HARRISON V. PEREA, 168 U. S. 311 (1897)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Harrison v. Perea, 168 U.S. 311 (1897)

Harrison v. Perea

Nos. 118, 497

Argued November 10-11, 1897

Decided November 29, 1897

168 U.S. 311


When the defendant's answer in a chancery suit sets up matters which are impertinent, and he also files a cross-bill making allegations of the same nature, a demurrer to the cross-bill on that ground should be sustained.

The findings of fact in an appeal from the supreme court of a territory are conclusive upon this Court, whose jurisdiction on such appeal, apart from exceptions duly taken to rulings on the admission or rejection of evidence, is limited to determining whether the findings of fact support the judgment.

It being found that the defendant converted the entire assets which are the subject of this controversy, there was no error in charging him with interest on the amount so converted, without regard to whether he did or did not make profits.

The solicitor was properly allowed a fee from the fund.

An item in the decree below which was not appealed from by the complainant is not before this Court for consideration.

A clerical error in the decree of the court below caused by the omission of the name of one of the distributees can be corrected, on application, by the court below after the case is sent down.

The costs in this Court must be paid by Harrison personally.

The bill in the first above entitled suit was filed in a district court of the Territory of New Mexico, in chancery, by Pedro Perea, as sole surviving administrator of the estate of Jose L. Perea, Second, deceased, and as one of his heirs at law, against the defendant George. W. Harrison, individually and as administrator of the estate of his wife, Guadalupe Perea De Harrison, and also against the other heirs at law of Jose L. Perea, Second. It was brought to compel an accounting by the defendant George W. Harrison, individually and as administrator of the estate of his wife, for the property and assets of the estate of Jose L. Perea, Second, which had come into his hands.

The bill, in substance, alleged the following facts: Jose

Page 168 U. S. 312

Perea, Second, a resident of New Mexico, died in that territory on the 27th of August, 1887, being about the age of eight years. He left, him surviving, his mother, Guadalupe Perea, who was then a widow, and his half brothers and sisters, as his heirs at law. On the 23d of July, 1884, his mother had been appointed his guardian, and had taken possession of his property. In September, 1885, she married the defendant George W. Harrison. She continued guardian of her son up to his death, in August, 1887. In September, 1887, the complainant was appointed administrator, and the mother was appointed administratrix of the estate of the minor. They both gave bonds, and took the requisite oaths. On the 6th of March, 1888, the mother made what she termed a final report of her guardianship to the probate court, which showed a balance of over $17,000 in her hands belonging to the estate of the minor. Under the influence of her husband, she claimed, from the time of her son's death down to her own decease, to hold the property as guardian, and not as administratrix, and, while acting under that influence, she refused to permit the complainant, after his appointment as administrator, to assist in the administration of the estate or to have possession or control over any of its assets. Objections were made by the complainant to the report filed by the mother in March, 1888, called the guardian's final account, and these objections were sustained by the probate court. An appeal from that order was taken by the mother, but no further proceedings were had therein, and the same was practically abandoned. The mother died October 20, 1889. Her husband then unlawfully took possession of the property of the minor in her hands at the time of her death, and subsequently, and on the 6th of January, 1890, he took out letters of administration on her estate, she dying intestate. He then claimed to hold the estate of the minor by reason of being administrator of his wife's estate. He took possession of the minor's estate individually, with full knowledge of its trust character, placed it to his own credit in bank, mingled it with his own funds, and claimed the right to retain possession and control thereof, and refused the demand to pay over the estate to him, which

Page 168 U. S. 313

the complainant made in his capacity as sole surviving administrator of the estate of the minor. It was also alleged that the mother of the deceased minor, acting under the influence and by the direction of her husband, and the defendant Harrison himself, individually, did by their actions cause great damage to the estate of the minor, and relief was demanded against the defendant Harrison, as administrator of his wife's estate and individually, for an accounting in relation to the estate of the minor, of which he was in possession, and for a recovery of the amount found to be in his possession.

The defendant Harrison demurred to the bill. His demurrer was overruled, and he then answered both individually and as administrator of the estate of his deceased wife. In that answer, the defendant denied many of the material allegations contained in the bill. He alleged that he and the defendant Grover William Harrison, who was minor child of himself and his deceased wife, Guadalupe Perea De Harrison, had succeeded to all the interest and rights of his said wife in and to the property of the estate of Jose L. Perea, Second, and for that reason the complainant was not entitled to a decree for anything upon the accounting. The answer also alleged that the complainant was a son and also one of three administrators of the estate of the late Jose L. Perea, Senior (two of complainant's brothers being the other administrators), and that those administrators had failed to account for a large sum of money which was due from the estate of Jose L. Perea, the elder, to Jose L. Perea, Second, in his lifetime, and afterwards to his estate, and it was alleged that large amounts of property had come into the hands of such administrators of the estate of the deceased father, Jose L. Perea, Senior, of which no account had been made, and that the pro rata share of the minor, Jose L. Perea, Second, in these assets so unaccounted for, would amount to $30,000.

The complainant excepted to so much of the answer as contained the above allegations relating to the estate of the elder Perea and the action of the administrators with regard thereto, upon the ground of impertinence.

The defendant, by leave of court, also filed a cross-bill in

Page 168 U. S. 314

which, in very great detail, he set forth the condition of the estate of the elder Perea and the action of the administrators thereof. Among other things, it was alleged that the elder Perea, in 1842, married his first wife, and they lived together until 1877, when she died; that he had by her six daughters and six sons, and that he brought into the marriage community a large amount of property, real and personal, amounting to $100,000, acquired by him by inheritance, bequest, and other means, and, in addition, personal property of the value of about $300,000, and that, at the time of his marriage, his wife owned in her own right, and brought into the marriage community, real property situate in the Territory of New Mexico, of the value of $30,000, and personal property of the value of $30,000; that this property of the husband and wife became upon their marriage property of the marriage community, and so continued to remain the property of the parties, to which large accretions and additions were made by the industry and labor of the husband and wife, so that, at the time of the death of the wife in 1877, the full value of the united property was $300,000 of realty, and $500,000 of personalty, and that all of this property, except the amount brought into the marriage community, was gain and increase of that property, and belonged in equal parts to the husband and wife.

It was further alleged that in 1883, the elder Perea died, and that his estate had not been properly administered; that property belonging to the estate had not been inventoried as such; that the conduct of the administrators had been wasteful, the estate had not been properly taken care of, and that the administrators had expended large amounts of the community property in the purchase of real property, so that such property had been unlawfully converted into worthless real property. It was also alleged that a pretended settlement had been made before the probate judge in New Mexico, and the administrators had made an accounting before the court, and had obtained their discharge and the cancellation of their bonds by that court; that this settlement before and discharge

Page 168 U. S. 315

by the probate court was a fraudulent one, and fraudulently obtained, and that the decree should be set aside. It was also alleged that the defendant Harrison and his wife had before her death commenced a suit against the complainant and the other defendants, who were administrators of the estate of the elder Perea, asking for an accounting in regard to the identical matters and things set up in this cross-bill, and that such suit was still pending and undetermined at the time of the commencement of this suit by the complainant herein.

Various other matters in relation to the management of the estate of the elder Perea were set forth in the cross-bill at very great length, and relief was demanded in accordance with what was alleged to be his rights by such complainant. This relief was of all varieties, including an investigation into accounts and matters relating to community property arising out of the marriage of the elder Perea in 1842, and an inquiry as to what was such property and its proper increase; also injunctions, accountings, decrees for conveyance, for distribution, for removal of the administrators; for the annulling of the pretended and fraudulent decree discharging the administrators, and finally settling their accounts, and for the appointment of a receiver of the estate of the elder Perea.

To this cross-bill the complainant herein demurred upon several grounds, the substance being that it was multifarious in that it was brought in regard to matters having no connection with the subject matter of the original bill, and not proper to be investigated in this suit.

The exceptions to the answer and the demurrer to the cross-bill were argued at the same time, and, after hearing counsel, the court allowed the exceptions, and struck out the matter excepted to, and it also sustained complainant's demurrer to the cross-bill.

The case, then being at issue, was duly referred to a master, before whom both parties appeared and introduced their proofs, after which the master made his report. Upon that report and the evidence taken before the master, the case was brought to a hearing, and the court found, in substance, that the allegations set forth in complainant's bill were true. The

Page 168 U. S. 316

court also found that Jose L. Perea, Senior, died about the 21st day of April, 1883, and left his widow, Guadalupe Perea (who afterwards married the defendant George W. Harrison), and the other defendants in this suit, with the exception of George W. and Grover William Harrison, his heirs at law. Jose Perea, Second, was the son of the elder Perea, by his second wife, Guadalupe Perea. After the death of the elder Perea, his widow married, as heretofore stated, the defendant George W. Harrison, and by him she had issue, Grover William Harrison, one of the defendants herein. With these exceptions, all of the defendants were children of the elder Perea by a former wife. Pedro, Mariano, and Jesus M. Perea were appointed administrators of the estate of their deceased father.

The court also found that the defendant George W. Harrison, not only upon the death of his wife had control, but that immediately after their marriage, he took control and charge of the assets of the deceased minor, and at the time of the entry of the decree herein, he still retained and had possession of all the moneys belonging to that estate, and that they were subject to his individual control.

At the time of the death of the minor, he owed no debts, and there were no charges against his estate except his funeral expenses and the expenses of his last illness and certain claims for his maintenance by his guardian. The defendant George W. Harrison, in the name of his wife and in her lifetime, made sundry reports to the probate court as to the condition of the estate, some of which contained false entries to her advantage, and together they obstructed the distribution of the estate among the heirs.

The court also found that George W. Harrison, the defendant, willfully obstructed the distribution of the assets of the estate of the minor, and by his misconduct rendered it necessary that the complainant should obtain possession of the assets by the institution of this suit, and that the necessity for this suit arose entirely out of the wrongful conduct of the defendant Harrison.

The amount found due from the defendant to the complainant

Page 168 U. S. 317

was stated in the decree to be, with interest up to the date of the entry of the decree, June 19, 1893, the sum of $31,545.32, of which the defendant Harrison was entitled, as administrator of the estate of his late wife, Guadalupe Perea De Harrison, to 13/26, and to 3/26 in addition by reason of the purchase of the interests of some of the heirs of the estate of Jose L. Perea, Second, and to 1/26 more as guardian of Grover William Harrison, one of the defendants, being a total of 17/26, and the other heirs were each decreed entitled to 1/26 of such balance, and it was provided in the decree that the defendant Harrison might, instead of turning over to the complainant, the administrator of Jose Perea, Second, the full sum found due, retain the amount found due him from the estate, which was stated to be the sum of $16,227.19. The defendant George W. Harrison was also charged with the payment of the costs of the suit individually, including the sum of $1,000 allowed the special master.

From the final decree thus entered, the defendant George W. Harrison appealed to the Supreme Court of the Territory of New Mexico, which court, with some modifications, affirmed the judgment of the court below. Those modifications consisted in charging interest upon the full amount of the sum found due by the decree of the court below, from the time of the entry of that decree up to the 26th of August 1895, which amounted to the sum of $4,324.45, and the defendant was charged in the decree of the last-named date with the full sum of $35,869.77. The fee for the solicitor of complainant was reduced from $5,000 to $3,586.97, being ten percent upon the amount found in the hands of the defendant Harrison. The complainant, as administrator, was decreed to be entitled to the statutory commission upon the last-named sum found by the court to be due from the defendant Harrison, which commission amounted to $1,943.48. The court also reduced the compensation of the special master from $1,000 to $500. The court also modified the decree against Harrison for the payment of costs individually by directing

"that the

Page 168 U. S. 318

said solicitor's fee, the said commission for said administrator, the said special master's fee, and all of the costs of this case in this Court and in the court below, should be paid out of said fund, and that of the remainder the said defendant George W. Harrison may retain in his possession seventeen twenty-sixth parts thereof, and that he shall pay over to said Pedro Perea, as administrator of Jose L. Perea, deceased, the remaining nine twenty-sixths, to be distributed to the heirs at law of said Jose Leandro Perea, Second,"

as directed by the court. From the judgment of affirmance as modified, the defendant George W. Harrison has appealed to this Court. The complainant also took a cross-appeal from the judgment.

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