Saufley v. Jackson

Decision Date01 January 1856
Citation16 Tex. 579
CourtTexas Supreme Court


Where, in a suit by a parent to set aside a deed of gift to a child, the jury found for the plaintiff, without any evidence of undue influence or improper conduct on the part of the child, and the court below refused to grant a new trial, the judgment was reversed.

Error from Cass. Tried before the Hon. W. W. Morris.

The facts are stated in the opinion. The law was correctly given in charge by the court below.

T. J. & J. H. Rogers, and J. T. Mills and T. J. Jennings, for plaintiffs in error.

Morrill & Dickson, for defendants in error.


This suit was instituted by the appellee against the appellants to set aside a voluntary deed of gift of certain slaves to Eliza Saufley, the wife of her co-appellant, and daughter of the appellee, on the ground of undue influence exercised in procuring it. There was a verdict and decree in favor of the appellee. A motion was made to set aside the verdict on the ground of its being contrary to the evidence, which was overruled and an appeal taken.

The petition contains a great deal that might well have been omitted, and in the language of Lord Eldon, in a case hereafter to be more particularly referred to, “there is much foul allegation which, if not true, ought not to have been there.” (14 Ves. Jr. 291.) We do not intend by this to cast any reflection whatever on the learned counsel who drafted the petition, because we are well aware how very difficult it is for counsel at all times to restrain and control a party in the construction of the petition, and particularly a female client. To them it often appears important to allege matters immaterial, and that, too, in their own strong language.

We propose to discuss the principles upon which voluntary settlements have been set aside, as made under an undue influence.

There are certain relations in life which, from the peculiar confidence necessarily subsisting, courts of equity feel bound to guard and protect from any undue influence. These are guardians and their wards, masters and servants, trustees and cestui que trust, and parents and children, and transactions between persons occupying such fiduciary relations are viewed with a jealous vigilance; and if the least scintilla of fraud or unfairness is practiced, courts in the exercise of equity jurisdiction will set such transactions aside. Judge Story says: “The general principle which governs in all cases of this sort is, that if a confidence is reposed, and that confidence is abused, courts of equity will grant relief.” (Bottom of page 339, Story's Equity, 1 vol.) When confidence reposed in any of these relations has been abused, courts of equity will interpose and protect the injured, in cases where there would be no relief if the parties did not occupy these confidential relations. The same learned author, just quoted, says: “In this class of cases there is often to be found some intermixture of deceit, imposition, overreaching, unconscionable advantage, or other mark of deceit and positive fraud. But the principle upon which courts of equity act in regard thereto stands independent of any such ingredients, upon a motive, and is designed, in some degree, as a protection to the parties against the effects of overweening confidence and self-delusion, and the infirmities of hasty and precipitate judgment. These courts will therefore often interfere in such cases where, but for such peculiar relation, they would either abstain wholly from granting relief, or would grant it in a very modified and abstemious manner.” (Story Eq. sec. 307.) In the exercise of jurisdiction in such cases, the courts do not feel themselves authorized to interfere and set aside a voluntary contract, on the notion that an honorable man would not make such a contract, nor to prevent a voluntary or other act of a man whereby he strips himself of his property. But they require, by a rule of technical morality, that if confidence is reposed it must be faithfully acted upon and preserved from any intermixture of imposition. If influence is acquired it must be kept from the taint of selfish interest and cunning and overreaching bargains. If the means of personal control are given, they must always be restrained to purposes of good faith and personal good. Courts of equity will not, therefore, arrest or set aside an act or contract merely because a man of more honor would not have entered into it. There must be some relation between the parties which compels the one to make a full discovery to the other, or abstain from all selfish projects. But when such a relation does exist, courts of equity acting upon this superinduced ground in aid of general morals, will not suffer one party standing in a situation of which he can avail himself against the other to derive advantage from that circumstance, for it is founded in a breach of confidence. (Story Equity, 1 vol. sec. 308.)

These are the general rules governing relations of particular confidence arising from the position of the parties. But the same rule does not apply with equal rigor to all of these relations. A settlement made by a parent on a child, so far from being regarded with jealousy, will always be presumed to be free from suspicion, because it is the natural course for property to take. One of the main objects of the acquisition of property by the parent is to give it to the child, and that child in turn will give it to his, and in this way the debt of gratitude we owe to our parent is paid to our children. Each generation pays what it owes to the preceding one to the succeeding one. This seems to be the natural law for the transmission of property. But when a contract is made between persons standing in the relation of parent and child for the benefit of the parent, it invites the severest scrutiny, and if it is not perfectly clear that the parent has used no undue influence to procure such settlement in his favor, courts of equity will set aside such contract in favor of the child. Judge Story in discussing the subject says: “The natural and just influence which a parent has over a child renders it peculiarly important for courts of justice to watch over and protect the interest of the latter, and therefore all contracts and conveyances whereby benefits are secured by children to their parents are objects of jealousy, and if they are not entered into with scrupulous good faith, and are not reasonable under the circumstances, they will be set aside unless third persons have acquired an interest under them, especially where the original purposes for which they have been obtained are perverted or used as a mere cover. The same principle applies to a voluntary gift to a person who has put himself in loco parentis. But we are not to indulge in suspicions of jealousy, or to make unfavorable presumptions as a matter of course in cases of this sort. It is undoubtedly the duty of courts carefully to watch and examine the circumstances attending transactions of this kind when brought under review before them, to discover if any undue influence has been exercised in obtaining the conveyance. But to consider a parent disqualified to take a voluntary deed from his child without consideration, on account of their relationship, is assuming a principle at war with all filial as well as...

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23 cases
  • Mann v. Prouty
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • 19 Luglio 1917
    ...v. Britton, 23 Pa. Co. Ct. 89; Worrall's Appeal, 110 Pa. 349, 1 A. 380, 765; Travis v. Lowry, 5 Sadler (Pa.) 525, 8 A. 601; Saufley v. Jackson, 16 Tex. 579; Millican Millican, 24 Tex. 426; Chadd v. Moser, 25 Utah 369, 71 P. 870; Orr v. Pennington, 93 Va. 268, 24 S.E. 928; Todd v. Sykes, 97 ......
  • Slayback v. Witt
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • 12 Maggio 1898
    ...4 Cowen 207, s. c. 15 Am. Dec. 354; Saufley v. Jackson, 16 Tex. 579; Howe v. Howe, 99 Mass. 88; Wray v. Wray, 32 Ind. 126. "In Saufley v. Jackson, supra, speaking of the rule where the ordinary fiduciary relation has been abused, it was said: 'But it is clear that this rule was never applie......
  • Westphal v. Heckman
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • 9 Giugno 1916
    ...undue influence, and not upon any presumption of invalidity." 2 Pomeroy, Eq. Jurisp. § 962; 1 Bigelow, Law of Fraud 357; Saufley v. Jackson (1856), 16 Tex. 579; Wessell v. Rathjohn (1883), 89 N.C. 377, 45 Am. Rep. 696; Beanland Bradley (1854), 2 Smale & G. 339; Tenbrook v. Brown (1861), 17 ......
  • Teegarden v. Lewis
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • 15 Maggio 1896
    ...position or control; and this, in the case of parent and child, is that of parent.” See also, Jackson v. King, 4 Cow. 207;Saufley v. Jackson, 16 Tex. 579;Howe v. Howe, 99 Mass. 88;Wray v. Wray, 32 Ind. 126. In Saufley v. Jackson, supra, in speaking of the rule where the ordinary fiduciary r......
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