Taylor v. Taylor
49 U.S. 183 (1850)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Taylor v. Taylor, 49 U.S. 8 How. 183 183 (1850)

Taylor v. Taylor

49 U.S. (8 How.) 183

Syllabus

A deed from a female child, just of age, and living with her parents, made to a trustee for the benefit of one of those parents, founded on no real consideration, executed under the influence of misrepresentation by the parents, and containing in its preamble a recital of false statements ordered to be set aside and the property reconveyed to the grantor.

The principles upon which a court of equity interferes to protect persons from undue and improper influences examined and stated.

Page 49 U. S. 184

The bill was filed in the circuit court by Charlotte Taylor, formerly Charlotte Scarborough, a resident of the State of New Jersey, to set aside a deed which she alleged had been obtained from her in an illegal and fraudulent manner. The defendants were James Taylor, her husband, some of the members of her family, Robert M. Goodwin, who had become the trustee under the deed after the death of William Taylor, the original trustee, and Wallace and Miller, who were the executors of William Taylor, the original trustee.

Prior to the year 1819, William Scarborough, a merchant residing in Savannah, became embarrassed in his affairs, and on 5 June in that year executed a mortgage for the purpose of securing his endorsers upon certain notes, the endorsers being Andrew Low and Company, and William Taylor. The firm of Andrew Low and Company was composed of Andrew Low, Robert Isaac (who had married William Scarborough's sister), and James McHenry.

The property mortgaged consisted of certain stocks and real estate, amongst which was the following lot:

"All that lot of land, and the buildings and improvements thereon, situated, lying, and being in the City of Savannah aforesaid, bounded on the east by West Broad Street, on the south by a street or lane thirty feet wide, and on the west and south by the lots contiguous to the same, containing ninety feet in front, and being the lot and buildings opposite Mr. Daniel Hotchkiss, and recently erected by the said William Scarborough."

On the next day, namely, 6 June, 1819, Scarborough confessed a judgment in favor of Andrew Low for $87,534.50.

On 13 May, 1820, Scarborough executed a deed in fee simple of the above-described property to Robert Isaac.

On 16 November, 1820, Scarborough was discharged as an insolvent debtor by the Chatham County Inferior court.

On 2 January, 1825, a sale of Scarborough's furniture took place by the marshal, under an execution which had been issued by virtue of a judgment obtained against him by Andrew Low. The property was all purchased by Isaac, according to the following schedule. It is inserted here for the purpose of being compared with the inventory which was taken of Isaac's property after his death, and which will be stated in its proper place.

Page 49 U. S. 185

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In February, 1826, an agreement was made amongst the partners constituting the firm of A. Low and Company, by which the house and lot, which had been mortgaged to the firm, and afterwards conveyed to Isaac, was to be held as the separate and individual property of Isaac, upon his paying to the firm the sum of $20,000.

On 26 August, 1827, Isaac made his will, which contained the following clause:

"Seventh. Item, I give and bequeath unto my beloved niece, Charlotte Scarborough, all my right, title, and interest in and to the lot, dwelling house, and all other improvements thereon, which formerly belonged to her father, William Scarborough, on West Broad Street in the City of Savannah, known in the plan of said city as lot No. ___, together also with the plate, furniture of all kinds, books and prints, all which were purchased and paid for at marshal's sales by me."

On 16 October, 1827, Isaac died.

Eight persons were named in the will as executors, but only three acted, viz., William Scarborough, William Taylor, and Norman Wallace, to whom letters testamentary were granted on 17 January, 1828.

On 9 January, 1828, the will was proved, and on the next day, viz., the 10th, Charlotte Scarborough, the niece

Page 49 U. S. 186

and devisee of the deceased, addressed the following letter to her father, William Scarborough.

"MY EVER-HONORED FATHER -- From a sense of my unworthiness, I am convinced that the love my dear uncle bore me, and which dictated his bequest to me in his last will, would not, could he now see my conduct, condemn me for pursuing the feelings of a heart strongly and sincerely devoted in affection of the members of my family. Having arrived at an age when I may with impunity legally make a transfer of that which has been so generously placed at my discretion, I unhesitatingly follow this course of conduct, unbiased by any control whatsoever; and in the liberty I am now using, I am acting by my own free will, dictated by my feelings alone, and unknown to any person. Thus, then, I most emphatically transfer all my right to the said property (the gift of my ever-lamented uncle) to my beloved mother, to be used and enjoyed as her unquestionable right during her lifetime, and at her death and yours to be equally divided between my sisters, brothers, and myself, my right operating in no manner in my favor to the exclusion of the other members of our family."

"In thus making a transfer of the said property. I trust my much-loved parent will acknowledge one slight proof of my gratitude for all his numerous kindnesses lavished on me. Most thankful do I feel for being made the simple instrument of accomplishing the will of him who has so kindly and generously placed his confidence in me, and in acting thus, convince the world that my devoted affection for him was pure, disinterested, and unbiased by any future expectation."

"I am, dear Sir, your most affectionate and grateful daughter,"

"CHARLOTTE D. SCARBOROUGH"

"Savannah, January 10, 1828"

On 22 January, 1828, Charlotte executed the deed which it was the object of the present suit to set aside. It recited a proposed marriage settlement of 1805, and then proceeded as follows:

"And whereas, from neglect, the said deed was not recorded in Chatham County and State of Georgia, and whereas, in the year 1819, the said William Scarborough having failed in trade, and some doubts having been suggested as to the validity of the said marriage settlement, from the omission to record the same as aforesaid, the said William Scarborough did, in consequence of such doubt, transfer and convey all his right, title, and interest, if any remained to him, in and to the aforesaid named and described lots of land, to his principal creditor,

Page 49 U. S. 187

Robert Isaac, of Savannah, his heirs and assigns, in part satisfaction of his debt; and whereas the said Robert Isaac hath recently departed this life, leaving a last will and testament whereby he bequeathed and devised to the said Charlotte Scarborough, his niece, all his right, title, and interest in the said lots of land, the dwelling house and improvements thereon, together with the plate, furniture of all kinds, books and prints, therein, which were purchased by the said Robert at marshal's sales, in the City of Savannah, which said last will and testament has been duly proved before the Court of Ordinary of Chatham County; and whereas the said Charlotte Scarborough, to whom the aforesaid devise was made, being of lawful age, and being desirous of conveying or carrying the said marriage settlement into effect, according to the original intention of the parties thereto, hath determined to convey all her right, title, and interest in said property in trust for that purpose. Now this indenture witnesseth that the said Charlotte, in consideration of the premises, and from natural love and affection for her said beloved mother, Julia Scarborough, and her sisters and brothers, and also in consideration of the sum of one dollar, to her in hand paid by the said William Taylor of the second part, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, hath granted, bargained, and sold, released, conveyed, and confirmed, and by these presents doth grant, bargain, and sell, release, convey, and confirm, unto the said William Taylor, his heirs and assigns, all her right, title, and interest in and to the said lots of land herein before described and set forth, together with the buildings and improvements thereon, with the appurtenances, and together with the plate, furniture of all kinds, books and prints, herein before referred to, which lots, buildings, improvements, furniture, plate, books and prints were devised to her by the said Robert Isaac as herein before set forth. To have and to hold the said lots of land, with the other premises and appurtenances, unto him, the said William Taylor, his heirs and assigns, in trust nevertheless to and for the use of the said Julia Scarborough, wife of the said William Scarborough, for and during the term of her natural life, not to be in any manner or by any means subject to or liable for the debts of the said William Scarborough, her said husband, and from and after the decease of the said Julia Scarborough, then in further trust to and for the use and benefit of the said Charlotte Scarborough, and such of her brothers and sisters, children of the said Julia as shall be living at the time of the decease of the said Julia Scarborough, equally to be divided between them, share and share alike."

The deed then contained a covenant for further assurances,

Page 49 U. S. 188

and was executed in presence of Andrew Low and John Guilmartin.

On the 25th of January, 1828, Scarborough, as a qualified executor of the estate of Isaac, exhibited an inventory to the court, from which the following is an extract:

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In April, 1829, Charlotte Scarborough married James Taylor, one of the defendants in the present suit. They removed to New York to reside, in 1835, and afterwards to New Jersey, where the complainant resided at the institution of this suit. Julia Scarborough, the mother of the complainant, resided in the house in question at and after the execution of the deed, as did William Scarborough, the father, with occasional absences, until 1835, when he rented it to Barnsley, who had married one of his daughters, and who was also one of the defendants in the present suit.

On 12 June, 1838, William Scarborough died.

In the early part of 1840, a petition was filed in the Superior Court of Chatham County in the names of the different branches of the Scarborough family, stating the death of William Taylor, the trustee under the deed, and praying that Robert M. Goodwin might be appointed in his place, which was accordingly done. To this petition the name of Charlotte Taylor was signed as follows: "For Charlotte Taylor, Joseph Scarborough."

Page 49 U. S. 189

On 4 September, 1843, Charlotte Taylor filed her bill against all the parties enumerated in the commencement of this statement.

It recited the devises of the will, stated that she was the niece by marriage of Robert Isaac, and an inmate and resident of his family, with whom she continued to reside until his death, when she removed to the residence of her father and mother, being the house devised to her (the oratrix) by the will. It then averred that, upon her return to the family of her parents, her reception was harsh and unkind; that she was charged with having dictated to the testator, Robert Isaac, the disposition of the property, with ruining the prospects of the family, and breaking the heart of her father. The bill then proceeded thus:

"And your oratrix further showeth unto your honors that day after day your oratrix's situation in her father's family became more and more unpleasant and harassing, in consequence of their unkind and, as your oratrix charges, their cruel treatment of her; that your oratrix was at the time an infant under the age of twenty-one years, having been born, as your oratrix charges, on 4 August in the year of our Lord 1807; that your oratrix was closely watched by her father, mother, and sisters, secluded from society and the advice of friends, and even denied the liberty of communicating with the defendant, James Taylor, whom your oratrix was then under an engagement to marry; that your oratrix was importuned and urged by her mother, with the advice and countenance of her father to relinquish your oratrix's rights under the will aforesaid, and to settle the property on your oratrix, her mother, brothers, and sisters; and with the view of effecting this object, it was particularly urged that the said Robert Isaac, by the said devise and bequest in the seventh item of his said last will and testament, had so conveyed the said property, believing that your oratrix would divide the same in the manner proposed by your oratrix's parents as before stated, although your oratrix at the time knew that the said Robert Isaac had, for a considerable time preceding his death, borne a decided antipathy to the said Julia Scarborough."

"And your oratrix further showeth unto your honors that when in answer to these and other repeated importunities most unkindly pressed upon your oratrix, your oratrix would hesitate or refuse to enter into and yield to the proposed arrangement, your oratrix's reluctance and refusal would be ascribed to the influence of the said James Taylor, who was described to be a merciless, grasping man, who would sacrifice anything for a gain. "

Page 49 U. S. 190

"And your oratrix further showeth unto your honors that when again, in reply to the urgent importunity of the said Julia Scarborough, your oratrix inquired of her what your oratrix should do, your oratrix, after a conference between the said Julia and William Scarborough, was informed that your oratrix should address a letter to the said William Scarborough to the effect that, supposing the said Robert Isaac had intended the property should be divided between your oratrix, her mother, sisters, and brothers, your oratrix wished that he, the said William Scarborough, would consent that your oratrix should so have the property disposed of that the said Julia Scarborough should have it during her life, and that after her death it should be divided between your oratrix, her two sisters and two brothers."

"And your oratrix further showeth unto your honors and expressly charges that at this stage of the matter, your oratrix sought an interview with the said James Taylor, and after relating to him the circumstances above detailed, asked his opinion and advice as to the duty of your oratrix in the premises, and that his reply was in substance that individually he cared nothing about the course your oratrix might pursue, as he was well off, and that he would never meddle with a copper of the value of the property, but advised your oratrix, as she valued her own interest, not to yield to the arrangement proposed by the parents of your oratrix."

"And your oratrix further showeth unto your honors that at the time referred to, the affairs of the said William Scarborough were in a very deranged and embarrassed condition, that he was utterly unable to pay his debts, and that as a consequence his family having but very small resources independently of him, their pecuniary situation was pitiable and distressing, and that, urged by this consideration, by the unhappiness and even misery which your oratrix was suffering from the treatment of the family and their importunity, and influenced too by the hope that her marriage with the said James Taylor might thereby receive the consent of her parents, your oratrix finally yielded and wrote the letter to her father reciting in substance, as your oratrix charges, that the said Julia and William Scarborough were to have the house, furniture &c., during their lives, and that at their death, the plate, with the crest of the family, was to be given to your oratrix's brothers as their share, and the house and lots divided between your oratrix and her sisters. Your oratrix charges the above to have been the substance of the writing, but that the she cannot now ascertain the particulars, as the original draft, which was kept by

Page 49 U. S. 191

your oratrix, was destroyed by fire in the City of New York in the year 1835."

The bill then proceeded to state that a deed was drawn up, which she signed without reading or hearing it read; that so far from the marriage settlement upon her mother being an inducement to the execution of the deed, as is alleged, she now finds, in the recital, she had never at that time heard of any such marriage settlement, but, on the contrary, the deed was extorted from her by the most unfair and fraudulent means, and was executed by her as the price of peace with her father, mother, and family.

The bill then stated the marriage of the oratrix with James Taylor, on 28 April, 1829; that she had soon afterwards used all the means in her power to convince her husband that the deed was fraudulent and invalid, but that the objected to family disputes about property, and averred that his own individual property and means of support were sufficient for his family. It then stated that she did not discover the amount of injustice which had been practiced upon her until the year 1839, when she discovered that, under the deed, in case she died before her mother, her children would be cut off from all share in the property. It then stated the death of Taylor, the trustee, and the appointment of Goodwin in his place, and averred that she was entirely ignorant of the use of her name, which was signed to the petition without her authority.

The bill then stated that Godfrey Barnsley had intermarried with her sister, Julia Scarborough, and resided for a long time in the house in question; that he had committed waste upon the goods and chattels bequeathed to her (the oratrix), had sold or otherwise disposed of a considerable portion of the stock of liquors, and that waste had also been committed by Julia Scarborough, the mother; that Barnsley knew that the oratrix had a claim to the personalty; that she had applied to Goodwin, the trustee, to come to an account with her, which he had refused to do.

The bill then contained a number of interrogatories for the defendants to answer; prayed that the deed might be decreed fraudulent and void, and that the defendants might come to and account with her, and that the real estate, goods, chattels, plate, furniture, goods, prints, rents, and profits, might be decreed to be the separate property of the oratrix, not subject to the debts or liable to the creditors of her husband, James Taylor, &c.

Sundry intermediate steps were taken to bring the defendants all into court which it is not necessary to mention. At

Page 49 U. S. 192

length they all came in and answered except Julia Scarborough, the mother, and Joseph Scarborough, against which two parties an order was obtained, taking the bill pro confesso.

Robert M. Goodwin, the trustee, filed his answer on 6 November, 1843, admitting the existence of the trust deed, and that it was under his control and stating that he consented to act at the request of Horace Sistare, who married the complainant's sister, and of Joseph, her brother, and that he supposed he was acting with her consent, not only because her brother signed her name to the petition for his appointment, but because, in conversations with her, she never expressed the least objection to the appointment. That William Taylor left no accounts, never having interfered with the property or received it into his possession, or any of the rents, issues, or profits, the same being left in the custody or possession of the cestui que trusts entitled thereto. He denies that the trust deed was made by compulsion or undue means, or that it was made by her when under age, but, on the contrary, avers that the same was made freely and voluntarily, and that she was then of full age, as would more fully appear by a letter written by her to her father, dated 10 January, 1828, a copy of which he annexed to his answer.

The answer of the executors of William Taylor was filed 6 November, 1843, and states that they do not believe their testator acted as trustee, though he may have assented to the trusteeship; that they have never seen any account of his as trustee, and do not believe he left any, for he regarded the matter as a mere family arrangement, and left everything in the hands of the cestui que trust, then entitled to the use of the same. They deny the right of the complainant to call on them for an account of the personal property conveyed in trust, because by the trust deed Julia Scarborough, who is still living, has the use of it for life; nor can they give any account of said property, or the rents and profits of the real estate, because the said real and personal property never passed into the hands of their testator in his lifetime, nor into their control or possession since his death, but had always been in the possession and management of Julia Scarborough, the cestui que trust, entitled to the same under the deed.

The joint answer of Godfrey Barnsley and Julia, his wife, was filed 19 February, 1844, and in substance states that the complainant always called her mother's house her home, and lived as much there as with her uncle; that she was not an infant at the time of the execution of the deed, having been born on 4 August, 1806; that they do not know of any

Page 49 U. S. 193

consideration other than that stated in the deed; that Julia Scarborough lived on the premises at the time of its execution, and that William Scarborough sometimes resided in Darien, and sometimes on the premises, until 1833, after which he generally resided on the latter; and that complainant never, as far as they know, pretended to have any claim thereto; and as late as April or May last (1843), when defendant, Julia Barnsley, in consequence of rumors which had reached her, asked complainant, "if it was true, as she had been informed, that she (the complainant) intended to attempt to set aside said deed," she stated, "she had no such intention." They deny, as utterly and entirely untrue, the statement of the complainant of unkind treatment by her family, and never heard or knew of any, or of any importunity or coercion used towards her to induce her to sign the deed; that they always believed the execution of the deed was the free, voluntary act of the complainant, and intended to fulfill the design of Robert Isaac, whose title they insist is more than doubtful, in consequence of the marriage settlement of 1805; that they are advised that the said deed was and is valid, as between the parties to the same, and therefore William Scarborough could not make any conveyance to Robert Isaac, and that he always held the premises subject to the marriage settlement, and that they have always heard it in the family, and so believe, that the complainant executed the deed freely and voluntarily, with a view to carry out the wishes and intentions of her uncle, which would otherwise have been defeated. The further allege that no marriage settlement between the complainant and her husband was ever executed, and he having been recently declared bankrupt, any interest which she may have in the property, or any claim against them, belongs to the said James Taylor, or his assignee in bankruptcy. The answer then explains the defendant Godfrey Barsley's actings and doings with respect to the property.

The answer of James Taylor, the husband of the complainant, admitted all the material facts charged in the bill and stated that before the marriage he had advised her not to execute the deed, believing from her representations that she was unkindly treated by the family; that he had been requested by William Scarborough to be a witness to the execution of the deed, but declined to be so, and that his belief of the unhappy situation of the complainant operated upon him in a great measure to consummate his engagement to marry her twelve months prior to the period before intended.

Several witnesses were examined on the parts of the complainant and defendants. The following were the answers of

Page 49 U. S. 194

the subscribing witnesses to the deed, viz., Andrew Low and John Guilmartin, touching its execution.

Andrew Low:

"To the fourth direct interrogatory the witness answering saith -- I was intimate in the family of the late William Scarborough, both before, in, and after 1828; I was a subscribing witness to the signing of the deed, and after it was signed the complainant expressed to me that she was then satisfied, and was glad that she had done it, or words to that effect."

"To the fifth direct interrogatory the witness answering saith -- I was present, as stated before, at the execution of the deed; it is impossible, at this distance of time, to remember all that then transpired, but this I am certain of, that the complainant knew the contents of the deed, and approved of it; in fact, as I have before said, she herself told me so."

"To the fourth cross-interrogatory the witness answering saith -- I became acquainted with the circumstances I have stated, relative to the property, from my personal intimacy with William Scarborough and his family, and upon my connection in business with the late Robert Isaac. I was a subscribing witness to the deed at the instance of William Scarborough."

"To the fifth cross-interrogatory the witness answering saith -- I do not know by whom the deed was drawn; the other subscribing witness was Mr. Guilmartin; he was requested to be so by William Scarborough. There was a change of one of the witnesses of the deed, in consequence of James Taylor, who had previously arranged to be a witness, declining to be so after his arrival at William Scarborough's house, for that purpose. I do not remember that he gave any reason for declining. The parties present when the deed was executed were the complainant's father and mother, and the witnesses. I did not see or hear the complainant read the deed, but I was then, and still am, satisfied that she knew the contents, and approved of it."

"To the sixth cross-interrogatory the witness answering saith -- I do not recollect the question being put to the complainant, whether she knew the contents of the deed, nor do I recollect whether any consideration money was offered; if there was, it was a piece of coin, probably a dollar, in the usual way, in such cases; I think I was in William Scarborough's house about two hours previous to signing the deed, and left soon after."

"To the seventh cross-interrogatory the witness answering saith -- James Taylor, now the husband of the complainant, had been asked by Mr. Scarborough to attest the deed as a witness, and he consented to go with me to the house for that purpose;

Page 49 U. S. 195

after closing our place of business, I asked him to accompany me; he said he would soon follow me, which he did; he did not express himself opposed to the execution of the deed, that I am aware of; I certainly never heard him. It was not known or understood by me that he was under an engagement to marry the complainant; the previous year, there was something of the kind spoken of, but he and the complainant had disagreed, and I was given to believe that it was all broken off. At the dissolution of the partnership of Low, Taylor and Company, in 1834 or 1835, James Taylor was largely indebted on private account to the said firm, and sometime in 1835 I granted him a discharge from the said debt in consideration of his giving up to me every description of property belonging to himself and his wife except his household furniture, which I allowed him to retain; he did not at this time mention to me that he or his wife had any claim to the property in question, or I should have claimed it in conformity with our agreement. I had never heard of his making any claim to the property conveyed by the said deed, or any part it, until advised of it by William Robertson under date 16 February, 1844."

John Guilmartin:

"To the first direct interrogatory the witness answers and says that his name and handwriting is to the instrument as a witness, and that he subscribed as a witness, at the instance of William Scarborough, the deed now presented to him, being the original deed from complainant to William Taylor, in trust."

"To the second direct interrogatory the witness answers and says he cannot say positively he does, but it strikes him that there was a question or two asked Miss Charlotte Scarborough, viz., whether it was with a free will; he does not recollect the time, but that he does not recollect that Andrew Low Sr. was present when he came in; Mr. Scarborough said he had sent for witness, as such to a deed from Miss Scarborough to her mother, of property, which as a dutiful child she had made. Witness asked Miss Scarborough if it was her voluntary act. Mr. Low replied that witness was called in to witness the deed, and for no other purpose; she did not read the deed, or hear it read in witness' presence. It was executed at Mr. Scarborough's house in West Broad street."

At the April adjourned term of 1846, the cause came up for argument before the circuit court, when the bill was dismissed.

The complainant appealed to this Court.

Page 49 U. S. 199

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