Humphries v. Davis

Decision Date31 January 1885
Docket Number11,717
Citation100 Ind. 274
PartiesHumphries v. Davis
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Petition for a Rehearing Overruled Feb. 10, 1885.

From the Montgomery Circuit Court.

Judgment affirmed.

G. W Paul and J. E. Humphries, for appellant.

E. C Snyder, P. S. Kennedy and S. C. Kennedy, for appellee.


Elliott, J.

Isaac Davis and his wife, Jessie Davis, adopted, as their child, Emily Davis, the natural daughter of Elizabeth Davis, now Elizabeth Krug. About a year after the adoption of the child, Mrs. Jessie Davis died, leaving as her only heirs her husband and her adopted daughter, and within a year the adopted daughter also died. The natural mother claimed two-thirds of the land which her child inherited from Mrs. Jessie Davis, and conveyed part of it to the appellant. This claim the surviving husband resists, and the question is, Who shall have the land, the surviving husband or the natural mother? We deem it one of the important factors in this legal problem, that the land vested in the child solely by virtue of its legal relationship to Mrs. Davis, and not by virtue of its natural relationship to any one. The title vested in the adopted child by force of law, and not because of any inheritable right springing from a natural kinship.

In the case of Davis v. Krug, 95 Ind. 1, this element was considered one of importance, and it was held that property derived by the child from one of the persons by whom it had been adopted went to its other parent by adoption, rather than to its natural mother. We limit our decision in this instance, as it was limited in the former case, to the property derived from one of the adopting parents by inheritance, and confine it to the question of the rights of the natural mother as against the surviving parent of the deceased child, who became such by law, and not by nature; but, in thus limiting our decision, we do not mean to intimate that if the property came to the adopted child otherwise than by inheritance from kinsmen of its own blood, the adoptive parents would not inherit to the exclusion of the natural mother. The case to which we have referred is decisive of this controversy, but as it has been vigorously assailed, we have, at the earnest solicitation of counsel, again examined the question.

The equity of the case is with the surviving husband and against the natural mother who gave up her child, sundering all maternal ties, and suffering a stranger to take a mother's place. The husband, who enabled his wife to acquire or preserve her property, has infinitely stronger claims than the natural mother, who cast aside her child. Rules of law are intended to secure justice, and justice requires that the husband who has maintained the wife should be preferred to the mother of a child which was the child of his wife only by adoption. Equity is natural justice, and natural affection and natural right make a strong equity in the husband's favor. Suppose that the claim were urged by a surviving wife, instead of the husband, in such a case as this, would it then be doubted that the wife, whose joint labor and care had aided in accumulating the property, should be preferred to the natural mother who was a stranger, both in blood and in law, to the person who was the source of title? Must the wife be put off with a paltry share to make room for a stranger who has no claim upon the bounty of the husband, nor, of right, any place in the husband's affections? The principle which rules in the one case must govern in the other. We have shown the equity of the case for the reason that equity has a potent influence in the construction of statutes. Courts always endeavor to so construe a statute as to make it an instrument of justice. As Hobart, C. J., long ago said, "equity must necessarily take place in the exposition of statutes." Courts can neither wrest words from their plain meaning, nor violate the spirit of a statute upon their own notions of natural justice; but, where the statute is general in its terms, and not clear and definite in its letter and scope, courts may give it such a construction as will make its operation just and beneficial. To aver the contrary would be to assume that the Legislature did not intend to make a just law. There is nothing in the statute before us requiring us to declare that the rights of a surviving husband shall yield to the rights of the natural mother of a child which he had joined with his wife in adopting. When the statute is read by the light of the civil law from which its principles are borrowed, and is considered in connection with the general principles of the law of descent and the statutes upon that subject, it becomes clear that its construction must be that which natural justice requires.

The common law made no provision for the adoption of children, and we can get no light from that source. Krug v. Davis, 87 Ind. 590; Ross v. Ross, 129 Mass. 243; S. C., 37 Am. R. 321. The Roman law made provision for adopting children, and the provisions of that law, as revised and changed by Justinian, formed a complete system. Sandars' Justinian, 103, 105, 109. The adopted child was, as that law declared, "assimilated, in many points, to a son born in lawful matrimony." That law preserved to the child all the family rights resulting from his birth, and secured to him all the family rights produced by the adoption. Sandars' Justinian, 105. The Supreme Court of Louisiana, in discussing this subject, says: "And the effect was such, that the person adopted stood not only himself in relation of child to him adopting, but his children became the grandchildren of such person." At another place the court said: "Now, when in an enabling or permissive statute, the Legislature has used a word so familiar in its ordinary acceptation, and so well known in the sources of our law, does it become the judiciary to say that it has not such meaning, because the law-giver has not himself expressly defined the sense in which he intended the word should be taken?" It is also said: "The law-giver ought not to be supposed ignorant of this state of things, or to use a term in a more restricted sense than it was formerly known to our laws." Vidal v. Commagere, 13 La.Ann. 516. It is true that the remarks of the court apply with rather more force to a State which has adopted the civil law than to one where the common law prevails, but they, nevertheless, declare a general principle which has a place in all enlightened systems of jurisprudence, for it is established law that where a rule is borrowed from another body of laws, courts will look to the source from which it emanated to ascertain its effect and force. City of Valparaiso v. Gardner, 97 Ind. 1. If, as the civil law so fully provided, a child of the adoptive son stood in the relation of grandchild to the adoptive father, then the son himself must stand as the child of that father. The statute of Massachusetts makes some exceptions as to the child's status, and it was held that the adoptive child as to property of the adoptive father stood as a natural child, save in so far as the exceptions declared otherwise, the court saying: "The adopted child, in this case, therefore, in construing her father's settlement, must be regarded in the light of a child born in lawful wedlock, unless the property disposed of by the settlement falls within one of the exceptions." Sewall v. Roberts, 115 Mass. 262.

In Ross v. Ross, supra, it was said, in reviewing the cases of Schafer v. Eneu, 54 Pa. 304, and Commonwealth v. Nancrede, 32 Pa. 389: "But the opinion in each of those cases clearly recognizes, what indeed is expressly enacted in the statute, that, as between the adopted child and the adopting father, the child has all the rights and duties of a child, and the capacity to inherit as such." Elsewhere in the opinion from which we have quoted, it is said: "It is the rights, duties and capacities, arising from the event which creates a particular status, that constitute the status itself and afford the best definition of it." It is true that the law can not do the work of nature and create one a child who by nature is a stranger, but it may fix the legal status of the child. While, therefore, the Pennsylvania court is right in saying that the law can not make the child a natural one, the conclusion that the status of the adoptive child to the adoptive father may not be fixed by law does not follow by any means. The law may declare the status, and from the status courts must determine the correlative rights of parent and child thus created. One of the acutest of legal minds and clearest of writers says: "There are certain rights and duties, with certain capacities and incapacities to take rights and incur duties, by which persons, as subjects of law, are variously determined to certain classes. The rights, duties, capacities, or incapacities, which determine a given person to any of these classes, constitute a condition or status which the person occupies, or with which the person is invested." 1 Austin Juris. 41.

In Burrage v. Briggs, 120 Mass. 103, this doctrine was carried very far, for it was there held that the status of the adoptive child was such that it would take as a child under a residuary clause of the adoptive father's will, where the specific legacy had lapsed. It was decided in Lunay v. Vantyne, 40 Vt. 501, that as to the right to recover for services there was no difference between an adoptive and a natural child.

In the case of Barnes v. Allen, 25 Ind. 222, it was held that the adoptive child was the heir of the adoptive father in the degree of a child, and was entitled to inherit from him all the estate of which he could deprive his wife. This is impliedly an assertion that as to the adoptive parent the...

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