Franklin v. Franklin, 9706.

Decision Date28 September 1948
Docket NumberNo. 9706.,9706.
Citation83 US App. DC 385,171 F.2d 12
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

Mr. Henry J. Siegman, of Washington, D. C., with whom Mr. John J. O'Brien, of Washington, D. C., was on the brief, for appellant.

Mr. John Alexander, of Washington, D. C., with whom Mr. Raymond Neudecker, of Washington, D. C., was on the brief, for appellee.

Before EDGERTON, CLARK, and WILBUR K. MILLER, Circuit Judges.

EDGERTON, Circuit Judge.

In 1934, in a suit brought by appellant against her husband, the appellee, the District Court awarded her the custody of their minor children and ordered him to pay her $50 a month "as maintenance for herself and the minor children." Twelve years later, in 1946, she moved in the same suit to adjudge him in contempt and for a money judgment for accumulated arrears. After a hearing on this motion the court found "(a) That the defendant, John W. Franklin, ceased his payments to the plaintiff December 1, 1942, after the plaintiff, Bessie E. Franklin, advised him that she would accept no more payments addressed to her under the name of Bessie E. Franklin. (b) That the plaintiff, Bessie E. Franklin, in 1938, 1939 and 1940 openly lived with one, James I. Stansberry, by whom she had a child still born on July 26th, 1939. (c) That since the year 1938 the plaintiff has gone by the name of Mrs. Bessie E. Stansberry, under which name she is now living and known. (d) That the plaintiff made no effort to collect the maintenance previously ordered from December 9, 1941 until November 7, 1946. (e) That all of the children of the parties have been emancipated by age, marriage, or employment, except June Franklin, who was seventeen years of age in September, 1946, and who is unemployed and residing with the plaintiff."

The evidence supports these findings. It shows, also, that appellant's conduct in the presence of the children made her unfit for their custody. Some of them left her during their minority and lived with appellee, who contributed directly to their support. Appellant told appellee he need pay her no more money.

The court held that appellant was guilty of laches, and also that she was "estopped to seek any further assistance from a court of equity by reason of her direct representation to the defendant upon which he relied and her conduct in general." It found that appellee was not in contempt. He had filed a cross-complaint asking a divorce on the ground of appellant's adultery. This the court granted. It ordered appellee to pay appellant $25 a month, beginning June 1, 1947, for maintenance of the daughter who was still a minor.

It did not require appellee to pay accrued arrears of maintenance under the 1934 order. The question is whether this was error. We think not. Before and also after the passage of the maintenance statute, D.C.Code 1940, § 16 — 415, 31 Stat. 1346, § 980, suits for maintenance have been regarded in the District of Columbia as equitable rather than legal.1 The court exercised the discretion of a court of equity. In 1946, when the present motion was filed, the purpose of the accrued installments could no longer be accomplished since it was to provide support for appellant and the children between 1942 and 1946. And an unfair burden would be imposed upon appellee if, after he had contributed directly to the support of the children and had otherwise acted in accordance with appellant's assurance that she wanted no money from him, he were now to be required to pay her a large accumulation of arrears. Barber v. Barber, 21 How. 582, 16 L.Ed. 226, and Sistare v. Sistare, 218 U.S. 1, 30 S.Ct. 682, 54 L.Ed. 905, 28 L.R. A.,N.S., 1068, 20 Ann.Cas. 1061, do not hold that a court which formerly issued an order for maintenance or the like must, regardless of equity and good conscience, enforce payment of accrued installments years later. Those cases and Phillips v. Kepler, 47 App.D.C. 384, hold only that other courts should enforce such payment if the court that issued the order would do so.2 So far as Caffrey v. Caffrey, 55 App. D.C. 285, 4 F.2d 952, Biscayne Trust Co. v. American Security & Trust Co., 57 App.D. C. 251, 20 F.2d 267, and Lockwood v. Lockwood, 82 U.S.App.D.C. 105, 160 F.2d 923, imply that the issuing court lacks authority to apply equitable principles when asked to enforce payment of accrued installments under its own order,3 those cases rest on a misunderstanding of the earlier cases and should be overruled. "The power of the court of equity to adapt its remedial relief to existing conditions and circumstances should not be curtailed."4


WILBUR K. MILLER, Circuit Judge (dissenting).

I regret that I cannot agree with the opinion of the majority. In this case the husband simply did not pay, after December 1, 1942, the instalments of alimony which the court had ordered him to pay. The wife's misconduct may have justified this cessation had the husband taken proper steps to obtain relief because of it. He could have applied to the court at any time after December 1, 1942, for a modification of the order to relieve him from further payments because of his wife's misbehavior. Instead of doing that, he took the law into his own hands and ceased to obey the court's order. It necessarily follows that as each monthly instalment of maintenance became due after December 1, 1942, it became a fixed obligation which the court had no power to remit.

We definitely held in Caffrey v. Caffrey, 55 App.D.C. 285, 4 F.2d 952, 953, that Title 16, § 413, of the District Code,1 is prospective only and not retroactive. We said that its language "does no more than authorize the court, as conditions change, to alter or modify its decree as to future payments, as was the effect of the ruling in Phillips v. Kepler."2 This ruling was approved in Biscayne Trust Co. v. American Security & Trust Co., 57 App.D.C. 251, 20 F.2d 267, 269, where we said:

"* * * It is now too late for the court to set aside or reduce these sums. Phillips v. Kepler, 47 App.D.C. 384. In Caffrey v. Caffrey, 55 App.D.C. 285, 4 F.2d 952, it was held by this court that sections 976 and 978, D.C.Code (now sections 411 and 413 of Title 16), authorizing the court's allowance of permanent alimony, and providing that, after a decree of divorce in any case...

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7 cases
  • Kephart v. Kephart
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • 11 Octubre 1951 the Maryland court under the full faith and credit clause. In support of the theory he cited our opinion in Franklin v. Franklin, 1948, 83 U.S.App.D.C. 385, 171 F.2d 12, where we held for the first time that the trial court has authority to set aside matured installments of alimony. With......
  • Hopson v. Hopson
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • 20 Enero 1955
    ...not specifically provide for it in maintenance actions. 21 66 App.D.C. at page 219, 85 F.2d at page 718. 22 Franklin v. Franklin, 1948, 83 U.S. App.D.C. 385, 386, 171 F.2d 12, 13. In Bates v. Bates, 1944, 79 U.S.App.D.C. 14, 15, 141 F.2d 723, 724, this court pointed out that although the Di......
  • Wallis v. Wallis, 8946
    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • 31 Julio 1959
    ...when necessary. That the court may do so under proper circumstances, see Mason v. Mason, 148 Ore. 34, 34 P.2d 328; Franklin v. Franklin, 83 U.S.App.D.C. 385, 171 F.2d 12; Wassung v. Wassung, 136 Neb. 440, 286 N.W. 340; Parenti v. Parenti, 71 R.I. 18, 41 A.2d 313. Although in those jurisdict......
  • Ryan v. Ryan
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • 27 Octubre 1954
    ...suit for maintenance it must look to all existing conditions and circumstances before framing its remedial relief. Franklin v. Franklin, 1948, 83 U.S.App.D.C. 385, 171 F.2d 12. While plaintiff's deception concerning her age was dishonorable and should not be condoned, neither can the Court ......
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