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decided: February 20, 1899.



Author: Gray

[ 173 U.S. Page 17]

 MR. JUSTICE GRAY delivered the opinion of the court.

[ 173 U.S. Page 18]

     This was a bill in equity, filed April 16, 1896, in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, by children of Leonidas C. Campbell, the son of William H. Campbell, against the two daughters of William H. Campbell, and against their husbands, who were also executors of the wills of William H. Campbell and of Mary I. Campbell, his widow and residuary devisee and legatee, to set aside a gift made by her to their two daughters, of thirteen United States bonds for $1000 each, (five bearing interest at four and a half per cent, and eight at four per cent,) as having been obtained from her by undue influence of themselves and their husbands; and for an account, and for further relief.

After the filing of answers fully and absolutely denying the undue influence charged in the bill, and of a general replication, the case was heard upon pleadings and proofs; and a decree was entered dismissing the bill. The plaintiffs appealed to the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, which affirmed the decree. 11 App. D.C. 377. The plaintiffs then appealed to this court. The leading and undisputed facts of the case were as follows:

William H. Campbell, an old resident of the city of Washington, died May 21, 1881, leaving a will, dated March 16, 1878, and duly admitted to probate, by which, after reciting that he had provided for his son, Leonidas C. Campbell, by establishing him in business, he gave a legacy of $5000 to each of his two daughters, Julia, wife of Alexander W. Russell, and Christiana, wife of Frederick L. Moore, and an annuity of $500 for life to his sister, Eloise A. Campbell; and devised and bequeathed all the rest and residue of his estate in fee to his wife, Mary I. Campbell, or, if she should not survive him, to his three children as tenants in common, the children of any child dying before him to take their parent's share; and appointed his son and his son in law Moore executors of his will. His son died August 15, 1878; and the testator, by a codicil dated September 7, 1878, and likewise admitted to probate, ratified and confirmed his will in all respects, except in appointing both his sons in law and one Maury executors thereof.

[ 173 U.S. Page 19]

     His wife and daughters survived him. His son had died intestate, and leaving a widow, Mary K. Campbell, and seven children, six of whom were the plaintiffs in this bill. The seventh child had died, leaving two children, who were made defendants, but were never served with process or otherwise brought into the case.

Upon the death of William H. Campbell, his executors, for the purpose of paying the annuity bequeathed by him to his sister, set apart the aforesaid United States bonds, of the par value of $13,000, and kept them intact during the life of the annuitant. She died October 1, 1885, and the bonds then became part of the residue of the estate bequeathed to his widow, Mary I. Campbell. On October 5, 1885, the bonds were transferred to her on the books of the Treasury Department; and on the next day, October 6, 1885, their market value then being about $15,000, she made a gift of them in equal shares to her two daughters, Mrs. Russell and Mrs. Moore.

After the death of her husband in 1881, Moore was her business agent; and she resided alternately with one or the other of her two daughters, living on affectionate and confidential terms with them and their husbands; and at the times of the gift in question, and of her death, was at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Moore in Georgetown. She died August 6, 1893, aged ninety-one years, and leaving a will, dated May 26, 1882, and duly admitted to probate, by which, after some small legacies, she devised and bequeathed all the residue of her estate, in equal thirds, to her two daughters and the seven children of her deceased son; and appointed her sons in law Russell and Moore executors of her will.

It was contended by the plaintiffs that the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the burden of proving undue influence was upon them; and it was argued that, by reason of the confidential relations between the donor and the donees, the burden of proof was shifted upon the later to prove the validity of the gift of the bonds. But the ruling of the Court of Appeals in this respect is supported by the decisions of this court, as will appear by an examination of those decisions.

[ 173 U.S. Page 20]

     In the leading case of Jenkins v. Pye, 12 Pet. 241, in which this court, at January term 1838, declined to set aside, for undue influence, a deed of real estate made by a daughter, shortly after coming of age, to her father, the court, speaking by Mr. Justice Thompson, said: "The grounds mainly relied upon to invalidate the deed were, that being from a daughter to a father rendered it, at least prima facie, void; and if not void on this ground, it was so because it was obtained by the undue influence of paternal authority. The first ground of objection seeks to establish the broad principle that a deed from a child to a parent, conveying the real estate of the child, ought, upon considerations of public policy growing out of the relations of the partie, to be deemed void; and numerous cases in the English chancery have been referred to, which are supposed to eatablish this principle." "It becomes the less necessary for us to go into a critical examination of the English chancery doctrine on this subject, for, should the cases be found to countenance it, we should not be disposed to adopt or sanction the broad principle contended for, that the deed of a child to a parent is to be deemed prima facie void. It is undoubtedly the duty of courts carefully to watch and examine the circumstances attending transactions of this kind, when brought under review before them, to discover if any undue influence has been exercised in obtaining the conveyance.But to consider a parent disqualified to take a voluntary deed from his child without consideration, on account of their relationship, is assuming a principle at war with all filial, as well as parental, duty and ...

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