Wright v. Tatham Case Brief

Summary of Wright v. Tatham, 7 Ad. & El. 313 (1837)

Relevant Facts: Pl, Tatham was the heir to the deceased and was attempting to recover possession of certain land from Wright, a former servant and devisee under the will.

Legal Issue(s): Whether the three letters, being offered as circumstantial proof that the writers thought the deceased was sane and competent, were admissible without other evidence that the author had acted on the matters discussed within the letters?

Court’s Holding: Proof of a particular fact, which is not of itself a matter in issue, but which is relevant only as implying a statement or opinion of a third person on the matter in issue, is inadmissible in all cases where such a statement or opinion not on oath would be of itself inadmissible; and therefore, the letters which were offered only to prove competence by the implied statement within, were properly rejected.

Procedure: Trial judge excluded the letters. Affirmed.

Law or Rule(s): All facts which are relevant to the issue may be proved; and all facts as have not been admitted by the party against whom they are offered , or someone under whom he claims, ought to be proved under sanction of an oath, either on the trial of the issue or some other issue involving the same question between the same parties or those to whom they are privy.

Court Rationale: The three letter were each written by the person whose names they bear, and sent, at some time before they were found are facts, proved under oath; and the letters are without doubt admissible on the issue of sending them by those persons, and within that limit of time, which is relevant to the matter in dispute. The contents of the letters, when introduced as evidence of the fact to be proved, that the testator is by implication competent, is hearsay. Statements of the writers, not on oath, of the truth of the matter in question are inadmissible. That cannot give sufficient sanction for the truth of the statement, b/c if the same statements had been made by parol or in writing to a third person, that would have been insufficient. A party has no right to use evidence of a fact by writing and sending a letter to a third person containing a statement of competence, on the ground that it affords an inference that such an act would not have been done unless the statement was true, or believed to be true.

Plaintiff’s Argument: The letters were admissible b/c they were evidence of the treatment of the testator as a competent person by individuals acquainted with his habits and personal character, and they were more than mere statements to a third person indicating an opinion of competence.

Defendant’s Argument: The letters would have to have been sworn under oath to the qualities claimed within in order to be admissible.

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