Glanding v. Industrial Trust Co.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Delaware
Writing for the CourtTERRY, J.
Citation28 Del.Ch. 499,45 A.2d 553
PartiesJUNE ELLEN GLANDING, by Edith G. Maharty, her guardian ad litem, Defendant Below, Appellant, v. INDUSTRIAL TRUST COMPANY, Administrator c.t.a. of Herman Glanding, Deceased, Complainant Below, Appellee, and HOWARD S. GLANDING and REBA W. TAYLOR, Defendants Below, Appellees
Decision Date26 November 1945

Appeal from Court of Chancery, in and for New Castle County.

Statement of the Case. The Industrial Trust Company, a Delaware corporation, administrator cum testamento annexo of the last will of Herman Glanding, deceased, filed its bill before the Chancellor below praying for instructions. The administrator alleged that it had in hand personal property of the value of approximately $ 60,000, and that it was ready to pass its final account; but that it was unable to determine who are the heirs at law of the testator, and, as such, entitled to his personal estate, since Alice W. Glanding, the testator's wife and the sole beneficiary named in the will, predeceased the testator.

Answers were filed by Howard S. Glanding and Reba W. Taylor, a son and a daughter of the testator, and by June Ellen Glanding an adopted daughter of a deceased son. The Chancellor, upon due consideration, concluded that June Ellen Glanding, the adopted daughter aforesaid, was not entitled to a share of the residue of the personal estate. A decree of distribution was entered and this case concerns an appeal therefrom. Argument was heard at the February session, and subsequent thereto the question of jurisdiction of the court below was raised not by the parties but by the court itself. The question was considered to be of such import that the respective parties were invited to file briefs, which they did. This opinion, therefore, concerns a determination of the appeal only insofar as the question of the jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery is involved.

James R. Morford and Thomas Cooch, for appellants.

George C. Hering, for Howard S. Glanding and Reba W. Taylor.

William Poole, for Industrial Trust Co., administrator.

Richards C. J., Rodney, Speakman, Terry, and Carey, JJ., sitting.



It is contended by certain of our associates that the court below was without jurisdiction because there exists a complete and adequate remedy at law. In support of their reasoning they rely upon the existence of two statutes: First -- Section 4367, Revised Code of Delaware 1935 -- which in part is as follows:

"Provided that the Chancellor shall not have power to determine any matter wherein sufficient remedy may be had by common law, or statute, before any other Court, or jurisdiction, of this State; but that where matters, determinable at common law, shall be brought before him in equity, he shall remit the parties to the common law * * *."

Second -- Chapter 143, Volume 42, Laws of Delaware -- which in part is as follows:

"The jurisdiction of the Orphans' Court shall extend to and embrace the distribution of the assets and surplusage of the estates of decedents among the persons entitled thereto in all cases where such jurisdiction is invoked as hereinafter provided * * *."

An administrator or any person claiming to have an interest in the estate to be distributed may, at any time after any account has been filed, apply to the Orphans' Court for a decree of distribution of the estate among the parties entitled thereto. Then follows the required contents of the petition and certain action to be taken by the court and provisions for a hearing and the taking of evidence. The statute then proceeds --

"If, upon the said hearing, the Court shall be satisfied that the estate or any part thereof may then be distributed, the Court shall make a decree determining the distribution of the estate then available for distribution to the person or persons who are by law entitled to the same * * *."

It is contended that by reason of the enactment of Chapter 143, Volume 42, conferring a complete and adequate remedy at law, the quoted portion of Section 4367 limited the Court of Chancery from exercising any power that it might have had as of the date of the enactment of said Chapter 143, aforesaid, in entering decrees of distribution.

Upon the immigration of our ancestors to this country from England they adopted as a safe rule of conduct the common law of England, which they considered to be their birthright. They cherished it, and for them it represented, so to speak, a charter of liberty. The common law, thus adopted, when defined in its broad and comprehensive sense represented a system of jurisprudence of remedial justice as administered in England by the courts of equity as well as those courts that administered the common law itself. The colonists considered the rights of a free people were to be construed not in a narrow technical sense but rather in a broad and comprehensive sense, and in this sense equity is as much common law as is that law which is administered in tribunals other than those of equitable jurisdiction.

Judge Woolley, in Paragraph 56 of Volume 1, in his work on Delaware Practice states,

"An examination of the early history of the colonial judiciary of Delaware discloses that equitable jurisdiction was exercised by the same courts that had jurisdiction of matters of law."

And he further states,

"It may safely be affirmed that the whole body of equity principles both of right and remedy was brought hither by our ancestors, together with the common law, on their immigration from England as part of their heritage of liberty."

And further,

"Hence, the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware inherited its equity jurisdiction from the English Courts; and in its organization and proceedings, especially in matters of pleading, practice and evidence, the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware, has adhered more closely to the English Court of Chancery and to English precedents than those of any of her sister States."

Therefore, it appears that the equity jurisprudence from the earliest date in this State was founded upon, coextensive with, and in most respects, conformable to that of England.

It must be said that from the close of the reign of Charles II the court of equity in England had jurisdiction to superintend the administration of estates, and to decree a distribution of the residue after payment of all debts and charges among the parties entitled either as legatees or distributees. 1 Storey, (Tenth Edition) (Redfields), 543; Walker v. Caldwell, 8 Del. Ch. 91, 67 A. 1085. So, it was under the jurisdiction as established by our colonial ancestors that the jurisdiction of our earliest courts inherited as a right or power that principle which gave to the judges thereof jurisdiction to enter decrees of distribution.

Now this principle as established was indelibly written into the Act of 1726-1736, wherein the first Court of Chancery was created in this State. Under Section 21 of said Act the following is recited:

"And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that there shall be a Court of Equity held by the Justices of the said respective County Courts of Common Pleas four times a year at the respective places, and near the said times as the said Courts of Common Pleas are held in every county of this government; and that the Prothonotary of the Common Pleas shall be the Register of the said Courts of Equity in every county, which said justices, or any three of them, within the limits of their commissions and authorities to them appointed as is aforesaid, shall have full power, and are hereby impowered and authorized, to hear and decree all such matters and causes of equity as shall come before them in the said courts, where the proceedings shall be as heretofore by bill and answer, with such other pleadings as are necessary in Chancery Courts, and proper in these parts, with power also for the said Justices of the respective Courts of Equity, to issue further all manner of Subpoena's, and all other process as may be needful to oblige and force defendants to answer suits there, as also to award commissions for taking answers and examining witnesses, and to grant injunctions for staying suits in law, and stopping wastes, as there may be occasion, observing, as near as may be, the rules and practice of the High Court of Chancery in Great Britain, with powers to make orders and award all manner of process, and do all other things necessary for bringing causes to hearing, and to force obedience to their decrees in equity, which may be by imprisonment of bodies, or sequestration by lands, and admit bills of reviver, as the case may require."

And, by Section 25, of said Act the following appears:

"Provided also, that nothing herein contained shall give the said Justices any power or authority to hear, decree or determine in equity, any matter, cause or thing, wherein sufficient remedy may be had in any other court or before any other magistrate or judicature in this government, either by the rules of the common law, or according to the tenor and direction of the laws of this government, but that when matters determinable at common law shall be brought before them in equity, they shall refer or remit the parties to the common law * * *."

In passing it will be noted that the jurisdiction conferred under the Act of 1726-1736 was coextensive with the jurisdiction of the High Court of Chancery of Great Britain, subject only to the construction and effect to be given the provisions of Section 25 of said Act.

Our first Constitution was adopted in 1776. Under Article 12 thereof Courts of Common Pleas and Orphans Courts were created, and by Article 13 thereof the Justices of the Courts of Common Pleas were empowered to hold inferior Courts of Chancery as...

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