152 U.S. 355
March 12, 1894
This was a petition, with various supplements and amendments, whereby Abbie A. Israel, under the name of Abbie A. Arthur, sought to be declared the sole distributee, as widow and heir, of the estate of John Arthur, deceased, and to compel an accounting thereof by the administrator, James B. Arthur. The petition was dismissed by the trial court, and its judgment was affirmed on appeal by the supreme court of the state. 25 Pac. 81. The plaintiff then sued out this writ of error.
Abbie A. Israel, under the name of Abbie A. Arthur, filed her petition in the county court of Laramie county, Colo., 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 an- [152 U.S. 355, 356] swered, 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, 1 Pac. 438, 442; Id., 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 [152 U.S. 355, 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 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:
She further denied that she and Israel went away from the place where they were living to some place unknown or remote therefrom, or were married secretly, in due form of law, in the lifetime of John Arthur, or that she had ever admitted or confessed that she had been duly or at all married to Israel after the rendition of the pretended decrees, and in the lifetime of Arthur, as averred in the answer.
On June 8, 1891, the case came on for trial in the county court, and the following appears in the bill of exceptions:
The testimony introduced on both sides is then set forth. The county court found in favor of defendant, and gave judgment, June 23, 1891, with costs, 'that the petitioner, Abbie A. Israel, of right ought to be and is estopped to aver or claim that she is the widow or heir of the said John Arthur, deceased, or the distributee of his estate; wherefore it is considered, adjudged, and decreed by the court that the petition of the said petitioner be, and the same is hereby, denied and dismissed.' The cause was taken by writ of error to the supreme court of Colorado, and on June 17, 1893, that court rendered its judgment, affirming the judgment of the county court. The court reviewed the evidence, and held that the proof was sufficient to warrant the trial court in finding that plaintiff in error had actually contracted and consummated the marriage between hereself and the second husband before the death of the first, and that the substance of the issue formed upon the amended complaint was proved; and the ruling in Arthur v. Israel, 15 Colo. 147, 25 Pac. 81, that the amended answer was sufficient in law to debar or estop [152 U.S. 355, 361] petitioner from claiming any property rights as the widow of John Arthur, deceased, was reaffirmed. Israel v. Arthur, 18 Colo. 158, 32 Pac. 68. A petition for rehearing was filed and overruled, and thereupon a writ of error was allowed to this court, which defendant in error moved to dismiss.
Geo. A. King, for the motion.
W. S. Decker and J. J. O'Donnell, opposed.
Mr. Chief Justice FULLER, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court.
It is not sufficient, for the maintenance of our jurisdiction to review the judgments of state courts, that a right, title, privilege, or immunity under the constitution of the United States may have been claimed, but such right, title, privilege, or immunity must have been denied. Assuming that plaintiff in error, by her replication of January 27, 1891, duly set up a right of protection under the constitution, yet, if she were debarred from asserting property rights in the estate of John Arthur, as his widow, then that right was not denied for want of the subject-matter to be protected.
The supreme court of Colorado ruled in Arthur v. Israel, 15 Colo. 147, 25 Pac. 81, that public policy required 'that, so far as may be consistent with fundamental principles of law, one who has attempted to profit by a supposed divorce, and has exercised the resulting privilege of remarriage, shall not, for the mere purpose of obtaining property, be permitted to repudiate his election;' and that 'when, therefore, the wife, without cause, deserts her husband and home, and for years lives in adultery with another man, and afterwards, upon learning that a divorce has been obtained by her deserted husband, causes a marriage ceremony with her paramour to be solemnized, and continuously lives and co-habits with him as his wife, she may not, upon the subsequent decease of her abandoned husband, take advantage of the fact that the divorce decree is void for want of proper service of process, and successfully assert against other heirs her right, under the [152 U.S. 355, 362] statute of descents and distribution, to deceased's estate, as his widow,'- and, on the subsequent writ of error, sustained the judgment of the county court against plaintiff in error upon the facts.
With the conclusion on the facts we have nothing to do, and the conclusions of law were conclusions in matters of local and general law, which suggest no federal question.
By stipulation of record, plaintiff in error admitted at the trial that, the invalidity of the divorce decrees being conceded, the only question to be tried was whether she was 'estopped by her conduct, as alleged in said answer, to dispute or contest the validity of said decrees, or whether she has ratified them by her conduct.'
That question was determined against her, and the judgment rested solely on the ground that she could not, under the facts, be allowed, as to John Arthur's personal estate, to assert the property rights conferred by law upon a widow. To review that judgment would be to overhaul the application by a state court of principles of public policy and of estoppel, which it is not within our province to do. This was so held in Marrow v. Brinkley, 129 U.S. 178 , 9 Sup. Ct. 267, and, in effect, in many other cases. Adams Co. v. Burlington & M. R. Co., 112 U.S. 123 , 5 Sup. Ct. 77; Chouteau v. Gibson, 111 U.S. 200 , 4 Sup. Ct. 340; Beaupre v. Noyes, 138 U.S. 397 , 11 Sup. Ct. 296.
In Eustis v. Bolles, 150 U.S. 361 , 14 Sup. Ct. 131, it was ruled that a decision by the supreme judicial court of Massachusetts that a creditor of an insolvent debtor, who proved his debt in insolvency proceedings under the state statutes, and accepted the benefits thereof, thereby waived any right he might otherwise have had to object to the validity of the insolvency statutes, as impairing the obligation of contracts, presented no federal question for review. And it has been often held, at least in actions at law, that this court has no jurisdiction to revise the decision of the highest court of a state upon a pure question of fact, although a federal question might arise if the question of fact were decided in a particular way. Dower v. Richards, 151 U. S. --, 14 Sup. Ct. 452, and cases cited.
Writ of error dismissed.