Woodhouse v. Woodhouse

Citation130 A. 758
Case DateOctober 07, 1925
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont
130 A. 758

WOODHOUSE
v.
WOODHOUSE et ux.

Supreme Court of Vermont. Chittenden.

Oct. 7, 1925.


130 A. 759

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130 A. 760

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130 A. 766

Exceptions from Chittenden County Court; Sheuman R. Moulton, Judge.

Action by Dorrit Van Deusen Woodhouse against Lorenzo E. Woodhouse and wife. On defendants' exception after judgment for plaintiff and petition for new trial. Judgment affirmed, and petition dismissed.

Argued before WATSON, C. J., and POWERS, TAYLOR, SLACK, and BUTLER, JJ.

Warren R. Austin, of Burlington, for plaintiff.

J. J. Enright, V. A. Bullard, C. H. Darling, and Guy M. Page, all of Burlington, for defendants.

TAYLOR, J. The defendants are the parents and the plaintiff the wife of Charles Douglas Woodhouse, generally called Douglas Woodhouse. The marriage of plaintiff and her husband occurred in September, 1918, following an acquaintance and courtship extending over several years. Their marriage engagement was made in February, 1918, but was not announced to the defendants until a short time before the wedding. Douglas was then about 30 years old, and the plaintiff 5 years younger. The relations of Douglas and the plaintiff became estranged in 1919, and they ceased to live together as husband and wife early in 1920. In the fall of 1920 Douglas went to Reno, Nev., where he instituted divorce proceedings which were pending when this case was tried in the county court.

The action is tort for the alienation of the affections of plaintiff's husband. The defendants' answer is a general denial. There was a trial by jury at the September term, 1922, resulting in a verdict and judgment for the plaintiff. The case was argued in this court at the May term, 1924, on defendants' exceptions and on a petition for a new trial on the ground of misconduct of jurors. The questions first briefed relate to the sufficiency of the evidence, raised by a motion for a directed verdict. Some of the points covered by the motion were also presented by requests to charge. As the exceptions saved to the overruling of the motion for a directed verdict and to the refusal of many of the requests to charge raise the same questions, they do not require separate treatment.

The grounds of the motion for a directed verdict are numerous and involved. It would prolong this opinion unnecessarily to discuss the grounds seriatim. It will be more profitable to examine the whole evidence in the light of the principles underlying the plaintiff's right of recovery, supplementing such general discussion by the consideration of particular points that are not thus adequately covered.

Defendants' counsel give prominence in their brief to what they refer to as "the angle of departure." Speaking of the relations of parents to a daughter-in-law, they assert without qualification that parents owe the daughter-in-law no legal duty. Manifestly this is not an accurate statement, speaking generally. A proper understanding of the rights and duties of parents respecting the marital relations of their children is of vital importance to a correct determination of the

130 A. 767

questions presented for review. It may be admitted that the marriage of the child imposes no obligation upon the parent to receive the child's spouse within the bosom of his own family. It has been said that the parents may hold aloof, decline to recognize the wife, show no interest in her or her children, and even disinherit their son for marrying without their approval; in short, that the law requires only that they do not meddle unjustifiably with the domestic felicity and affections of their son and his wife. Cooper v. Cooper, 102 Kan. 378, 171 P. 5.

It is uniformly held that parental interest in their children is not interrupted by their marriage, and that parents have a right to continue their solicitude and parental care and to be protected in the continuance of such interest. The law recognizes the natural solicitude of the normal parent for the welfare of his child, and accordingly indulges the presumption that in his influence, association, and conduct with the child he is acting within his rights. No inference of malice will flow from the mere fact of parental interference in the marital relations of a child. In such cases the proof must go further and show that such interference was without just cause or excuse; in other words, was malicious. Pronk v. Pronk, 159 Mo. App. 543, 141 S. W. 692.

The authorities are agreed upon the proposition that a parent will not be liable to the spouse of his child for causing their separation, if the counsel given and persuasion used by him are such as he fairly and honestly considers to be called for by the best interests of the child; that is, if his acts are done in good faith and without malice. The law of the subject is well stated in Multer v. Knibbs, 193 Mass. 556, 79 N. E. 762, 9 L. R. A. (N. S.) 322, 9 Ann. Cas. 958, where the prior decisions are collected. For additional cases, see Roe v. Roe, 315 Ill. 120, 145 N. E. 804; 13 R. C. L. 1471, § 522; notes 9 L. R. A. (N. S.) 322; 46 L. R. A. (N. S.) 465; Ann. Cas. 1917E, 1017.

While the law recognizes a superior right of interference on the part of parents, and will justify such interference for causes which would be no justification in favor of strangers, it is not to be understood that parents may influence their child to separate from a spouse with impunity. The relation of parent and child does not justify a deliberate attempt without cause to bring about such a separation. To do so without justifiable cause is a tort, for which the parent like any other person is liable. This is the doctrine of practically all the cases, including many cited by the defendants. See note 9 I. R. A. (N. S.) 322, 324. It is sometimes said that in such an action the parent is liable only when he acts maliciously in bringing about the separation: and, again, that stronger evidence is required to maintain the action against parents than against strangers. But the distinction found in the cases is merely a matter of terminology. In principle they are in entire accord. The distinction between the liability of parents and that of strangers is only in what will justify their interference. Malice is generally, if not always, deemed an essential element of actions for alienation. This is so held where seduction or adultery is not involved. 13 R. C. L. 1466, § 515; Gercimini v. Brunelle, 214 Mass. 492, 102 N. E. 67, 46 L, R. A. (N. S.) 465; 30 C. J. 1122, § 974. And, where alienation is by means of adultery, it seems that malice in law is presumed from the wrongful act. See Miller v. Pearce, 86 Vt. 322, 85 A. 620, 43 L. R. A. (N. S.) 332. However, there is this difference in the two classes of cases, which is evidential merely: In case of a stranger, malice may be inferred from the fact of alienation, while, in case of a parent, good faith will be presumed in the absence of circumstances indicating malice. So it is that in actions against parents of a spouse the plaintiff has the burden of showing that the conduct complained of was actuated by malicious motives. Hodgkinson v. Hodgkinson, 43 Neb. 269, 61 N. W. 577, 27 L. R. A. 120, 47 Am. St. Rep. 759; Love v. Love, 98 Mo. App. 562, 73 S. W. 255; Lanigan v. Lanigan, 222 Mass. 198, 110 N. E. 285; McLery v. McLery, 186 Wis. 137, 202 N. W. 156; Crowell v. Jeffries, 79 Ind. App. 513, 134 N. E. 908, 137 N. E. 556; note 46 L. R. A. (N. S.) 465.

It follows that the quo animo is the important consideration where parents are charged with alienating the affections of a child—Was it malicious or was it inspired by a proper solicitude for the welfare and happiness of the child? In reviewing the evidence, we are to assume that the motives of the defendants in what they did were good unless there was evidence fairly tending to show the contrary. But the claim of the defendants that the presumption indulged in their favor should be weighed as evidence on the authority of the Cowdry Will Case, 77 Vt. 359, 60 A. 141, must be rejected as unsound. The function of this presumption is locative and not probative, as to which see Sheldon v. Wright, 80 Vt. 298, 320, 67 A. 807; Rutland Ry. Lt. & Pr. Co. v. Williams, 90 Vt. 276, 281, 98 A. 85; Zabarsky v. Employers' Ins. Co., 97 Vt. 377, 123 A. 520.

Express malice need not be proved. Malice in the sense used in actions of this kind implies no more than the intentional doing of a wrongful act without just cause or excuse. Direct evidence of the parents' wrongful motives is not required, but malice may be inferred from conduct, as in other cases where it is in issue. Cornelius v. Cornelius, 233 Mo. 1, 135 S. W. 65; 13 R. C. L. 1474; note Ann. Cas. 1912C, 1180; note Ann. Cas. 1917E, 1017. It may be inferred from wrongful and unjustifiable conduct which

130 A. 768

causes alienation. Clark v. Clark, 187 Ind. 25, 118 N. E. 123; Westlake v. Westlake, 34 Ohio St. 621, 32 Am. Rep. 397; 30 C. J. 1122, 1136.

Defendants' counsel have reviewed the evidence in detail, but they treat it piecemeal, asserting the insufficiency of this circumstance or that circumstance to support the verdict. This is not the real test of its sufficiency. Separate acts or separate lines of conduct may not show malice, for instance, while a number of acts considered together may disclose a purpose which would not appear from those acts considered separately. It is a familiar saying that "many littles make a mickle." To characterize the defendants' conduct properly, it is necessary to consider their actions in the light of all the circumstances taken together. What, standing alone, might be regarded as an insignificant act, may take on an entirely different hue when viewed in the...

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100 practice notes
  • Gero v. John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co., No. 1681.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • February 11, 1941
    ...make the evidence inadmissible, were not specified. Morgan v. Gould, 96 Vt. 275, 279, 119 A. 517; Woodhouse v. Woodhouse, 99 Vt. 91, 147, 130 A. 758; Higgins v. Metzger, 101 Vt. 285, 296, 143 A. 394. "The trial court should always know what is excepted to. This court should always be able t......
  • State v. Stacy
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • May 4, 1932
    ...same answer given by the same witness, without objection, and so, if error, no harm resulted. Woodhouse v. Woodhouse, 99 Vt. 91, 117, 119, 130 A. 758; Herrick v. Bank of Holland, 83 Vt. 502, 512, 77 A. The original complaint charging the respondent with failure to support his wife, filed in......
  • Shields v. Vt. Mut. Fire Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • October 1, 1929
    ...reference to the possibility of other hypotheses. Wellman v. Wales, 97 Vt. 245, 253, 122 A. 659; Woodhouse v. Woodhouse, 99 Vt. 91, 112, 130 A. 758. The evidence, taken in the most favorable light for the plaintiffs, tended to show the following facts: On July 27, 1928, at about 4 o'clock i......
  • Healy v. Moore, No. 2465.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • October 6, 1936
    ...the jury, in fact or in effect, what the objection indicates, the exception cannot be sustained. Woodhouse v. Woodhouse, 99 Vt. 91, 147, 130 A. 758. Another instruction was to the effect that as long as the Donahues were apparently walking along the side of the road, the defendant had a rig......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
100 cases
  • Gero v. John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co., No. 1681.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • February 11, 1941
    ...make the evidence inadmissible, were not specified. Morgan v. Gould, 96 Vt. 275, 279, 119 A. 517; Woodhouse v. Woodhouse, 99 Vt. 91, 147, 130 A. 758; Higgins v. Metzger, 101 Vt. 285, 296, 143 A. 394. "The trial court should always know what is excepted to. This court should always be able t......
  • State v. Stacy
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • May 4, 1932
    ...same answer given by the same witness, without objection, and so, if error, no harm resulted. Woodhouse v. Woodhouse, 99 Vt. 91, 117, 119, 130 A. 758; Herrick v. Bank of Holland, 83 Vt. 502, 512, 77 A. The original complaint charging the respondent with failure to support his wife, filed in......
  • Shields v. Vt. Mut. Fire Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • October 1, 1929
    ...reference to the possibility of other hypotheses. Wellman v. Wales, 97 Vt. 245, 253, 122 A. 659; Woodhouse v. Woodhouse, 99 Vt. 91, 112, 130 A. 758. The evidence, taken in the most favorable light for the plaintiffs, tended to show the following facts: On July 27, 1928, at about 4 o'clock i......
  • Healy v. Moore, No. 2465.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • October 6, 1936
    ...the jury, in fact or in effect, what the objection indicates, the exception cannot be sustained. Woodhouse v. Woodhouse, 99 Vt. 91, 147, 130 A. 758. Another instruction was to the effect that as long as the Donahues were apparently walking along the side of the road, the defendant had a rig......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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