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ISRAEL V. ARTHUR, 152 U. S. 355 (1894)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Israel v. Arthur, 152 U.S. 355 (1894)

Israel v. Arthur

No. 903

Submitted January 29, 1894

Decided March 12, 1894

152 U.S. 355


This Court has no jurisdiction to revise the decision of the highest court of a state, in an action at law, upon a pure question of fact, although a federal question might arise if the question of fact were decided in a particular way.

The decision by the highest court of a state that a woman divorced from her husband in a proceeding instituted by him and by a decree which does not bind her, who marries another husband and lives with him as his wife, is thereby estopped, after the death of the first husband, from setting up a claim to a widow's share in the distribution of his estate, presents no federal question for revision by this court.

Motion to dismiss. Abbie A. Israel, under the name of Abbie A. Arthur, filed her petition in the County Court of Laramie County, Colorado, in the matter of the estate of John Arthur, deceased, May 17, 1881, alleging that John Arthur died intestate and without children; that she was his widow; that James B. Arthur had been appointed administrator and was in possession of decedent's property, and committing breaches of his duty as such; that he, as a brother of John Arthur, and certain other brothers and sisters and descendants of a deceased sister claimed to be entitled to the estate as heirs at law; and that the relationship of petitioner to the decedent and her rights in his estate were ignored; and she prayed that she might be declared the sole distributee of said estate, and heir at law of John Arthur, deceased, and that the administrator be required to account accordingly. The defendant answered, chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 152 U. S. 356

denying any misappropriation of the estate and that the petitioner was then, or ever had been, the widow of John Arthur, and, for a second defense, defendant, admitting the intermarriage of petitioner with John Arthur, alleged that on February 9, 1875, a decree was duly entered by the County Court of Laramie County in favor of John Arthur and against petitioner dissolving the bonds of matrimony theretofore existing between them, and, for a further defense, alleged that on June 12, 1877, a second decree of divorce was duly made and entered in said court in favor of John Arthur and against petitioner. Replication was filed July 21, 1881, denying the new matter in the answer. On March 30, 1884, petitioner filed her amended and supplemental petition to her original petition, wherefrom it appeared that the judgment of the county court on the trial of the issues made as above stated was against petitioner, but that that judgment was reversed by the Supreme Court of Colorado, as were also the decrees of divorce of 1875 and 1877, both of which were held to be null and void and of no effect for want of jurisdiction. Israel v. Arthur, 7 Colo. 5, 12; 6 Colo. 85.

The amended and supplemental petition detailed alleged misfeasances and wastes of the administrator, and reiterated petitioner's claim to the proceeds of the estate as the widow of John Arthur, and prayed relief. The amended and supplemental answer of the defendant, filed April 9, 1884, admitted that the decrees of divorce were voidable at the option of petitioner for want of due and legal service upon her, but averred that after the decrees were rendered, petitioner, with full knowledge thereof,

"ratified, affirmed, assented to, and acquiesced in the same, and each of them, in this, to-wit, in that after the same had been rendered, and in the lifetime of the said John Arthur, the said defendant, by force and virtue of the said decrees and under and in pursuance thereof, entered voluntarily into a contract of marriage with one James H. Israel and caused and procured the said contract of marriage to be duly and legally solemnized, and thereunder took upon herself and assumed the relations of wife to the said James H. Israel, and thenceforward and at all times thereafter continuously, by virtue of

Page 152 U. S. 357

the said solemnization of said marriage contract, lived and cohabited with the said James H. Israel, as his wife, until and ever since the death of the said John Arthur."

The answer also set forth the particulars of the elopement of petitioner with, and marriage to, Israel, and grounds why it had been impossible for the administrator to learn the facts in time to plead them to the original petition.

In a further answer, filed the same day, the charges of waste and misfeasance were denied. To this answer a demurrer was interposed April 28, 1884. A further supplemental answer was filed August 28, 1884, setting up that the administrator had in all things faithfully discharged the duties of his trust, and administered the estate, and was ready to make his final accounting whenever required by order of court. To this answer a replication was filed by petitioner September 23, 1884.

The record proper does not show the action either of the county court or of the supreme court on these pleadings, but in the opinion of the Supreme Court of Colorado in this case it appears that judgment was rendered in favor of the petitioner, and the cause again taken to the supreme court, which held that the facts set up in the amended answer were sufficient to debar or estop petitioner from claiming any property rights as the widow of John Arthur, deceased.

Upon the cause's being again remanded to the county court, the petitioner filed a new replication, January 27, 1891, to the amended and supplemental answer of the administrator, averring the alleged decrees of divorce to be absolute nullities, and that the supreme court of the state had so declared, and that the administrator was thereby estopped from saying that she was not the widow of John Arthur when he died, and the replication proceeded as follows:

"And this petitioner avers that she is a citizen of the United States and a citizen of the State of Colorado, and, as widow of said John Arthur, deceased, as aforesaid, she became at his death the sole heir of his said estate, consisting of certain lands, tenements, and hereditaments and personal property at the said County of Laramie, and as such heir at law of him,

Page 152 U. S. 358

the said John Arthur, the said lands, tenements, and hereditaments immediately vested in her, and she is now, and ever since has been, seised of the same and entitled to the possession, use, and enjoyment of the same; that the personal estate of him, the said John Arthur, was and is more than sufficient to pay all the debts of him, the said John Arthur, and that she, the said petitioner, as such sole heir, is the sole distributee of the said personal estate, after the payment of said debts and the cost of administration, and the same and the right thereto became thereupon vested in her, and thence hitherto has been vested in her, as an indefeasible right guarantied to her by the laws and Constitution of the State of Colorado and by the Constitution of the United States, and that she has never been summoned or impleaded in any court or action in which any of her said rights or property have been adjudged lost, forfeited, or taken from her by any due process of law; that the supreme court of this state, in its judgments heretofore rendered, has declared and adjudged that this petitioner was the widow of the said John Arthur at the time of his decease, and that such decisions constitute the law of this case, and that, by virtue of the laws of the State of Colorado, she is, as such widow, the sole heir at such decisions constitute the law of this case, and that, by virtue of the laws of the State of Colorado, she is, as such widow, the sole heir