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January 5, 1915



White, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Hughes, Van Devanter, Lamar, Pitney, McReynolds

Author: Lamar

[ 235 U.S. Page 585]

 MR. JUSTICE LAMAR delivered the opinion of the court.

In January, 1912, L. K. Dicks, a citizen and resident of Richmond County, Georgia, was adjudicated a bankrupt. James M. Hull, Jr., was elected Trustee and on February 5, 1912, took possession of all of the property of the bankrupt. Three weeks later L. K. Dicks died leaving a widow and four minor children. Thereafter the widow applied to the Court of Ordinary for the year's support to which the family was entitled by virtue of the provision in the Georgia Code (§ 4041) that "upon the death of any person . . . leaving an estate, solvent or insolvent . . . it shall be the duty of the Ordinary . . . to appoint . . . appraisers, . . . to set apart and assign to such widow and children . . . either in property or money, a sufficient from the estate for their support and maintenance for the space of twelve months." . . .

Citation issued and thereafter the Ordinary duly set apart to the family a year's support to be made out of the estate of L. K. Dicks in the hands of the Trustee in Bankruptcy. The widow subsequently applied to the Referee for an order directing the Trustee to pay over the amount so set apart. Her application was denied and that ruling was reversed by the District Court. (198 Fed. Rep. 293.) The Trustee took the case to the Circuit Court of Appeals which certified to this court the following question:

"Where a resident citizen of Georgia has been duly adjudicated a bankrupt and dies after such adjudication and after the appointment, qualification and partial administration of the trustee, is the estate vested in the trustee under § 70 of the Bankruptcy Law of 1898 chargeable under § 8 of the same law, or otherwise, with the allowance for a year's support of the widow and minor children, as provided in the laws of Georgia?"

[ 235 U.S. Page 586]

     Counsel for the appellant contends that this question should be answered in the negative. He insists that § 8*fn1 of the Bankruptcy Act of July 1, 1898, c. 541, 30 Stat. 544, 549, does not create a right but, as in this case, merely preserves the right, given by the state law, to have a year's support "out of the estate" left by the husband and father. It was then argued that as the title to the property had vested in the Trustee before the death of the bankrupt, Dicks did not die "leaving an estate" and there was, therefore, no estate out of which, under the Code of Georgia, the year's support could be set apart.

This reasoning would be applicable if the widow and children were asserting rights of inheritance under the Statute of Distribution. Moreover, there would be no answer to the argument advanced if the title, which vested in the Trustee, was in its nature like that which would have been acquired if Dicks in his lifetime had made a Deed of Assignment to the Trustee. But such is not the case. For construing the statute as a whole it will be seen that while § 70*fn2 (30 Stat. 565) of the Bankruptcy Act vested title in the Trustee primarily for the benefit of the creditors, there was an exception in favor of the bankrupt himself, and the transfer was also subject to a condition in favor of his family if he died before the

[ 235 U.S. Page 587]

     proceedings ended. If the Bankrupt elected to claim a homestead the exempt property, even though it had passed to the Trustee, would, after identification and appraisal, be turned back into his possession. Chicago &c. R. R. v. Hall, 229 U.S. 511, 515. The Trustee's title was also subject to the condition that if the bankrupt died during the pendency of the proceedings, the widow and children would be entitled to receive the allowance given them by the laws of the State of his residence. This latter limitation on the Trustee's title was in connection with legislation on the subject of abatement.

For the statute seems to assume that, in the absence of a statutory provision to the contrary, the death of the bankrupt would have abated the proceedings. In that event the property, although the title thereto had been previously vested in the Trustee, would have been surrendered to the bankrupt's personal representatives, who would then have been in possession of an estate, out of which, under the Georgia Code, a year's support could have been set apart to the widow and children. Congress need not have made any change in the general law but, as in the act of August 19, 1841, c. 9, 5 Stat. 440, could have allowed the suit to abate on the death of the bankrupt; Or, as in the act of March 2, 1867, c. 176, 14 Stat. 517, 522, § 12, it could have permitted without requiring, an abatement; Or, as in the act of April 4, 1800, c. 19, 2 Stat. 19, 27, § 19, it could have made a mandatory provision that the proceedings should continue if the bankrupt died "after commission sued out;" Or, it could have legislated, as in § 8 of the present statute (30 Stat. 549, § 8) where Congress went further than in any of ...

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