancy with a party owning the particular estate, for no consideration, and with no declartion of trust; a party whose position peculiarly subjected the present contract to the implication of fraud, or the suspicion of imposition.

The ground assumed by the appellants, that this is a voluntary deed, and therefore good against the grantor, and all claiming under her, cannot, on this aspect of the case, be maintained. The general principle introduced by the statutes 13 and 27 Eliz., re-enacted in most of the states, that voluntary deeds, so far only as existing creditors and subsequent bona fide and unnoticed purchasers are concerned, are void, is admitted by law. The exception which the courts imply from the terms of the statute, and the usual motive to defraud creditors in all such conveyances, as against the grantor and his sub-claimants, seeking to recover the property, or vacate the conveyance, is the sole exception to this general rule. A party who has conveyed away his property to evade the payment of his just debts, shall not be permitted to take advantage of his own wrong, and reclaim his property, against the will of his grantee, the partner in the fraud; when the claims of creditors may have been otherwise satisfied, or a necessity for their interference has passed away. This principle, with that other plain rule, giving any party competent to contract, and uninfluenced by fraud, duress, or undue advantages taken by the grantee, a free disposition over his property, cannot be applied to the present case. A voluntary deed, to be good, must be made ceteris paribus. If the party grantor be an infant, lunatic, or subjected to the operation of those relations so jealously watched by courts of equity; in some cases from the absolute nullity of the contract; in others on the principles of public policy, that contract will be set aside. By a voluntary deed, is meant a gift without consideration: would then a voluntary deed, executed under duress, be sustained? The relation of the parties assimilates the present deed to one obtained by actual fraud, or undue influence.

The remaining causes of error were in reference to improper items in the master commissioner's account; questions as to the effect of evidence; the allowance of interest and costs; and the right to credits in the nature of offsets. Though material to the merits, the discussion of these points is not of sufficient general importance to be set out in the argument.

Mr. Justice THOMPSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

NotesEdit

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).