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Statement of the Case.
a grant of letters of administration thereon, with the will annexed. It was averred that Haralson, at the time of his death. and for several years prior thereto, had been a resident of the District of Columbia, and that he died on August 23, 1895, in the county of De Kalb, State of Georgia, possessed of personal property of the value of about ten thousand dollars, all of which, except an insignificant part thereof, was at the time in the District of Columbia. It was further averred that Haralson left surviving, as next of kin, three sisters, and four children of a deceased sister, and that all said next of kin, except the eldest sister (Elizabeth S. Overby), resided in the State of Georgia. Subsequently, on March 6, 1896, a caveat was filed, purporting in the body thereof to be on behalf of all the next of kin of the decedent other than Mrs. Gordon, but not signed by Mrs. Overby, contesting the validity of the alleged will and the claim that the deceased was at the time of his death a resident of the District of Columbia, and averring that at the time of his death Haralson was a citizen and resident of the State of Georgia.
On April 10, 1896, issues were framed upon the matters put at issue by the caveat and were ordered to be tried by the court, sitting as a Circuit Court, and a jury. The questions presented for decision were as follows:
"1. Was the said deceased at the time of his death a resident of the District of Columbia?
"2. Was the said deceased at the time of his death a citizen and resident of the State of Georgia?
"3. Was the said deceased at the time of the making of the paper writing purporting to be his last will and testament a resident of the District of Columbia?
"4. Was the said deceased at the time of the making of the paper writing purporting to be his last will and testament a citizen and resident of the State of Georgia?
"5. At the time of his death did any considerable part of
If Carrie Gordon should have no children at her death, these securities, with the residue of my estate, to be divided to my heirs at law.
Witness: CHAS. A. MACATEE.
Statement of the Case.
the personal estate of the said deceased lie within the District of Columbia?"
A trial of these issues, however, was not had until February, 1898. At said trial the caveators were represented by attorneys. From a bill of exceptions contained in the record before us it appears that Mrs. Gordon introduced evidence tending to show that both at the date of the testamentary paper in controversy and at the time of his death Haralson was a resident of the District of Columbia. Mrs. Gordon rested her case after the following admissions were made by counsel for caveators:
1. That at his death Haralson had on deposit in two banking institutions in the District of Columbia money and securities approximating nine thousand dollars in amount and value, which was the entire estate of the decedent, with the exception of about two hundred dollars found outside of said District; and,
2. That said assets within the District of Columbia had been removed therefrom by Logan Bleckley, (one of the caveators,) claiming to act as administrator of the estate of said decedent, under grant of letters issued in May, 1896, by a court of the State of Georgia, pursuant to proceedings initiated in said court on April 6, 1896.
It is recited in the bill of exceptions that "to sustain the issues on their part joined," the caveators offered in evidence a certified transcript of record from the De Kalb Court of Ordinary, De Kalb County, in the State of Georgia. This record showed the appointment in May, 1896, of Logan Bleckley as administrator.
It is further recited in the bill of exceptions that the transcript referred to was offered as tending to show that the decedent had died a resident of De Kalb County, Georgia, intestate, "and that Mrs. Gordon was thereby estopped to deny that fact." The trial court, however, refused to admit the record in evidence, and an exception was duly taken to such refusal. The jury answered "Yes" to the first, third and fifth questions submitted to them, and "No" to the second and fourth questions, thus sustaining the contentions of Mrs. Gordon. The answers were certified to the Orphans' Court, and thereupon an order was entered admitting the will
Opinion of the Court.
to probate and record as the last will and testament of the decedent, and letters of administration cum testamento annexo were decreed to issue to Hugh H. Gordon, a son of the petitioner. An appeal was thereupon taken by the caveators to the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia. That court affirmed the order of the lower court, (Mr. Chief Justice Alvey dissenting,) (13 App. D. C. 392,) and a writ of error was then sued out from this court.
Mr. Samuel F. Phillips for plaintiffs in error. Mr. Frederic D. McKenney was on his brief.
Mr. Charles Cowles Tucker and Mr. Henry E. Davis for defendant in error.
MR. JUSTICE WHITE, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.
Counsel for defendant in error urge in their brief an objection to the jurisdiction of this court, which we shall first consider and dispose of.
It is claimed that the writ of error should be dismissed "because the interests of the plaintiffs in error in respect of the judgment of the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, to which said writ of error was directed, are several, and the matter in dispute, exclusive of costs, as to no one of the said plaintiffs in error, exceeds the sum or value of five thousand dollars."
By act of February 9, 1893, c. 74, 27 Stat. 434, this court was authorized, among other things, to review a final judgment or decree of the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia in any case where the matter in dispute, exclusive of costs, shall exceed the sum of five thousand dollars. What, therefore, was the matter in dispute in this controversy? The answer manifestly is that it was whether an estate valued at more than nine thousand dollars should pass in the mode provided in an alleged last will and testament, which, in effect, excluded the next of kin of the decedent from the enjoyment of the principal of the
Opinion of the Court.
estate, or in the mode provided by the law of the domicil of the decedent for the transmission of an intestate estate. On the one hand was Mrs. Gordon, a sister of the deceased, and representing the interests under the alleged last will, asserting the validity of that document, and opposed to her were the plaintiffs in error, some of the next of kin of the deceased, interested in establishing his intestacy. Had the trial court admitted in evidence the transcript of record from the De Kalb court, and given it the conclusive force contended for, it would seem beyond question that as to those interested in upholding the validity of the alleged will, the value of the estate affected by that instrument would have been the matter in dispute. The matter in dispute necessarily must be the same as to the unsuccessful next of kin who are prosecuting this writ of error, and the amount of whose several interests in the estate of the decedent was not a question litigated below. The case is analogous in principle to that of Shields v. Thomas, 17 How. 3. In that case it was held that where the representatives of a deceased intestate recovered a judgment against an administrator for an amount in excess of the sum necessary to confer jurisdiction to review, and such recovery was had under the same title and for a common and undivided interest, this court had jurisdiction, although the amount decreed to be distributed to each representative was less than the jurisdictional sum. In the case at bar, the contestants below sought not an allotment to them of their interests, if any, in the estate, but an adjudication that the alleged last will and testament possessed no validity, and that contention was advanced by virtue of a claim of common title in the next of kin of the decedent to the corpus of the estate, such title, if any, being derived from the law of the alleged domicil of the deceased. In this aspect, the amount of the estate was the matter in dispute. New Orleans Pacific Railway v. Parker, 143 U. S. 42, 51-52, and cases there cited. There is therefore no merit in the objection to the exercise of jurisdiction.
Coming then to the merits of the controversy, we find presented for our consideration the single question, Was the grant of letters of administration by the Court of Ordinary of De Kalb
Opinion of the Court.
County, Georgia, competent evidence upon the issue tried in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia respecting the domicil of the decedent at the time of his death?
In determining this question it is important to keep in mind the following facts:
At the time when the proceedings before the De Kalb court were instituted, (April, 1896,) the estate of the deceased, with but a trifling exception, was within the District of Columbia. Not only this, but upon the ground that the domicil of Haralson at his death was the District of Columbia, the jurisdiction of a competent court of the District had been invoked as early as January 23, 1896, for the probate of an alleged last will and testament of Haralson and for the grant of letters of administration cum testamento annexo; and on March 6, 1896, the next of kin, other than the proponent of the alleged will, had filed a caveat in said court of the District of Columbia contesting the application for probate and grant of letters. Four days before the certification of issues framed by reason of such contest, to be tried before a jury, the caveators before the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia initiated the proceedings before the De Kalb County Court. It was upon the hearing had in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia upon the issues certified on April 10, 1896, that the adjudication of the De Kalb County Court was offered in evidence upon the issue in respect to the domicil of the decedent at his death.
The transcript of record exhibiting such adjudication consists of 1, an unverified petition of Logan Bleckley, as one of the next of kin and heirs at law of Hugh A. Haralson, asking that letters of administration be granted upon the estate of said deceased, upon the ground that he was a resident of the county of De Kalb at his death, and had died intestate, "leaving an estate, undevised, of real and personal property of the probable value of ten thousand dollars; " 2, consents of certain of the next of kin to the appointment of Bleckley; 3, the order of appointment; and, 4, the oath of office of the administrator, in which is embodied an averment that the decedent died intestate, so far as affiant knew or believed.
By section 3393 of the Georgia Code of 1895 an application