181 U.S. 575 (1901), 217, Audubon v. Shufeldt

Docket Nº:No. 217
Citation:181 U.S. 575, 21 S.Ct. 735, 45 L.Ed. 1009
Party Name:Audubon v. Shufeldt
Case Date:May 20, 1901
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 575

181 U.S. 575 (1901)

21 S.Ct. 735, 45 L.Ed. 1009




No. 217

United States Supreme Court

May 20, 1901

Argued April 8, 1901




Alimony, whether, in arrear at the time of an adjudication in bankruptcy, or accruing afterwards, is not provable in bankruptcy or barred by the discharge.

GRAY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE Gray delivered the opinion of the Court.

This was an appeal from an order of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia sitting in bankruptcy, granting a discharge to Robert W. Shufeldt.

Shufeldt had been adjudged a bankrupt April 5, 1899, on his petition alleging that he was indebted to the amount of $4,538.33, and had no assets which were not exempt under the Bankrupt Act of 1898. The debts from which he sought release were as follows:

Secured debt to Washington National

Banking and Loan Association . . . . . . . . . . . $3,200.00

Unsecured debts as follows:

Florence Audubon . . . . . . . . . . . . . $800.00

William H. Smith . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150.00

Lewis J. Yeager. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150.00

Sundry small debts . . . . . . . . . . . . 238.33

------- 1,338.33



Shufeldt was and had been for several years before filing his petition in bankruptcy, a surgeon with the rank of captain in the United States army, on the retired list, and was in receipt of a salary of $175 a month, his pay as such retired officer.

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The debt of $3,200 was the debt of himself and his wife, secured on land in Takoma Park, Montgomery County, Maryland, conveyed by him to his wife in March, 1898, without consideration.

The debt of $800 represented arrears of alimony, granted to his former wife, Florence Audubon, on February 25, 1898, by a decree of the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, in the State of Maryland, in a cause of divorce, directing him to pay alimony to her at the rate of $50 a month beginning April 1, 1898. No part of that alimony has been paid.

About March 1, 1898, Shufeldt left Montgomery County, and took up his residence in the City of Washington, in the District of Columbia. A suit in equity has been instituted and is still pending in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, to enforce the aforesaid decree for alimony and to make him pay the alimony in arrear.

The debt of $150 to William H. Smith was a promissory note given for taking testimony in the divorce suit under a commission from the Maryland court, and was duly assigned to John W. Hulse before the filing of the petition in bankruptcy.

The debt of $150 to Lewis J. Yeager was for professional services rendered in the District of Columbia, in the equity suit aforesaid.

The small debts for $238.33 were contracted for supplies furnished to Shufeldt and his family before the filing of the petition in bankruptcy.

After the filing of the petition in bankruptcy, Florence Audubon filed in court her claim for $800, being the arrears of alimony, describing it as "a debt" due by him to her, and voted thereon at the meeting of creditors for the election of a trustee. She afterwards filed a memorandum directing the withdrawal of her claim, but no order of the court to that effect was passed.

It was objected that the claim for alimony was not a provable debt under the Bankrupt Act, and should be excepted from the list of [21 S.Ct. 736] debts for which a discharge in bankruptcy might be granted. The court overruled the objection and granted the discharge, being of opinion that the arrears of alimony which had accrued against the bankrupt up to the time of the adjudication

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in bankruptcy constituted a provable debt, in the sense of the Bankrupt Act of 1898, but that the discharge could not affect any installments accruing since that adjudication. Florence Audubon appealed to this Court.

By section 4 of the Bankrupt Act of July 1, 1898, c. 541, "any person who owes debts, except a corporation, shall be entitled to the benefits of this act as a voluntary bankrupt." 30 Stat. 547. An officer in the army falls within this description, and it may be that he is not bound to include his in his schedule. Flarty v. Odlum, (1790) 3 T. R. 682; Apthorpe v. Apthorpe, (1887) 12 Prob. Div.192. Our Bankrupt Act contains no such provision as the English Bankruptcy Act 1883, authorizing the court, when the bankrupt is an officer in the army or navy, or employed in the civil service, to order a portion of his pay to be applied for the benefit of his creditors in bankruptcy. In re Ward, (1897) 1 Q.B. 266. But the question now before us is not whether his pay can be reached in bankruptcy, but whether he is entitled to a discharge from the arrears of alimony due to his former wife.

The Bankrupt Act of 1898 provides in § 1 that a "discharge" means "the release of a bankrupt...

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