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Pope v. Garrett Case Brief

Summary of Pope v. Garrett, 147 Tex. 18 (1948)

Facts: Some days before dying, a neighbor was summoned to prepare a will leaving all property to a friend, Pl Garrett.  That will was read aloud before witnesses and some family members, and after the instrument was read, the testatrix declared it to be her last will.  As she prepared to sign it, Df-heirs Jones and Smith, by physical force or disturbance, prevented her from do so.  She suffered a hemorrhage, slipped into a coma and died intestate days later.

Issue: Whether a constructive trust should be impressed in favor of the Pl, Garrett, and if so, should that trust extend to the interests of the heirs who had no part in the wrongful acts?

Holding: A constructive trust should be impressed in favor of the Plaintiff on all interests of all the heirs whether they participated or not.

Procedure: Jury judgment awarding Pl title to the whole property.  Ct of Civil App affirmed judgment in part, but reversed holding innocent heirs could not be impressed with the trust where they had not participated.  Tx. S. Ct.  Reversed Ct App and reinstated trial ct.

Rule: If one person obtains legal title to property, not only by fraud, or by violation of confidence of fiduciary relations, but in any other unconscientious manner, so that he cannot equitably retain the property which really belongs to another, equity carries out its theory of a double ownership, equitable and legal, by impressing a constructive trust on the property in favor of the one who is in good conscience entitle to it, and who is considered in equity as the beneficial owner.

Rationale: Under the findings of the jury, title would have passed to the Pl absent the acts of violence.  It is generally held that the constructive trust is not within statue of descent and distribution, statue of frauds, statute of wills, or is an exception to them.  It is the creature of equity. It is imposed irrespective of and contrary to the intention of the parties, so that a statute enacted for the purpose of preventing fraud may not be used to perpetrate or protect a fraud.  Pl does not acquire title through the will. Statute of descent and distribution is untouched.  Legal title passed to the heirs when the deceased died intestate, but equity determines that the holder of title resulting from wrongdoing impresses a trust on the property in favor of the one entitled to title in good conscience.  The majority of jurisdictions and policy dictate that a constructive trust seeks to avoid unjust enrichment, therefore it is impressed upon all heirs in order that complete justice be done.




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