23 Miss. 410 (Miss. 1852), Ward v. Dulaney

Citation:23 Miss. 410
Opinion Judge:Mr. Justice YERGER.
Party Name:EDWARD WARD et al v. DANIEL M. DULANEY et al
Attorney:John Delafield, jr., for plaintiffs in error, argued the case at length, and filed an elaborate printed brief. T. J. Wharton, on the same side, made an elaborate oral argument, but filed no brief. A. C. Baine, on the same side, filed a lengthy brief in the case. William R. Miles, for defendants i...
Court:Supreme Court of Mississippi

Page 410

23 Miss. 410 (Miss. 1852)




Supreme Court of Mississippi

January, 1852

In error from the superior chancery court; Hon. Stephen Cocke, chancellor.

This was a suit originally instituted by bill in the superior chancery court by Ward and others, claiming to be the heirs of Mrs. Loomis, to annul a marriage contract which Mrs. Loomis had before her death entered into with Daniel M. Dulaney, the defendant in error, and also to obtain possession of all the property Dulaney obtained by his marriage with Mrs. Loomis in her lifetime. The facts of the case as shown by the record are, that in the state of North Carolina, in June, 1826, Dulaney was married to Mrs. Loomis, who had been a widow of considerable property; and the parties lived together after marriage as man and wife, for about nine months, when they separated, Dulaney making provision for the comfort and support of his wife, until her death, which took place in 1836, and he subsequently removed to the state of Mississippi.

It was in proof that Mrs. Loomis, both before and after her marriage with Dulaney, had intervals of apparent insanity; and the bill of plaintiffs in error charges that Mrs. Loomis was a lunatic at the time she was married to Dulaney, and therefore incapable of making a marriage contract, and further prays that the marriage may be declared void, and that they, as her heirs and representatives, may be put in possession of her property, now claimed by Dulaney, her assumed husband, under the laws of North Carolina. The defendants deny the charge of insanity of Mrs. Loomis, at the time of her marriage with Dulaney, or that any undue advantage was taken by Dulaney to contract the marriage, and that by virtue of the same, he, (Dulaney,) under the laws of North Carolina, the state in which the marriage took place, became possessed of all his wife's personal estate, and choses in action she had at the time of marriage; and defendants in error rely also upon the statute of limitations of the state which requires persons non compotes mentis to claim their rights within six years after they shall have been restored to their proper mind; trod that if Mrs. Loomis was insane at the time of her marriage, she subsequently, within that period of time, was restored to sound mind, and her heirs cannot claim more than she could if living at the filing of the bill by plaintiffs in error, and she being barred by law, if living, from suing, they are also.

The court below dismissed the bill of complainants, from which decision they prayed a writ of error to this Court.

Decree affirmed.

John Delafield, jr., for plaintiffs in error, argued the case at length, and filed an elaborate printed brief.

T. J. Wharton, on the same side, made an elaborate oral argument, but filed no brief.

A. C. Baine, on the same side, filed a lengthy brief in the case.

William R. Miles, for defendants in error, argued the case orally at length before the court.

Dyer & Hooker, on the same side, filed an elaborate written argument in the case, reviewing at length the facts and law of the case.


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Mr. Justice YERGER.

In the year 1842, the complainants, all of whom are minors, suing by their next friend, George W. Penn, except Eliza Jane Hall, who joins with her husband, filed their bill in the superior court of chancery, claiming by representation in place of their father, Eli W. Ward, deceased, to be the heirs at law and distributees according to the laws of North Carolina, of their grand aunt, Alice Dulaney or Loomis, who, it is alleged, died intestate and unmarried in Onslow county, North Carolina, on the day of September, in the year 1836. The bill states that Alice, the aunt of the complainants, was in her lifetime seized and possessed of a large real and personal estate, and while so seized and possessed became insane, and incapable of making any kind of contract, whether of marriage or otherwise. That the defendant, Daniel M. Dulaney, taking advantage of this mental alienation, and intending to cheat and defraud her, took possession of her whole property, and now holds the same, claiming it as his own under a pretended contract of marriage; when, if any such pretended contract was made, the same was utterly null and void, because of the insanity of their aunt, and her consequent incapacity to contract. A decree for an account and distribution is sought. The defendant answers and positively denies the insanity of Mrs. Loomis, as alleged in the bill, and avers her marriage with him on the 8th day of June, 1826, at which time she was

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of perfectly sound mind. He states that they lived together as man and wife about nine months, when they separated, and that he made ample provision for her comfortable support and maintenance until her decease, which occurred on the day of September, in the year 1836. He insists, that by virtue of this marriage, he became entitled by the laws of North Carolina, where the marriage took place, to all the personal estate and choses in action of Mrs. Loomis. He also relies upon the statute of limitations, alleging that the lady, if not sane on the day of the alleged marriage, became so afterwards, at a period ten years preceding her decease, and being so compos mentis, was capable of asserting and maintaining her own rights against defendant, and recovering the property from him if she was sole and unmarried as alleged, and that complainants are therefore barred from maintaining this suit. The chancellor dismissed the bill, from which decree an appeal has been taken to this court. On this record, three questions are presented for our consideration. 1. Was Mrs. Loomis sane on the 8th day of June, 1826, the date of the alleged marriage? 2. If not then sane, did she afterwards become so at any period within six years before the commencement of this suit? 3. If so, will the statute of limitations bar the right of complainants to recover in this suit? The testimony in the record is voluminous, and on some points conflicting and irreconcilable. The case, in many of its circumstances, is novel and interesting; the arguments of the counsel have been able and elaborate; the amount of property involved is large, and the decision we make may have an important bearing upon the reputation and character of some of the parties. We have, therefore, endeavored to give to the case that calm and rational investigation which these considerations seemed to demand from us.

The facts in the record about which there seems to be no dispute are these. The parties were domiciled in the county of Onslow, in the state of North Carolina. They were both connected with most respectable and influential families in the county; both were in comfortable, and in what might be considered in that county, affluent pecuniary circumstances.

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Their estates were nearly equal in point of value; the lady having rather more property, but owing more debts. Both had reached the prime of life, and had been previously married. The defendant Dulaney was one of the most popular and influential men in the county; had represented it in the legislature of the state, and had a high standing for honor and integrity. The lady was the widow of Doctor Loomis, upon whose estate she had administered, and in the management of which and of business generally she had displayed shrewdness, good sense, and clear judgment, and up to the year 1822, by the testimony of every witness, was remarkable for her intelligence, her ladylike demeanor and social virtues. At that period of time it is alleged, a change was developed in her character; that her mental faculties became impaired, evincing symptoms of derangement, gradually increasing in strength until the 8th day of June, 1826, the date of the alleged marriage, when it is said she had become entirely insane, destitute of will, and incapable of contracting. If this be so the pretended marriage was a nullity, and conferred none of the rights of a husband upon the defendant.

The contract of marriage, like all other contracts, to be valid and obligatory, requires the assent of both parties. If either party, from imbecility of mind or deranged intellect, be incapable of volition or unable to comprehend the nature of the engagement which they profess to make, the marriage will for such cause be declared null and void. But this contract is so important in its consequences, the rights, duties, obligations and responsibilities which it creates and imposes are of so delicate and important a character, involving not only the happiness, well-being, and respectability of the parties themselves, but also the honor and peace of families, that the policy of the law requires courts of justice to sustain and uphold it, unless the proof be entirely clear and satisfactory, leaving no reasonable doubt upon the mind of the incapacity of the party and the consequent invalidity of the marriage. What degree of mental imbecility, what extent of intellectual alienation, will suffice to annul a contract of marriage, it is difficult to pronounce; certainly mere weakness of intellect, or even great

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eccentricity of conduct unless it reach a point that evinces inability to comprehend the subject-matter of the contract, will not suffice, and every principle of sound policy and humanity admonishes us, that a contract so important in its social relations, and bearing so materially on the peace and happiness of families, should not be set aside upon slight grounds, or on less proof than would suffice to annul contracts less sacred and important in their nature. With this view of the principles which should guide us in our investigations in this case, we will turn our attention to the proof.

In the first place, we must bear in...

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