Price v. Watkins


Price v. Watkins

SCOTUSCase
Litigants=Price v. Watkins
ArgueDate=April term
ArgueYear=1763
DecideDate=April term
DecideYear=1763
FullName=Price v. Watkins
USVol=1
USPage=8
Holding=”The Court were clearly of Opinion, that it was a vested Legacy and Judgment was given for the Plaintiff.”
SCOTUS=1763
Majority=
JoinMajority="unanimous"

Price v. Watkins, 1 U.S. 8 (1763) is a decision of a Pennsylvania Provincial Court, issued when Pennsylvania was still an English colony. It is among the first decisions that appear in the first volume of United States Reports.

Colonial and Early State Court Cases in the United States Reports

None of the decisions appearing in the first volume and most of the second volume of the United States Reports are actually decisions of the United States Supreme Court. Instead, they are decisions from various Pennsylvania courts, dating from the colonial period and the first decade after Independence. Alexander Dallas, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania lawyer and journalist, had been in the business of reporting these cases for newspapers and periodicals. He subsequently began compiling his case reports in a bound volume, which he called “Reports of cases ruled and adjudged in the courts of Pennsylvania, before and since the Revolution”. [Cohen, Morris and O’Connor, Sharon H. "A Guide to the Early Reports of the Supreme Court of the United States", (Fred B. Rothman & Co, Littleton Colorado, 1995] This would come to be known as the first volume of "Dallas Reports."

When the United States Supreme Court, along with the rest of the new Federal Government, moved in 1791 to the nation’s temporary capital in Philadelphia, Dallas was appointed the Supreme Court’s first unofficial and unpaid Supreme Court Reporter. (Court reporters in that age received no salary, but were expected to profit from the publication and sale of their compiled decisions.) Dallas continued to collect and publish Pennsylvania decisions in a second volume of his Reports, and when the Supreme Court began hearing cases, he added those cases to his reports, starting towards the end of the second volume, “2 Dallas Reports”. Dallas would go on to publish a total of 4 volumes of decisions during his tenure as Reporter.

In 1874, the U.S. government created the United States Reports, and numbered the volumes previously published privately as part of that series, starting from the first volume of Dallas Reports. The four volumes Dallas published were retitled volumes 1 - 4 of United States Reports. [Hall, Kermit, ed. "Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States" (Oxford 1992), p 215, 727] As a result, the complete citation to "Price v. Watkins" is 1 U.S. 8 (1 Dallas 8) (1763).

The Decision

Dallas’s report of the case states that a man named Price made a will which included a provision for the disposition of his house. Price's will stated that after his wife Ruth Price died or remarried, the house was to be bequeathed in trust to I.W. (the “Watkins” party to the litigation) and to M.K., for I.W. and/or M.K. to sell. The proceeds of the sale were to be divided among Price’s children as they each reached the age of 21 years old, or married, whichever came first.

Price’s son Samuel reached the age of 21 and married, but then died, predeceasing Ruth. Ruth Price subsequently died, and the trustees Watkins and M.K. sold the Price house and held the proceeds of that sale. The Administratrix of Samuel Price’s estate (probably Samuel Price’s widow) then sued Watkins for Samuel’s proportional share of the proceeds.

The legal issue was whether the testator’s bequest constituted a vested legacy to Samuel, in which case his share was his (and his estate’s after his death); or whether Samuel’s legacy lapsed because Samuel died before Ruth died, and thus before the testators had the power to sell the house.

Samuel’s Administratrix argued that the will directed that in any event, the house be sold when Ruth died or remarried, so that the bequest was of money, not real estate. (The rules for the inheritance of real estate were different than the rules for the inheritance of personal property or money). Since there was no contingency regarding the sale of the real estate, and both of the contingencies occurred which would vest Samuel’s legacy (he reached the age of 21, "and " he married), his share was vested, and could not be denied him, even though he had died. Thus, Samuel’s share should be paid to his estate.

Watkins, the trustee under Price’s will, argued that since the legacy arose out of real estate, and the real estate could not be sold until Ruth Price died, that Samuel’s interest could not vest until Ruth’s death. Since Samuel predeceased Ruth, he died without his legacy vesting. Samuel’s share, therefore, should go back into the original testator’s estate, to be divided among his heirs.

Dallas’s report of the case only states that the court decided that Samuel Price’s legacy was a vested legacy, and gave judgment in the favor or Samuel’s Administratrix. There is no report of the court’s legal analysis.

Precedential Effect

"Price v. Watkins " would be cited for the next two centuries in various state and Federal courts for the rule that when a testator bequeaths a life estate in his surviving spouse, with the premises (or the proceeds of the sale thereof) going to the testator’s children after the death of the surviving spouse, the legacy to the child or children vests at the time of the testator’s death. This question would most commonly arise where, as occurred in "Price, " a testator’s widow outlived a child, and the child’s heirs sought the child’s share of the original testator’s estate. The last known citation to "Price " by a court of record was in the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision in "Atchison, et al v. Francis, et al "182 Iowa 37; 165 N.W. 587 (1917).

Notes

References

Hall, Kermit, ed. "Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States" (Oxford 1992),

Goebel, Jr., Julius, "The Oliver Wendell Holmes Devise History of the Supreme Court of the United States Volume 1: Antecedents and Beginnings to 1801" (MacMillian, 1971)

Walters, jr., Raymond "Alexander Dallas: Lawyer -- Politician -- Financier, 1759 - 1817" (Da Capo Press, 1969)

* [http://supreme.justia.com/us/1/8/index.html Price v. Watkins in free access database]

ee also

*List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 1


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