Smithsonian Institution v. Meech, No. 191

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBREWER
Citation18 S.Ct. 396,42 L.Ed. 793,169 U.S. 398
Decision Date28 February 1898
Docket NumberNo. 191
PartiesSMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION v. MEECH et al

169 U.S. 398
18 S.Ct. 396
42 L.Ed. 793
SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION

v.

MEECH et al.

No. 191.
February 28, 1898.

This was a bill by the Smithsonian Institution against Levi W. Meech and others to establish the right of complainant to certain property. There was a decree in its favor in the trial court, which was reversed by the court of appea § (8 App. D. C. 490), and from that decision it appeals.

Page 399

On June 4, 1895, the appellant, as plaintiff, filed its bill in the supreme court of the District of Columbia to enforce certain rights claimed under a will made by Robert S. Avery, on July 22, 1893. In this will, after sundry bequests to his own relatives, is the following:

'I bequeath to the sister and brothers of my late wife one thousand dollars (1,000), to be equally divided between them. I have already given these last over a thousand dollars which my wife inherited from her father, also clothing and other gifts, thus equalizing substantially my gifts to her family and to mine. These bequests are all made upon the condition that the legatees acquiesce in this will, and I hereby bequeath the share or shares of any disputing this will to the residuary legatee hereinafter named.

'All the rest and residue of my estate, of whatsoever nature, real, personal, or mixed, and wheresoever situate. I hereby give, devise and bequeath unto the Smithsonian Institute, a body corporate by virtue of the laws of the United States, of which institution Samuel P. Langley is now secretary, having its legal residence in the District of Columbia, unto it and its successors, forever.

'Having always had a love for the sciences, and having acquired most of my property while toiling in humble capacities to extend and diffuse knowledge, I have concluded that

Page 400

the residuary gift above made to the Smithsonian Institution will best express my interest in science. As my labors have been directed to the invention and use of phonetic type, I desire, but do not require, that the income derived by the Smithsonian Institution from this gift may be applied, so far as it may determine, to promoting publications in such type of scientific publication, especially of such publications as may relate to phonetic type and printing. I also desire, but by no means require, that such part of said income as the said institution shall determine shall be applied to the publication of lectures and treatises upon and concerning those mechanical laws governing an etherial medium which are treated of in atomic chemistry, and which are supposed to govern phenomena of electricity, magnetism, light, and heat. Prizes might be given for essays on these subjects, and upon such other kindred subjects as may meet the approval of the institution. I would like, however, to have published first the multiplying table and also IV-plate logarithms, publication of the table of squares, cubes, square roots, cube roots, reciprocals, prime numbers and factors, some of which I have written out. If the institution shall approve, the fund derived from the residuary bequest shall be called the 'Avery Fund' or the 'Fund Contributed by Robert S. Avery and His Wife, Lydia T. Avery, for the Extension of the Sciences'; and all publications made from the fund shall bear this inscription.

'The property known as part of lot 2 (two) in square 787 in the city of Washington, D. C., being premises No. 326 A street, S. E., is my property, although the title stands in my wife's name. I include it in the residuary bequest to the Smithsonian Institution.'

The testator died childless, on September 12, 1894. The will was probated February 2, 1895. He and his wife had lived for many years in Washington, he being in the employ of the government in the coast survey office. During these years he lived a quiet and retired life, devoting himself to scientific research, and experimenting chiefly in the matter of phonetic type. His wife was younger than he, and was, until shortly before her death, on November 18, 1890, in apparently

Page 401

good health. While they were both living, and on April 20, 1885, the real estate described in the last paragraph quoted from the will was purchased, the title being conveyed to Mrs. Avery.

The bill alleged that the lot was paid for with the money of Robert Avery; that the title was taken in the name of Mrs. Avery because it was supposed that she would outlive her husband, and upon an understanding and agreement that the property should, after their deaths, pass to the Smithsonian Institution, in pursuance of a mutual desire to make their gift to this institution as large as possible; that, notwithstanding these facts, the defendants, other than the executrix, claimed title to the property as the heirs of Mrs. Avery, and had demanded possession. The prayer was for a finding and decree that the equitable title was in Robert Avery, and passed to the plaintiff by his last will; that the defendants be enjoined from claiming any title thereto; and that the executrix be directed to treat the $1,000 bequeathed to the sister and brothers as forfeited for breach of condition annexed to said legacy, and as having fallen into the residuum. After answer, testimony was taken, and the case was heard before Justice Hagner, of the supreme court, who rendered a decree in accordance with the prayer of the bill so far as respects the lot, but denying the relief sought as to the legacy on condition of the defendants executing a release of all claims to the realty. 24 Wash. Law Rep. 326. On appeal by all of the defendants, except the executrix, the court of appeals reversed the decree of the supreme court, and remanded the case, with directions to dismiss the bill (8 App. D. C. 490); whereupon the plaintiff appealed to this court.

Frank W. Hackett, for appellant.

Franklin H. Mackey, for appellees.

Mr. Justice BREWER, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court.

The legal title to this property passed by the conveyance

Page 402

in 1885 to Mrs. Avery. She died without will. Prima facie, therefore, the title then passed to her heirs, the appellees. The plaintiff insists that in fact the purchase price was paid by Mr. Avery, and paid under an oral agreement, whereby a resulting trust was created which changed the course of the title; and the first questions are: Whose money paid for the lot, and was there such an agreement, and, if so, what were its terms?

That the money which was used in making payment for the lot was the money of Mr. Avery is not seriously questioned. Both Mr. and Mrs. Avery lived very economically, and this money was accumulated out of savings from the salary he received from the government. At the time of their marriage, Mrs. Avery had a small amount of money on deposit in a savings bank in Connecticut, and the books of the bank showed that no part of that amount was drawn out at or near the time of this conveyance. Her repeated declarations were to the same effect, and that Mr. Avery's money had paid for the property.

The trial court also found that there was an oral agreement an agreement made at the time the property was conveyed to Mrs. Avery—that she should hold the property during her lifetime, and that she should make a will by which it should pass at her death to the Smithsonian Institution. The court of appeals held that the testimony did not establish the alleged agreement so clearly as to justify a court of equity in recognizing it as against the legal effect of the conveyance. We are constrained to differ with the court of appeals, and to agree with the justice of the supreme court. In a careful and exhaustive opinion, Justice Hagner reviewed the evidence, and his conclusions therefrom commend themselves to our judgment. In view of this opinion, it seems unnecessary to recapitulate all the testimony, and we shall content ourselves with stating the salient features thereof.

Mr. Avery was for some 32 years in the employ of the government, and an enthusiast in the scientific studies which he was pursuing in connection with such service. Prior to the purchase of the lot in controversy, and on September

Page 403

13, 1882, he had made a will, in which, after giving to his 'wife, Lydia T. Avery, if she outlives me, in trust while she lives, all my real estate and personal property, * * * to hold and to use for her support a long as she lives, and to keep in good condition for its final disposition,' he declared:

'Having always had a love for the sciences, and having acquired most of my property while toiling in humble capacities to extend and diffuse knowledge, I have concluded to giving all my real and personal property, with such exceptions as I may make hereafter in this will or in codicils annexed thereto, to the board of regents of the Smithsonian Institution, to provide for its safekeeping, and to use the income from it in extending the sciences by publishing.' etc.

And again:

'This fund may be called the 'Avery Fund,' or the 'Fund Contributed by Robert S. Avery and His Wife, Lydia T. Avery, for the Extension of the Sciences'; and all publications made with this fund must have a note thereon stating that they have been thus published.

'After the death of my wife, the board of regents of the Smithsonian Institution will be expected to select an executor of this will, and provide for making the fund as useful as possible, limiting its use as much as they can to the objects specified.'

His wife was 15 or 20 years younger than he, and the expectation of both was that she would outlive him, though in fact she died some 4 years before he did, he living to be 86 years of age. After her death, and on December 20, 1892, he prepared a codicil to the will of 1882, in which he recited that the conveyance of the property in question was made to his wife with his consent, and upon the express understanding and condition that she should make a will in his favor, and...

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107 practice notes
  • Poole & Creber Market Co. v. Breshears, No. 35244.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • February 21, 1939
    ...some substantial relation to the protection of public health, safety or general welfare. Mugler v. Kansas, 123 U.S. 661; Holden v. Hardy, 169 U.S. 398; Lochner v. N.Y., 198 U.S. 62; Bailey v. People, 190 Ill. 38; Liggett v. Baldridge, 278 U.S. 105. (c) The Legislature has no power to prohib......
  • Haynes v. First Nat. State Bank of New Jersey
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • July 22, 1981
    ...estates and give effect to a testator's clearly expressed intentions. E. g., Alper v. Alper, supra; Smithsonian Institution v. Meech, 169 U.S. 398, 413-415, 18 S.Ct. 396, 402, 42 L.Ed. 793, 800-801 (1898); In re Hite's Estate, 155 Cal. 436, 101 P. 443 (1909); Rudd v. Searles, 262 Mass. 490,......
  • Jackson v. Jackson, (No. 1747.)
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • September 28, 1920
    ...of fact, and not of law, and can be overthrown by clear and convincing proof of the real intention of the parties. Institution v. Meech, 169 U. S. 398, 407, 18 Sup. Ct. 396, 400, 42 L. Ed. 793, 798. It is insisted that the plaintiff in error, in his rejected amendments, sought to establish ......
  • Harbison v. Knoxville Iron Co.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • November 8, 1899
    ...is often an unsafe guide, and the legislature may properly interpose its authority." Holden v. Hardy, 169 U. S. 397, 18 Sup. Ct. 383, 42 L. Ed. 793. In that case, as in this one, the counsel of the employer urged that the act worked a peculiar hardship upon the employé, in that it violated ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
107 cases
  • Poole & Creber Market Co. v. Breshears, No. 35244.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • February 21, 1939
    ...some substantial relation to the protection of public health, safety or general welfare. Mugler v. Kansas, 123 U.S. 661; Holden v. Hardy, 169 U.S. 398; Lochner v. N.Y., 198 U.S. 62; Bailey v. People, 190 Ill. 38; Liggett v. Baldridge, 278 U.S. 105. (c) The Legislature has no power to prohib......
  • Haynes v. First Nat. State Bank of New Jersey
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • July 22, 1981
    ...estates and give effect to a testator's clearly expressed intentions. E. g., Alper v. Alper, supra; Smithsonian Institution v. Meech, 169 U.S. 398, 413-415, 18 S.Ct. 396, 402, 42 L.Ed. 793, 800-801 (1898); In re Hite's Estate, 155 Cal. 436, 101 P. 443 (1909); Rudd v. Searles, 262 Mass. 490,......
  • Jackson v. Jackson, (No. 1747.)
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • September 28, 1920
    ...of fact, and not of law, and can be overthrown by clear and convincing proof of the real intention of the parties. Institution v. Meech, 169 U. S. 398, 407, 18 Sup. Ct. 396, 400, 42 L. Ed. 793, 798. It is insisted that the plaintiff in error, in his rejected amendments, sought to establish ......
  • Harbison v. Knoxville Iron Co.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • November 8, 1899
    ...is often an unsafe guide, and the legislature may properly interpose its authority." Holden v. Hardy, 169 U. S. 397, 18 Sup. Ct. 383, 42 L. Ed. 793. In that case, as in this one, the counsel of the employer urged that the act worked a peculiar hardship upon the employé, in that it violated ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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