New England Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Woodworth
111 U.S. 138 (1884)

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U.S. Supreme Court

New England Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Woodworth, 111 U.S. 138 (1884)

New England Mutual Life Insurance Company v. Woodworth

Argued March 18, 1884

Decided March 31, 1884

111 U.S. 138

Syllabus

A policy of life insurance, issued by a company incorporated in one state, payable to the assured, his executors or administrators, is assets for the purpose of founding administration upon his estate in another state, in which the corporation at and since the time of his death does business, and, as required by the statutes of that state, has an agent on whom process against it may be served.

Under § 18, c. 3, of the Revised Statutes of Illinois of 1814, a husband is entitled to administration on the estate of his wife if she left property in Illinois.

Letters of administration which state that the intestate had at the time of death personal property in the state are sufficient evidence of the authority of the administrator to sue in that state in the absence of proof that there was no such property.

The New England Mutual Life Insurance Company, a corporation of the State of Massachusetts, issued a policy of life insurance on September 21, 1869, by which, for a consideration received from Ann E. Woodworth, of Detroit, in the State of Michigan, described as "the assured in this policy,"

Page 111 U. S. 139

and of an annual premium to be paid, it agreed to pay at its office in Boston the amount of $5,000 "to the assured under this policy as aforesaid, her executors, administrators, or assigns, in sixty days after presentation of satisfactory proof of the death of said Ann E. Woodworth, for the benefit of her husband, S. E. Woodworth, if he shall survive her." The policy was signed by the president of the company, but was not under seal. The proof referred to was to be furnished at the Boston office.

On the 10th of January, 1877, letters of administration were granted by the County Court of the County of Champaign in the State of Illinois on the estate of Ann E. Woodworth. The letters ran in the name of the people of the State of Illinois, and recited:

"Whereas Ann E. Woodworth, of the County of Seneca and State of New York, died intestate, as it is said, on or about the 25th day of October, A.D. 1875, having at the time of her decease personal property in this state which may be lost, destroyed, or diminished in value if special care be not taken of the same,"

and then proceeded:

"To the end, therefore, that the said property may be collected and preserved for those who shall appear to have a legal right or interest therein, we do hereby appoint Stephen E. Woodworth, of the County of Champaign and State of Illinois administrator of all and singular the goods and chattels, rights and credits, which were of the said Ann E. Woodworth at the time of her decease, with full power and authority to secure and collect the said property and debts wheresoever the same may be found in this state and in general to do and perform all other acts which now are or hereafter may be required of him by law."

On the 11th of February, 1878, Stephen E. Woodworth, as administrator of the estate of Ann E. Woodworth, deceased, commenced an action at law in a court of the State of Illinois against the company on the policy to recover the $5,000 named therein. The summons was served on the company in Cook County, Illinois, by reading and by delivering a copy thereof to one Cronkhite, "attorney for service of legal process" of the company in the State of Illinois, on the 20th of February, 1878, the president thereof not being found in the county.

The declaration states that the plaintiff is

"Stephen E.

Page 111 U. S. 140

Woodworth, who sues as the administrator of the estate of Ann E. Woodworth, deceased, for the benefit and use of S. E. Woodworth."

It avers that said Ann E. Woodworth died October 21, 1875 at Seneca Falls, New York;

"that the said Stephen E. Woodworth, for whose use and benefit this suit is brought is the said S. E. Woodworth mentioned in the said policy of insurance as the husband of the said Ann E. Woodworth, and the same party for whose benefit the said defendant contracted and agreed in said policy of insurance to pay the said sum specified therein; that the said Ann E. Woodworth was at the time of the making, executing, and delivering the said policy of insurance as aforesaid, the wife of the said Stephen E. Woodworth, and that they were at the said time living together as lawful husband and wife, and that at the time of the decease of the said Ann E. Woodworth as aforesaid, she left her surviving her said husband, the said Stephen E. Woodworth, who since her death has been a resident of the County of Champaign, State of Illinois,"

and that the plaintiff was duly appointed such administrator by said letters. The declaration contained three special counts and money counts in assumpsit.

The defendant petitioned for the removal of the suit into the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Illinois. It stated in the petition that it was at the time of the commencement of this suit, and still is, "a foreign corporation duly incorporated under and by the laws of the State of Massachusetts and doing business in that state," and had and still has its principal office or place of business at Boston; that the plaintiff was and is a citizen of Illinois, and "that it was served with process of summons herein" on February 20, 1878, the service being on said Cronkhite, "its general agent at Chicago, in the said State of Illinois." The state court allowed the removal.

Issue being joined, the case was tried before a jury, which found for the plaintiff and assessed his damages at $5,348.73, for which amount, with costs, judgment was entered. The defendant has sued out a writ of error. There is a bill of exceptions, the whole of which is as follows:

Page 111 U. S. 141

"At the trial of the above-entitled action, which was assumpsit upon a policy of life insurance, a copy of which is hereto annexed and made part of this bill of exceptions, it appeared that said Ann E. Woodworth at the date of the issuing of said policy resided and was domiciled in the State of Michigan. It appeared that she had never been domiciled in the State of Illinois, and had no other assets to be administered there than this policy; that she died at Seneca Falls, New York, October 25, 1875; that the plaintiff, the administrator, Stephen E. Woodworth, has resided continuously in Champaign County, State of Illinois, since January 1, 1876, and had his domicile there at the time of the issue of letters of administration and the commencement of this suit, and then and there had in his possession this policy of insurance. On this state of facts, the defendant, a corporation of the State of Massachusetts at the time this suit was brought, doing business in the State of Illinois by virtue of the laws of said last-named state, requested the presiding judges to rule that the laws of plaintiff, as administrator appointed in Illinois, could not maintain this action. A copy of the letters of administration, which were the only evidence of the plaintiff's authority to sue, is hereto annexed and made part of this bill of exceptions. The presiding judges refused so to rule, and did rule that the plaintiff, if in other respects he showed a good cause of action, was entitled to recover, to which ruling the defendant immediately excepted and prayed that his exception might be allowed. This bill contains all the evidence on the point herein above made. "

Page 111 U. S. 142

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