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SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION v. MEECH.

decided: February 28, 1898.

SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION
v.
MEECH.



APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.

Author: Brewer

[ 169 U.S. Page 401]

 MR. JUSTICE BREWER, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

The legal title to this property passed by the conveyance

[ 169 U.S. Page 402]

     in 1885 to Mrs. Avery. She died without will. Prima facie, therefore, the title then passed to her heirs, the appellees. The plaintiff insists that in fact the purchase price was paid by Mr. Avery and paid under an oral agreement, whereby a resulting trust was created which changed the course of the title, and the first questions are, whose money paid for the lot, and was there such an agreement, and, if so, what were its terms?

That the money which was used in making payment for the lot was the money of Mr. Avery, is not seriously questioned. Both Mr. and Mrs. Avery lived very economically, and this money was accumulated out of savings from the salary he received from the Government. At the time of their marriage Mrs. Avery had a small amount of money on deposit in a savings bank in Connecticut, and the books of the bank showed that no part of that amount was drawn out at or near the time of this conveyance. Her repeated declarations were to the same effect, and that Mr. Avery's money had paid for the property.

The trial court also found that there was an oral agreement -- an agreement made at the time the property was conveyed to Mrs. Avery, that she should hold the property during her lifetime, and that she should make a will by which it should pass at her death to the Smithsonian Institution. The Court of Appeals held that the testimony did not establish the alleged agreement so clearly as to justify a court of equity in recognizing it as against the legal effect of the conveyance. We are constrained to differ with the Court of Appeals and to agree with the justice of the Supreme Court. In a careful and exhaustive opinion Justice Hagner reviewed the evidence, and his conclusions therefrom commend themselves to our judgment. In view of this opinion it seems unnecessary to recapitulate all the testimony, and we shall content ourselves with stating the salient features thereof.

Mr. Avery was for some thirty-two years in the employ of the Government, and was an enthusiast in the scientific studies which he was pursuing in connection with such service. Prior to the purchase of the lot in controversy, and on September

[ 169 U.S. Page 40313]

     , 1882, he had made a will, in which, after giving to his "wife Lydia T. Avery, if she outlives me, in trust while she lives, all my real estate and personal property . . . to hold and to use for her support as long as she lives, and to keep in good condition for its final disposition," he declared:

"Having always had a love for the sciences, and having acquired most of my property while toiling in humble capacities to extend and diffuse knowledge, I have concluded to give all my real and personal property, with such exceptions as I may make hereafter in this will or in codicils annexed thereto, to the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution to provide for its safekeeping and to use the income from it in extending the sciences by publishing," etc.

And again:

"This fund may be called 'the Avery fund' or 'the fund contributed by Robert S. Avery and his wife Lydia T. Avery for the extension of the sciences,' and all publications made with this fund must have a note thereon stating that they have been thus published.

"After the death of my wife, the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution will be expected to select an executor of this will and provide for making the fund as useful as possible, limiting its use as much as they can to the objects specified."

His wife was fifteen or twenty years younger than he, and the expectation of both was that she would outlive him, though in fact she died some four years before he did, he living to be 86 years of age. After her death, on December 20, 1892, he prepared a codicil to the will of 1882, in which he recited that the conveyance of the property in question was made to his wife with his consent and upon the express understanding and condition that she should make a will in his favor, and that he had as evidence of this filed several affidavits of her statements in respect to the matter. Subsequently he executed the will of July 22, 1893, under which this suit was brought. The wills and codicil above referred to furnish indisputable evidence that prior to the purchase of

[ 169 U.S. Page 404]

     the real estate in controversy Mr. Avery intended that all his property, after certain legacies were paid, should go to the Smithsonian Institution, and that he understood that when the deed of this property was made to his wife it was upon the agreement described. That the agreement was made is clearly and positively testified to by one witness, Leland P. Shidy, who was associated in the government service with Mr. Avery, was the intimate friend of both Mr. and Mrs. Avery, living in the house with them from time to time during the years from 1873 to her death. We quote from his testimony:

"Q. Do you recollect the circumstance of the purchase by Mr. Avery of the property No. 326 A street southeast, in this city?

"A. Yes; I do. I was at their house at the time when they began talking about making the purchase, and they discussed it, in the first place, as to the advisability of getting the property at all, and after that was decided they discussed as to how the deed had better be made out, and Mrs. Avery thought it would be best to put the deed in her name, although her husband's money was paying for it exclusively, and he thought best to do so and had the deed made out in her name.

"Q. Did Mrs. Avery state any reason why the deed should be made out in her name?

"A. Yes. She wanted it in her name, in the first place, because she wanted to have the control of that property, as it was immediately contiguous to her own home, and then she thought she would be pretty certain to outlive her husband, and that it would be better in case of his death to have the title in her name than in his name.

"Q. State what final disposition, if any, was agreed upon by these two persons in your presence.

"A.It was agreed that she should have the property during her lifetime, and that she should make a will transferring it at her ...


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