Minot v. Minot

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Citation66 N.E.2d 5,319 Mass. 253
PartiesMINOT v. MINOT et al.
Decision Date04 March 1946

319 Mass. 253
66 N.E.2d 5

MINOT et al.

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.

March 4, 1946.

Appeals from Superior Court, Suffolk County; Greenhalge, Judge.

Suit by Jane Gould Minot against Sedgwick Minot and others for breach of a separation agreement, wherein defendant counterclaimed. From adverse portions of certain interlocutory decrees and final decree, both parties appeal.

Interlocutory decrees affirmed and final decree affirmed as modified.

[66 N.E.2d 8]


D. Burstein, of Boston, and G. J. Dean, of New York City, for plaintiff.

G. R. Farnum, of Boston, and M. Chopnick, of New York City, for defendant. Sedgwick Minot.

LUMMUS, Justice.

The plaintiff in this bill in equity, filed in the Superior Court on May 25, 1937, was a citizen of the United States domiciled in France. The defendant Sedgwick Minot, hereinafter called simply the defendant (for the final decree gave no relief against any other parties that had been made defendants) was likewise a citizen of the United States domiciled in France. The plaintiff and the defendant were married on December 27, 1916, in New York, where both were then domiciled, and lived together in New York until December, 1919, when they become domiciled in France. They went to live on an estate bought by the defendant in the Department of Oise, north of Paris. They had three children, born respectively in 1919, 1922, and 1925. They continued to live together in France until the spring of 1925, when the plaintiff went to live with her mother elsewhere in France. In August, 1925, the parties met to discuss their situation, and as a result the separation became permanent. They were divorced by a judgment rendered by the Tribunal Civil de la Seine at Paris on March 17, 1926. The validity of that divorce is not disputed.

This bill in equity was brought in Massachusetts in order to reach funds held for the defendant by fiduciaries here. When the master made his report on June 7, 1943, only one set of fiduciaries remained as defendants. The final decree dismissed the bill as against them, and neither party contends that in that respect the final de cree was wrong. The defendant appeared generally and submitted to the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts courts.

The plaintiff seeks relief for breach of a written agreement entered into by her with the defendant in Paris, France, on February 23, 1926. The agreement recited that the parties had permanently separated and wished to settle their property rights. The defendant agreed to establish a trust fund of $50,000 to be held by the United States Trust Company of New York as trustee under the terms of a trust indenture dated and executed by the defendant in Paris on January 18, 1926, but not executed by the trustee in New York until February 26, 1926, under which the income of the trust fund was to be paid to the plaintiff during her life. The plaintiff was to have the custody of the three children until the youngest should arrive at the age of sixteen years, and until that time the defendant agreed to pay the plaintiff the monthly sum of $625 ‘for the maintenance and support of said children.’ Each party released all rights, present and future, in the property of the other, arising out of the matrimonial relation. In the event of divorce, the defendant was to continue payments under the agreement, but the plaintiff was to claim no alimony. Then followed a provision that the contract was to be governed by the laws of New York.

On April 17, 1942, the case was referred to a master under the form of rule set forth in Rule 86 of the Superior Court (1932) ‘to hear the parties, find the facts and report his findings to the court, together with such questions of law, arising in the course of his duty, as any party may request.’ The master filed his report on June 7, 1943. The defendant seasonably brought in thirty-three objections which were appended to the report, and as provided in Rule 90 of the Superior Court (1932) requested the master in writing to ‘append to his report, for the sole purpose of enabling the court of determine’ the

[66 N.E.2d 9]

questions of law presented by certain of the objections, ‘a brief accurate and fair summary of so much of the evidence as shall be necessary for such purpose,’ with respect to the objections numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 16, 20, 21, 22, 24, 27 and 30. The master reported what purported to be such a summary, except as to some objections that he deemed outside the requirement of Rule 90 as to summaries. The defendant moved to recommit the report with directions to report other and further evidence by way of summary, accompanying his motion by a supporting affidavit under Rule 46 of the Superior Court (1932). He also moved to recommit with directions to report other and further facts. The judge denied the motion to recommit ‘in the exercise of such discretion as I have in the premises,’ but sustained exceptions numbered 14 and 15 relating to an arrangement made at Lausanne as described in paragraphs numbered 21 and 22 of the report. The master's report as modified by the sustaining of those exceptions was confirmed, the other exceptions being thus impliedly overruled. The defendant appealed from the denial of his motion to recommit, and from the overruling of most of his exceptions and the confirmation of the report. The plaintiff appealed from the sustaining of exceptions numbered 14 and 15. The final decree gave damages to each party, and ordered the plaintiff to pay the balance which was against her. Both parties appealed from the final decree.

Before we can discuss the questions of fact and law arising on the report, we must disentangle the facts found from any asserted facts and evidence that we have no right to consider upon the merits of the case.

In dealing with a master's report and the exceptions1 that automatically and impliedly result from objections to it duly brought in to the master and appended to his report (Equity Rule 26, 252 Mass. 608; Rule 90 of the Superior Court [1932]; Respro, Inc., v. Worcester Backing Co., 291 Mass. 467, 471, 472, 197 N.E. 198;Meeham v. North Adams Savings Bank, 302 Mass. 357, 362, 19 N.E.2d 299), one elementary rule is that a master's report has no effect until confirmed. Meeham v. North Adams Savings Bank, 302 Mass. 357, 362, 19 N.E.2d 299.Malden Trust Co. v. George, 303 Mass. 528, 529, 22 N.E.2d 74. A judge ought not to confirm it until satisfied that it affords a fair and adequate basis for a decree on the merits. Sometimes, it is true parties seek unreasonable refinement in analysis of the facts, which, if ordered, would lead only to confusion. MacLeod v. Davis, 290 Mass. 335, 338, 195 N.E. 315. But it was said in Dodge v. Anna Jaques Hospital, 301 Mass. 431, 436, 17 N.E.2d 308, and repeated in substance in Kahn v. Pacific Mills, 311 Mass. 588, 589, 590, 42 N.E.2d 531, 532, that ‘[a] master owes a duty to the parties, when making ultimate findings upon vital points, to find and report the subsidiary facts upon which they are based and [to] state that they are so based.’ If a report appears inadequate, lacking in analysis of

[66 N.E.2d 10]

vital points or otherwise unsatisfactory, a judge may recommit the report with directions to make additional findings, to report all the evidence or the evidence upon specified points ( Morin v. Clark, 296 Mass. 479, 483, 6 N.E.2d 830;Spiegel v. Beacon Participations, Inc., 297 Mass. 398, 406, 407, 8 N.E.2d 895), or to report all the evidence or subsidiary findings upon which a specified conclusion of fact was based ( Wilson v. Jones, 280 Mass. 488, 492, 493, 182 N.E. 917;George C. Miller & Co. Inc. v. Beagen, 293 Mass. 54, 57, 199 N.E. 344;Lawrence v. Houghton, 296 Mass. 407, 408, 6 N.E.2d 437), whereby the propriety of particular findings or conclusions may be tested. All this may be done by a judge sua sponte, or on motion of a party. Cutter v. Arlington Casket Co., 255 Mass. 52, 57, 151 N.E. 167.Watkins v. Simplex Time Recorder Co., 316 Mass. 217, 224, 55 N.E.2d 203. A judge may even vacate the rule to a master, and hear the evidence himself or refer the case to a different master. Action in all these matters requires a high degree of legal acumen and judicial wisdom, for it rests in the discretion of the judge and seldom can be revised on appeal. Budris v. New Amsterdam Casualty Co., 292 Mass. 46, 50, 197 N.E. 479;George C. Miller & Co., Inc., v. Beagen, 293 Mass. 54, 57, 199 N.E. 344;Krauss v. Kuechler, 300 Mass. 346, 348, 349, 15 N.E.2d 207, 117 A.L.R. 1355;Bumpus v. Church, 302 Mass. 419, 420, 19 N.E.2d 716;Anderson v. Connolly, 310 Mass. 5, 10, 36 N.E.2d 404;Kahn v. Pacific Mills, 311 Mass. 588, 590, 42 N.E.2d 531;Leventhal v. Jennings, 311 Mass. 622, 623, 42 N.E.2d 595;Cappy's, Inc., v. Dorgan, 313 Mass. 170, 173, 174, 46 N.E.2d 538;Bouchard v. Bouchard, 313 Mass. 531, 534, 48 N.E.2d 161;Buckley v. John, 314 Mass. 719, 725, 51 N.E.2d 317.

Another elementary rule is that an exception to a master's report cannot be sustained unless his error is demonstrated upon the face of his own report.2 Such an exception cannot be supported by assertions of counsel, by statements in affidavits, or by evidence introduced before the judge. Israel v. Sommer, 292 Mass. 113, 120, 197 N.E. 442;Anderson v. Connolly, 310 Mass. 5, 10, 11, 36 N.E.2d 404;Leventhal v. Jennings, 311 Mass. 622, 624, 42 N.E.2d 595;Cappy's Inc. v. Dorgan, 313 Mass. 170, 173, 46 N.E.2d 538;Carroll v. Hinchley, 316 Mass. 724, 728, 56 N.E.2d 608. For this reason, if for no other, an exception based upon the failure of a master to find certain facts upon unreported evidence is worthless. Manfredi v. O'Brien, 282 Mass. 458, 460, 185 N.E. 365;Carleton & Hovey Co. v. Burns, 285 Mass. 479, 483, 484, 189 N.E. 612;Morin v. Clark, 296 Mass. 479, 484, 6 N.E.2d 830;Markey v. Smith, 301 Mass. 64, 74, 16 N.E.2d 20, 118 A.L.R. 274;Anderson v. Connolly, 310 Mass. 5, 10, ...

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