United States v. Yazell/Dissent Black

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United States Supreme Court

382 U.S. 341

United States  v.  Yazell

 Argued: Oct. 13, 1965. --- Decided: Jan 17, 1966

Mr. Justice BLACK, with whom Mr. Justice DOUGLAS and Mr. Justice WHITE join, dissenting.

Because I think the dissenting opinion of Judge Prettyman in the Court of Appeals gives a more accurate picture of the relevant facts and issues in this case than does the opinion of the Court, and because I agree with the legal conclusion Judge Prettyman reached for the reasons he gave, I set out his dissent below and adopt it as my own.

'Mrs. Yazell and her husband, trading as a partnership, borrowed money from the Federal Government through the Small Business Administration. They signed a note for the loan. They also signed, as security for the loan, a chattel mortgage on the merchandise in their store. They could not pay, and the Government foreclosed on the security. A deficiency remained. The Government sued on the note, praying judgment for the balance of the loan. Mrs. Yazell moved for summary judgment on the ground that she is a married woman and so, in Texas, no personal judgment and no judgment affecting her separate estate can be rendered against her, with a few exceptions not here material. The District Court judge agreed with her, and so do my brethren on this court. I am contrari-minded.

'A loan from the Federal Government is a federal matter and should be governed by federal law. There being no federal statute on the subject, the courts must fashion a rule. This is the clear holding of Clearfield Trust Co. v. United States. [1]

'To effectuate the policy of the Small Business Act, loans of many hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to businesses must be made throughout the country. These loans can be made only under conditions which will reasonably assure repayment. [2] I think the Act should

be of uniform application throughout the country. If local rules are to govern federal contracts in respect to the capacity of married women to contract, so too should local rules as to all other features of contractual capacity govern such contracts. Chaos which would nullify federal programs for disaster relief would arise. And of course there is no reason to restrict this decision to loans under the Small Business Act. It would necessarily apply with equal force to every other federal program which involves contracts between the Federal Government and individuals. A multitude of programs will be frustrated by it.

'It seems to me that, if a person has capacity to get money from the Federal Government, he has the capacity to give it back. The present lawsuit does not involve a general liability for debt; it involves merely the obligation to repay to the Government specific money borrowed from the Government. It seems to me that if a person borrows a horse from a neighbor he ought to be required to give it back if the owner wants it back, whether or not the borrower is a married woman. I suppose the Texas law, by nullifying repayments by married women, tends to minimize ill-advised borrowing. But I think the federal rule ought to be that you must repay what you borrow.

'It seems to me that United States v. Helz [3] was correctly decided Though I think that Judge Prettyman's dissent is enough to justify his rejection of the Texas law of 'coverture' as a part of federal law, I consider it appropriate to add another reason, which in itself would be enough for me. The Texas law of 'coverture,' which was adopted by its judges and which the State's legislature has now largely abandoned, rests on the old common-law fiction that the husband and wife are one. This rule has worked out in reality to mean that though the husband and wife are one, the one is the husband. This fiction rested on what I had supposed is today a completely discredited notion that a married woman, being a female, is without capacity to make her own contracts and do her own business. I say 'discredited' reflecting on the vast number of women in the United States engaging in the professions of law, medicine, teaching, and so forth, as well as those engaged in plain old business ventures as Mrs. Yazell was. It seems at least unique to me that this Court in 1966 should exalt this archaic remnant of a primitive caste system to an honored place among the laws of the United States.


^1  ' 318 U.S. 363, 63 S.Ct. 573, 87 L.Ed. 838 (1943).

^2 ' 15 U.S.C. § 636(a)(7); 13 C.F.R. § 120.4-2(c) (1958).

^3  '314 F.2d 301 (1963). by the Sixth Circuit and that it applies here. I would follow it.' 334 F.2d 454, 456.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).