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UNITED STATES v. STEVENS

decided: January 17, 1938.

UNITED STATES
v.
STEVENS, ADMINISTRATRIX, ET AL.



CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT.

Hughes, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Black; Cardozo took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Black

[ 302 U.S. Page 624]

 MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Can the United States enforce a contract executed by an ex-soldier in order to obtain admission into the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, which contract provides that upon the death of the veteran while a member of the Home, all his personal property shall pass to the Home subject to be reclaimed within five years by any legatee or person entitled to receive the property by inheritance?

The district court held the contract valid and enforceable.*fn1 The Court of Appeals reversed.*fn2

The facts disclose that:

Thomas McGovern, a native of Ireland, served in the United States Army from 1877 to 1882; in 1904 his wife and three daughters left him, but a son, Robert, continued to live with McGovern until 1918 when the son (represented in this cause by a guardian) was committed to a state home for the insane; the complete severance of all family ties and associations continued until McGovern's death, and the wife and daughters, living most of the time in Boston, Massachusetts, were wholly unaware of his whereabouts for the last twenty years of his life, most of which were spent in nearby Chelsea; under these circumstances, McGovern, age 72, in his application for admission to the Home, stated that the names and addresses of his wife and nearest relatives were unknown, and that he desired admission because he was "unable on account of his disability to earn his living"; a doctor's certificate showed that his mental condition was good, at the date of admission, but that he needed medical treatment and attention due to serious physical weakness and ailments. His written agreement with the Home stated:

[ 302 U.S. Page 625]

     "The said Thomas McGovern hereby agrees that, in event of his death while a member of the National Military Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, leaving no heirs at law or next of kin, all personal property owned by him at the time of his death, including money or choses in action held by him and not disposed of by will, whether such property be the proceeds of pensions or otherwise derived, shall vest in and become the property of said Board of Managers for the sole use and benefit of the post fund of said home, and that all personal property of the said Thomas McGovern shall upon his death, while a member, at once pass to and vest in said Board of Managers, subject to be reclaimed by any legatee or person entitled to take the same by inheritance at any time within five years after the death of such member; . . . " [Italics added.]

At the time of his admission into the Home, McGovern had savings deposits which were his personal property. September 17, 1928, while an inmate of the Home, he died intestate. His wife died in 1933 without knowledge of his death, and none of the daughters learned of his death until October 19, 1935. No claim to McGovern's property was filed with the Home within five years after his death.

In this action brought by the United States to require payment to the Home of funds of McGovern on deposit in a Massachusetts bank at his death, it is contended:

(1) that, because McGovern left surviving heirs, the title to his personal property ...


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