Rhea v. Rhenner
THIS was an appeal from the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, and county of Washington; where a bill had been filed by Daniel Rhenner, the appellee, against Daniel Rhea and Elizabeth his wife, and William Erskine, an infant, the son of Elizabeth Rhea, by a former husband, Robert Erskine.
Mr. Cox, for the appellants:--
1. This case stood before the Circuit Court, as to Elizabeth Rhea, upon the bill and answer; although there may have been a replication, yet no proof having been taken, the hearing was upon the bill and answer only.
The proceeding is altogether irregular as to William Erskine the infant; the rule being, that when redress is sought against an infant, all the averments must be made out by proof.
2. Two contracts are set out in the bill, one of which is a parol contract, and which is denied on the answer; no proof was given that such a contract had been made, and yet the decree proceeds upon it, as if it had been proved.
3. The deed executed by Daniel Rhea and wife, to the appellee, states the consideration to be a debt due by Daniel Rhea, to the grantee; and the bill alleges the debt to have been one of Elizabeth Rhea. The parties to a deed, are not allowed to contradict it. 1 Vez. Rep. 128. 2 Pierre Williams, 204.
4. Elizabeth Rhea, being at the time the debt arose, the wife of Erskine, could make no contract.
A married woman may act as a feme sole trader, but it does not follow, that she can execute a deed. The deed of a married woman is absolutely void; and to constitute a deed an estoppal, it should be a valid deed.
5. It was not a sufficient consideration for the wife of Daniel Rhea, to pass property away from her own son, for the payment of a debt which, by this deed of conveyance, is stated to be due by Daniel Rhea, to the appellee.
Mr. Key for the appellee.
The Court below have not given a decree upon the alleged parol agreement. The decree allows the property to be sold for the payment of the plaintiffs' claims, the proceeds to be brought into Court, where the amount of these claims must be proved. Elizabeth Rhea was left by her former husband, Erskine, in 1814, carried on business as a feme sole trader, in Georgetown, and as such acquired the lot of ground conveyed to the appellee; she having contracted the debt to the appellee, in the course of her trading. The husband having allowed her to contract debts and to purchase property, thereby consented that the property should be liable for her debts.
This is a proceeding in a Court of Equity, to sustain a claim, the justice of which cannot be denied; and it is easier to do so in such a proceeding, than it would be in a Court of Law. 2 Vernon, 614. 104. Prec. in Chancery, 328.
The absence of the husband, Erskine, is equivalent to abjuration of the realm, or banishment; in either of which cases, the contracts of a married woman are valid by the law of England. 1 Bos. and Pull. 357. 2 Esp. Rep. 554. 4 Esp. Rep. 27.
The deed acknowledged by a privy examination is an estoppal. Cases cited, Cowp. 232. 7 Mass. 14. 19.
Mr. Justice DUVAL delivered the opinion of the Court.--