Westphal v. Heckman

Decision Date09 June 1916
Docket Number23,110
Citation113 N.E. 299,185 Ind. 88
PartiesWestphal v. Heckman et al
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

From Marion Circuit Court (18,483); Charles Remster, Judge.

Action by Emma Heckman and another against Louis Westphal. From a judgment for plaintiffs, the defendant appeals.


Lucius B. Swift, for appellant.

Daniel Waite Howe, George H. Batchelor and John W. Claypool, for appellees.


Lairy, J.

Henry Westphal was the father of appellant and appellees. A few days before his death he conveyed all of his real estate, of the value of about $ 3,000, to his son to the exclusion of his two daughters. Appellees brought this suit to recover an interest in the land and succeeded in the trial court. There is some controversy between appellant and appellees as to the theory upon which the case was tried below. Appellant contends that the purpose of the suit as disclosed by the complaint and special findings was to set aside the conveyance from Henry Westphal to appellant upon the ground of fraud and undue influence, while appellees contend that the purpose was to declare and enforce in their favor a constructive trust in the lands so conveyed. The conclusions of law and the decree indicate that the trial court proceeded upon the theory indicated by appellees, but, in view of the conclusion reached by this court, the theory becomes unimportant.

The court found the facts specially and pronounced its conclusions of law thereon. The only questions presented on appeal arise upon the exceptions by appellant to the conclusions of law and upon the motion for a new trial, upon the ground that the findings are not sustained by the evidence. The special finding is quite lengthy but it will not be necessary to set out more of the facts so found than are required to present clearly the questions before the court for decision. The special finding shows that at the time Henry Westphal executed the deed to appellant, he was about sixty-seven years of age, and that he was unable to read or write; that he could make simple computations mentally, but that he could not compute interest or make other mathematical calculations requiring the use of figures; that he possessed certain peculiarities and eccentricities which are stated in the finding, but that he was of sound mind at the time he executed the deed to appellant; and that he was able to understand the business in which he was engaged and the scope and effect of the deed. The finding further shows that for some time before the execution of the deed in question appellant had been counseled by his father in reference to the transaction of certain business, and the appellant had frequently advised his father in reference to business transactions, and that he looked after the collection of rents and the payment of taxes and assisted his father in other business transactions set out in the finding, including the sale of three acres of ground to a railroad company as a location for the company's shop. The latter transaction involved considerable negotiations and resulted in a sale to the company for the price of $ 3,500 of which sum the father received $ 1,369, and the balance was distributed among his children and the children of his deceased wife by a former marriage. Appellant turned over to his father the sum of $ 200 of his share of the money and the father applied all of the money received by him to the payment of his debts. The court finds that the father had confidence in his son, but it is not found as a fact that the son at the time the deed was executed possessed an undue or overpowering influence over his father. Facts are found from which the trial court might have drawn the inference that, on account of his age and the state of his health, and on account of the other facts found, the father's mind was weak and susceptible to influence, and that the son had gained a dominant influence over his father, and that he exercised the influence thus obtained and took an advantage of the confidence reposed in him for the purpose of inducing his father to make the conveyance in question. These ultimate inferential facts are not stated in the special finding and it is not found that the father executed the deed as a result of an influence which the son exercised over him and which he had not sufficient power to resist.

It is the province of the trial court to draw the proper inference from the facts proved and thus to find the ultimate or inferential fact, and the failure to find the ultimate fact must be deemed a finding against the party having the burden of proof. It thus appears that the facts found do not show that the conveyance in question was obtained by the actual undue influence of the son over the father. It remains to be considered whether the mere fact that the deed was made from a father to his son without any consideration gives rise to a legal presumption that the son possessed an undue influence over his father.

There are certain legal and domestic relations in respect to which the law raises a presumption of trust and confidence on one side and a corresponding influence on the other. The relations of attorney and client, principal and agent, husband and wife, and parent and child belong to this class and there may be others. Where such a relation exists between two persons and the one occupying the superior position has dealt with the other in such a way as to sustain a substantial advantage, the law will presume that improper influence was exerted and that the transaction is fraudulent. Keys v. McDowell (1913), 54 Ind.App. 263, 100 N.E. 385, and cases there cited.

This so-called presumption, when indulged, arises out of relations which exist between the contracting parties regardless of any facts or circumstances having a tendency to show that a confidence was reposed by one of the parties and an influence gained by the other. Proof of the existence of such a relation between the parties establishes prima facie that the dominant party to such relation occupies a position of trust and confidence which he must not abuse. This rule, however, is applied only as against the one who is assumed to be the dominant party in the relation shown. In the relation of parent and child the parent is assumed to be the dominant party, and, where one seeks to show that the child is the dominant party, he must do so by showing that the condition and situation of the parties, their treatment of each other, and other circumstances from which such ultimate fact may be inferred, and unless such fact is found by the court or jury trying the issue he cannot prevail. This court has held that no presumption of fraud or undue influence arises in a case of a conveyance from a parent to a child on account of the mere existence of such relation. In the case of Teegarden v. Lewis (1895), 145 Ind. 98, 40 N.E. 1047, 44 N.E. 9, it was said, "Cases of this kind plainly turn upon the exercise of actual 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 v. Bradley (1854), 2 Smale & G. 339; Tenbrook v. Brown (1861), 17 Ind. 410; Slayback v. Witt (1898), 151 Ind. 376, 50 N.E. 389; and cases there cited. Under these authorities, the fact that the conveyance in question here was made by Henry Westphal to his son without any consideration raises no presumption of invalidity, and the finding does not show that actual fraud or actual undue influence was exerted by the son over the father in order to procure the execution of the deed. It is therefore apparent that the deed could not be set aside upon such facts upon the ground that it was obtained by fraud, coercion or undue influence.

It is asserted by appellees that facts found by the court in finding No. 14 are sufficient, when taken in connection with other facts found, to sustain the conclusion of law made by the court to the effect that appellant took the real estate in question by the deed from his father to be held in trust for his own benefit and for the benefit of his two sisters, share and share alike. The part of finding No. 14 which bears directly upon the question here presented finds substantially the following facts: That at the time of the execution of the deed in question it was the purpose and intention of Henry Westphal, the father, that the real estate conveyed to appellant should belong to him and to his two sisters, appellees herein, share and share alike, and that appellant at the time knew this purpose and intent on the part of his father; that appellant, the grantee, encouraged and induced his father to believe that he, as grantee, assented to such purpose, intent and understanding of his father in making such conveyance, and that he intended to carry out the same; that the grantor did believe at the time he executed the deed that the grantee would hold such real estate in trust for himself and his two sisters; and that he was induced by such belief to make such conveyance to his son alone, when otherwise he would have made it to his three children, share and share alike.

Appellant claims that these facts so found show nothing more than an attempt to create a trust in land by parol, and he relies upon the proposition that an express trust in lands can not be created by parol contract. § 4012 Burns 1908, § 2969 R. S. 1881. Pearson v. Pearson (1890) 125 Ind. 341, 25 N.E. 342; Stonehill v. Swartz (1891), 129 Ind. 310, 28 N.E. 620. Appellees take the position that such facts should be considered in connection with other facts specially found which show the relation of father and son, and that by reason of such relation, and by reason of other...

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  • Westphal v. Heckman
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • June 9, 1916
    ...185 Ind. 88113 N.E. 299WESTPHALv.HECKMAN et al.No. 23110.Supreme Court of Indiana.June 9, Appeal from Circuit Court, Marion County; Charles Remster, Judge. Suit by Emma Heckman and another against Louis Westphal. From a decree for complainants, defendant appeals. Transferred from Appellate ......

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