Louis Beyer v. Caroline Le Fevre

Decision Date19 May 1902
Docket NumberNo. 237,237
Citation22 S.Ct. 765,186 U.S. 114,46 L.Ed. 1080
PartiesLOUIS BEYER, Appt. , v. CAROLINE LE FEVRE
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

This was a bill filed in the supreme court of this District on April 7, 1899, to set aside the following will:

In the name of God, Amen.

I Mary Beyer of the city and county of Washington and District of Columbia being now of sound and disposing mind, do make, ordain, publish and declare this to be my last will and testament: That is to say, first after all my lawful debts are paid and discharged the residue of my estate, real and personal, I give, devise, bequeath, and dispose of as follows: to wit all the furniture and personal effects now in the home, number 2258 Brightwood avenue I desire to remain there during the life of my husband Louis Beyer or so long as it remains the family home, and in the event of the house not being retained as a family home then the furniture and all other personal effects belonging to me are to go to and belong to my nephew and adopted son born Charles Lewis Smith but adopted by me at birth and thereafter always called Louis Beyer, Junior.

To my sister Elizabeth Kersinski Maus of Philadelphia, Pa. I leave five dollars.

To my sister Caroline Kersinski Lefvre of Brookland, D. C. I leave five dollars.

To my niece Helen J. Fenton of Washington, D. C., I leave five dollars.

All the rest and residue of my estate, real, personal and mixed, of which I may die seized and possessed, whatsoever and wheresoever, of what kind, nature and quality soever the same may be, and not hereinabove given or disposed of, I hereby give, devise, and bequeath, unto my nephew and adopted son, Louis Beyer, Junior, and Helen B. Johnson my niece in equal shares, as tenants in common, and not as joint tenants, their heirs and assigns, absolutely and forever.

Having full faith and confidence in the honesty, integrity, and affection of my said adopted son and of my said niece, I leave them all the property stated herein knowing that they will provide a home and home comforts for Louis Beyer, Senior, during his natural life, but this is not to be construed to mean that said Louis Beyer, Junior and Helen B. Johnson are to be restricted from disposing of any or all of the property if their judgment so dictates but in the event of disposing of all the property before the death of Louis Beyer, Senior, they are to always maintain a home and home comforts for my beloved husband, Louis Beyer, Senior.

Likewise I make, constitute, and appoint, my adopted son born Charles Lewis Smith but always known as Louis Beyer, Junior, to be executor of this my last will and testament, hereby revoking all former wills made by me, and I request that he be not required to give bond as such executor.

In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand, subscribed my name, and affixed my seal this fourteenth day of July in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ninety-six in my home at Washington, D. C.

Mary Beyer. [Seal.]

The above-written instrument was subscribed by the said Mary Beyer in our presence and acknowledged by her to each of us, and she at the same time published and declared the above instrument so subscribed to be her last will and testament, and we at the testator's request and in her presence and in the presence of each other have signed our names as wit- nesses hereto and written opposite our names our respective places of residence.

P. J. Brennan,

1418 F St. N. W., Washington, D. C.

Wade H. Atkinson,

707 12th St. N. W., Washington, D. C.

Thomas C. Smith,

1133 12th St. N. W., Washington, D. C.

The parties named as defendants were Louis Beyer, the husband of the testatrix; Louis Beyer, Junior, a nephew; Helen B. Johnson, a niece; Louis Beyer, Junior, as executor, and Meyer Cohen and Adolph G. Wolf, trustees in a deed of trust executed by the husband of the testatrix on May 13, 1897. The ground of attack was the alleged mental incapacity of the testatrix and undue influence on the part of Louis Beyer, Junior, and Helen B. Johnson. The personal property belonging to the testatrix was of little value, but she owned certain real estate, subject to a trust deed, which in the bill was alleged to be of the value of $25,000 over and above the encumbrance. Louis Beyer, Junior, and Helen B. Johnson, answering separately, denied metal unsoundness and undue influence; alleged that the will was duly executed, and challenged the jurisdiction of the court, sitting as a court of equity, to entertain the bill. The trustees pleaded that the bill stated nothing entitling the complainant to relief in equity, and averred that their deed of trust was a valid lien. Louis Beyer demurred generally. On June 20, the court having made no ruling upon the question of jurisdiction, the parties signed this stipulation:

'It is hereby stipulated by and between the parties to this cause this 20th day of June, 1899, that the court may make an order certifying certain issues, to be named in said order, to be tried by a jury of the circuit court, and that the findings by said jury upon said issues shall be returned to this court; whereupon a decree shall be entered in accordance with said findings, all rights of appeal as in cases of issues from the orphans' court being hereby reserved.'

And thereupon the court made this order:

'Ordered by the court this 20th day of June, 1899 (the parties to this cause consenting hereto), that the following issues to be tried by a jury be, and they hereby are, certified to the circuit court, to wit:

'First. Was the said Mary Beyer at the time of the alleged execution of the paper-writing bearing date the 14th day of July, A. D. 1896, and purporting to be her last will and testament, of sound and disposing mind, memory, and understanding, and capable of executing a valid deed or contract?

'Second. Was the execution of the said paper-writing bearing date the 14th day of July, 1896, and purporting to be the last will and testament of the said Mary Beyer, procured by fraud, circumvention, or undue influence practised or exercised upon the said Mary Beyer by Louis Beyer, Jr., Helen B. Johnson, or by either of them or by any other person?

'Third. Were the contents of the paper-writing bearing date July 14th, 1896, and purporting to be the last will and testament of said Mary Beyer, known to her at the time of the alleged execution thereof?'

This order was assented to by all the parties. In pursuance thereof the case came on for trial before Mr. Justice Cole and a jury, and the jury, after hearing the testimony and the instructions of the court, answered each of the questions in the affirmative. A motion for a new trial was overruled by the presiding judge. A stipulation was entered into by the parties that the full report of the testimony and proceedings had before Mr. Justice Cole and the jury should be produced, read, and heard by the equity court as a part of the record on the hearing in that court and in the appellate court to which the cause might be carried by either or any of the parties. Thereupon a full report of the proceedings was presented to Mr. Justice Barnard, holding the equity court, who, on May 14, 1900, filed an opinion sustaining the verdict of the jury, and directing a decree in accordance with the prayers of the bill. From that decree Louis Beyer, Louis Beyer, Junior, and Helen B. Johnson appealed to the court of appeals. On December 6, 1900, the court of appeals affirmed the decree. From that decree Louis Beyer, a severance being had, appealed to this court.

Henry E. Davis and Franklin H. Mackey for appellant.

Messrs. Clayton E. Emig and Charles Poe for appellee.

Mr. Justice Brewer delivered the opinion of the court:

The appellant contends, first, that the supreme court of the District, sitting as a court of equity, had no jurisdiction of this cause; second, that the verdict of the jury was not sustained by the evidence; and third, that there was duress and coercion of the jury by the court, which resulted in an unjust verdict.

We pass the first question with the observation that, whatever might have been the conclusion if the defendants had stood upon their challenge of the jurisdiction, the agreement of the parties to submit certain questions to a jury, the trial before the jury and the stipulation for returning the testimony there taken to the equity court for consideration by the judge thereof, must be held a waiver of the objection to the jurisdiction. Under the Federal system the same judge may preside whether the court is sitting in equity or as a common-law court. While the pleadings and procedure are dissimilar, and the rights of the parties, especially in respect to juries, are different, yet in many cases a party who appears in one branch of the court and consents to a hearing and adjudication, according to the practice there prevailing, of an issue presented by the pleadings and in respect to a subject-matter, which is within the general scope of its jurisdiction, may be estopped from thereafter and in an appellate court challenging such jurisdiction. Reynes v. Dumont, 130 U. S. 354, 395, 32 L. ed. 934, 945, 9 Sup. Ct. Rep. 486. This is such a case. The determination of the title to real estate is within the scope of the general jurisdiction of a court of equity. The issue of undue influence in respect to any transaction such a court is competent to determine. The proceeding consented to, and in fact had, was practically the trial of a feigned issue out of chancery. It is too late now to raise the question of jurisdiction.

Passing to the second question, we premise by saying that it is well settled that when the trial and the appellate courts agree as to the facts established on the trial, this court will accept their conclusion, and not attempt to weigh conflicting testimony. Stuart v. Hayden, 169 U. S. 1, 14, 42 L. ed. 639, 644, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 274, and authorities cited in the opinion. And this rule of...

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