Carter v. Beckwith

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtANDREWS
Citation128 N.Y. 312,28 N.E. 582
PartiesCARTER v. BECKWITH et al.
Decision Date06 October 1891

128 N.Y. 312
28 N.E. 582


Court of Appeals of New York.

Oct. 6, 1891.

Appeal from supreme court, general term, fourth department.

Action by George C. Carter against Emily P. Beckwith and others, administrators of the estate of Richard Beckwith, a lunatic, to recover for services in proceedings instituted to supersede a commission of lunacy. Verdict and judgment for plaintiff. Modified and affirmed on appeal to the general term. Defendants appeal. Affirmed.

O'BRIEN, J., dissenting.

[128 N.Y. 313]John Lansing, for appellants.

128 N.Y. 314]P. C. J. De Angelis, for respondent.
[128 N.Y. 315]ANDREWS, J.

The judgment recovered in this action is founded upon a claim for services rendered by the plaintiff, an attorney, upon the request of the intestate in the prosecution of proceedings in the supreme court, instituted in 1871, to supersede a commission of lunacy issued against the intestate in 1855, and to have restored to him the possession and control of his property. The proceedings failed in their object, it having been determined that the lunacy still continued. The lunatic died in 1875, and the plaintiff presented to his administrators a claim for his services, which claim was rejected by them, whereupon this action was brought. The main question in the case is whether, under the circumstances, a liability was created in favor of the plaintiff for the [128 N.Y. 316]value of the plaintiff's services, enforceable in an action against the estate of the deceased lunatic. It is clear, under the decisions, that the plaintiff cannot maintain the action on the theory of a contract with the lunatic to pay for the services, arising out of an employment by the lunatic. The law is well settled that a lunatic whose lunacy had been judicially determined, and for whom a committee has been appointed, is incapable of entering into any contract, and that any contract which he may assume to make while in that situation is absolutely void. Wadsworth v. Sharpsteen, § N. Y. 388; L'Amoureux v. Crosby, 2 Paige, 422;Hughes v. Jones, 116 N. Y. 67, 22 N. E. Rep. 446. The court will not inquire whether the lunacy in fact continued and existed when the contract was made. The presumption of its continuance is conclusive as to all dealings after the inquisition until it has been superseded. The court, on the finding of an inquisition establishing lunacy, is vested with jurisdiction over the person of the lunatic, and assumes the custody and control of his estate, which it manages, through the committee appointed in the proceedings, as its bailiff or agent; and, although the title of the lunatic to his property is not divested by the proceedings, he can no longer buy or sell, or enter into any contract or dealing binding him or his estate. People v. Commissioners, etc., 100 N. Y. 215, 3 N. E. Rep. 85; In re Otis, 101 N. Y. 580, 5 N. E. Rep. 571.

The incapacity of a lunatic, whose lunacy has been judicially ascertained in lunacy proceedings, to bind himself does not relieve his estate from debts or liabilities incurred anterior to the lunacy. But he cannot be sued without permission of the court, except at the peril of the party prosecuting, of having his action restrained and of being adjudged in contempt. In re Heller, 3 Paige, 199;In re Hopper, 5 Paige, 490. See, also, Crippen v. Culver, 13 Barb. 424. The court, as incident to its jurisdiction in lunacy, administers the estate of an adjudged lunatic for the protection of creditors, and will apply it to the payment of his debts, the expenses of support and maintenance of the lunatic and his family, and the satisfaction of all obligations, charges, and [128 N.Y. 317]expenses which legally or equitably ought to be satisfied out of his property. The question as to the allowance of costs in lunacy proceedings has been several times before our courts. It has been the usual practice to allow to the petitioner for a commission the costs and expenses of proceedings in lunacy out of the estate of the lunatic, where they have resulted in the appointment of a committee. Rule 85 of the supreme court authorizes the committee to pay such costs and expenses

[28 N.E. 583

without the order of the court, where they do not exceed $50; but, if they exceed that sum, payment cannot be made without the special order of the court. It was said by the chancellor in the case, In re Giles, 11 Paige, 638, that, if the petitioner fails to establish the lunacy, he must bear his own costs, but that he will not be charged with costs if he proceeded in good faith and upon probable cause. To the same effect on the last point is the remark of Chancellor KENT in Brower v. Fisher, 4 Johns. Ch. 441. The English rule seems to be less stringent, and costs will be allowed to the petitioner, although the alleged lunatic be found by the inquisition to be of sound mind. Nelson v. Duncombe, 9 Beav. 211. It was held in Re Conklin, 8 Paige, 450, that a solicitor who unsuccessfully opposes a commission of lunacy has no legal claim on ground of contract for his services, but that the court may, in its discretion, allow the solicitor his taxable costs out of the lunatic's estate, where the circumstances are such that the chancellor, if applied to, would have sustained or directed the opposition; and a small allowance was made in that case.

The question here relates to the right of an attorney to recover compensation out of the estate of a lunatic for services rendered in an unsuccessful attempt to procure a supersedeas of a commission, and where the inquiry was expressly sanctioned by the court. The statute provides that, in case any lunatic against whom an inquisition has been found shall be restored to his right mind, and become capable of conducting his affairs, his real and personal estate shall be restored to him. 2 Rev. St. p. 55, § 24. The statute is simply declaratory of the [128 N.Y. 318]common law. Upon the application of a lunatic to set aside the commission, the court may, in its discretion, deny the application, and will do so where the case is plain, or it may allow...

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    ...80 Mo. 474, 478, 479; Coleman v. Farrar, 112 Mo. 54, 20 S.W. 441, 447; Kiehne v. Wessell, 53 Mo.App. 667, 670, 671; Carter v. Beckwith, 128 N.Y. 312, 28 N.E. 582; Hughes v. Jones, 116 N.Y. 67, 22 N.E. 446, 448, 5 L.R.A. 637, 15 Am.St.Rep. 386; Klohs v. Klohs, 11 P.F.Smith 245, 61 Pa. 245, 2......
  • Rubiano v. Kelly
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    ...Accordingly, the 1994 decree of guardianship was effectively superseded by these subsequent determinations (see Carter v. Beckwith, 128 N.Y. 312, 316, 28 N.E. 582 ; see also Quarterman v. Quarterman, 179 Misc. 759, 39 N.Y.S.2d 737 [Sup.Ct., N.Y. County] ). Similarly unavailing is the plaint......
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    ...1917b, 676; Eisenhower v. Vaughn, 95 Wash. 256, 163 P. 758; Reando v. Mosplay, 90 Mo. 251, 2 S.W. 405, 59 Am. Rep. 13; Carter v. Beckwith, 128 N.Y. 312, 28 N.E. 582; Masters v. Jones, 158 Ind. 647, 64 N.E. 213. It is said that "if plaintiff is entitled to recover any amount, it is confined ......
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