Kelley v. Kelley

Decision Date13 April 1920
Docket NumberNo. 32878.,32878.
Citation177 N.W. 45,189 Iowa 311
CourtIowa Supreme Court


Appeal from District Court, Pocahontas County; James De Land, Judge.

Action in equity for an accounting. Decree as prayed, and defendant appeals. The facts, so far as material, are stated in the opinion. Reversed and remanded.T. F. Lynch, of Pocahontas, and Healy & Faville, of Ft. Dodge, for appellant.

Ralston & Shaw, of Pocahontas, and Price & Burnquist, of Ft. Dodge, for appellees.


The plaintiffs and defendants are the children and heirs at law of Rhoda Kelley, who died October 9, 1917. The father of the parties, Charles Kelley, died in the year 1890. He was the owner of considerable land, and by his will left a 40-acre tract to each of his nine children and a farm of 320 acres to his widow. Before his death he had also deeded another 80-acre tract to his son, the defendant herein. Charles Kelley was a man of intemperate habits and violent temper, which resulted in breaking up the family home. The defendant, commonly spoken of in the record as Michael or Mike, went to Kansas, where he took up a homestead. Several other members of the family, including the mother, soon followed him to that state. The mother made her home with Mike, who was unmarried, and remained there until her husband's death in Iowa, a period of about two years. Returning then to Iowa, she resumed her home on the farm with some of her younger children. In 1895 Mike returned from Kansas, and, being still unmarried, he, too, made his home with the mother and cultivated his own land. Just how the home farm was then being operated or cared for does not clearly appear until about 1898 or 1899, when, the son John and daughter Mary having married and moved away, Mike took over the general control of the premises under some express or tacit understanding between him and his mother. The exact nature and scope of that arrangement is the subject of the controversy out of which this litigation has arisen.

The business relations between mother and son thus initiated in 1899 continued uninterrupted and apparently without dissension or disagreement until the year 1917. The mother was then about 82 years of age, and more or less broken down in health and strength. About this time, some of the other children believing or claiming to believe that Mike had obtained or was likely to obtain some undue advantage of the mother with respect to her property rights and interests, and that legal proceedings were required for her protection, John T. Kelley, acting under a power of an attorney obtained from their parent, brought an action in her name against Michael to compel an accounting. The case had been pending but a short time when Mrs. Kelley died, and John, having been appointed administrator of her estate, was substituted as plaintiff. Four of the heirs joined him as plaintiffs, while others, or some of them, are impleaded with Michael as defendants.

Stated as briefly as practicable, the issues upon which the case was finally tried present the following issues: The plaintiffs allege that Michael and his mother united in a joint adventure or partnership for the operation and use of the lands belonging to both of them as one “common, joint enterprise,” and that their business dealings and relations with each other were conducted on that basis until their severance in the year 1917; that Michael took and at all times had the active charge and management of the joint enterprise, mingling his mother's personal property with his own; farmed their lands together, mingling the income and profits thereof in a common fund; rented other lands and worked the same for their joint benefit; purchased four additional tracts of land, taking title to one tract in his mother's name and to the other tracts in his own name, payment for such lands being made from the joint or common fund; and that he also with said moneys purchased and paid for certain shares of stock in various corporations in all of which stock his mother was entitled to an equal share.

The plaintiffs further allege that Michael has never in any manner accounted to his mother or to her administrator or heirs for the profits for her share or interest in the property or profits so acquired by him, and they ask that he be now required to render such account, and that he be decreed to hold the title to one-half the lands acquired by him during the alleged partnership in trust for the benefit of the plaintiffs.

The defendant denies that he ever entered into any partnership or joint adventure with his mother with respect to their property or the property of either of them or in the use thereof, or in the profits or proceeds arising from the use of such property. He admits, however, that he did go into possession, management and control of his mother's said property in the year 1899, and continued therein until the year 1917, but he alleges that the possession and control of her property was acquired by him and at all times held and exercised by him as the tenant of his mother, and not as a partner or joint adventurer. He admits that during said period he purchased and acquired the title to about 400 acres of land, and his mother also bought and took title to an additional 80 acres, but alleges that such purchases by them were made in their individual right, and that neither had or acquired any right or interest whatever in the lands bought by the other.

He further alleges that during said period he paid to his mother very considerable sums of money, paid debts for and on her account, expended much money at her request for the construction of buildings and for the tiling of her lands and making other improvements thereon, making up an aggregate of payments to her equal to or in excess of the rental value of the premises. He also alleges a settlement with his mother in her lifetime and satisfaction and discharge of their mutual claims and demands.

It should also be said in this connection that Henry Kelley and Charles J. Kelley, sons and heirs of the deceased Rhoda Kelley, do not join in the prosecution of this suit and file a disclaimer of any right or interest in the property held or claimed by Michael, and that Martha Wells, a daughter and admitted heir of the deceased, does not appear to have been made a party to the litigation, either as plaintiff or defendant. On trial of these issues the district court found for the plaintiffs and awarded them relief substantially as prayed. The defendant Michael Kelley appeals.

I. Arguments of counsel have been principally directed to the question whether the evidence satisfactorily discloses the existence of a partnership or joint enterprise between the mother and son as charged in the petition. For a case of this general nature involving transactions covering such long period of years the evidence offered is singularly meager, and very much of that which is producedis quite indefinite and lacking in substance.

Plaintiffs at the outset of the trial called the...

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