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CLELAND v. PETERS

October 10, 1947

CLELAND
v.
PETERS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GOURLEY

This matter comes before the Court on motion for a new trial filed by Leslie Warren Peters, one of the claimants in an interpleader proceeding. In this action Blanche Marie Cleland, plaintiff, of the City of Los Angeles, California, and Leslie Warren Peters, defendant, of R.D. No. 1, Prospect, Butler County, Pennsylvania, are both claiming the proceeds of a beneficial insurance policy issued by the Royal Neighbors of America, a beneficial society, which insured the life of Ada B. Peters, late a resident of Butler County, Pennsylvania, in the sum of One Thousand Dollars ($ 1,000).

The assured, Ada B. Peters, died December 2, 1945, at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She had named Leslie Warren Peters beneficiary in the policy dated January 10, 1926, and had on or about October 29, 1945, requested the said insurance company to change the beneficiary to her daughter, Blanche Marie Cleland.

 The defendant Leslie Warren Peters, contended that his mother, Ada B. Peters, was mentally incompetent to make said change of beneficiary on or about October 29, 1945.

 An issue was framed between the claimants wherein Blanche Marie Cleland became the plaintiff, and Leslie Warren Peters, the defendant. The case was tried in May, 1947, before a jury which returned a verdict for the plaintiff, Blanche Marie Cleland, in the sum of Eight Hundred Seventy-five and 64/100 Dollars ($ 875.64), being the balance of the fund in the custody of the Court.

 The defendant has filed a motion for a new trial alleging -- -

 (1) The verdict was against the weight of the evidence;

 (2) The verdict was against the instructions of the Court;

 (3) There was an error in that evidence was admitted as to the distribution and amount received by the respective heirs in the Estate of John L. Peters, father of the defendant, and plaintiff was permitted to show how much the estate amounted to and how much was received by Leslie Warren Peters, thus bringing into the case an issue which confused and prejudiced the jury in the issue before them;

 (4) An error was made in the trial of the case to the great prejudice of the defendant in that lay witnesses who had qualified by knowledge and association with the deceased were not permitted to express their opinion as to the mental capacity of Ada B. Peters. That an attempt was made to rectify this in that the Court, before closing the case, instructed the jury they could consider these witnesses as having stated the deceased was mentally incompetent, but the defendant feels said statement did not have the weight with the jury that the individual testimony of the respective witnesses would have had and that the same was to his prejudice; and

 (5) The jury failed to follow the instructions of the Court and although exhibits were sent out with the jury with instructions to examine the same and make a comparison of the handwriting, the jury returned a verdict, as the defendant is advised, within thirty minutes which shows the jury failed to follow the instructions of the Court and to deliberate on the questions involved.

 It is the duty of the court in passing upon the motion of the defendant for a new trial to consider the testimony in a light most advantageous to the plaintiff. All conflicts therein must be resolved in the plaintiff's favor, and the plaintiff must be given the benefit of every fact and inference of fact pertaining to the issue involved which may be reasonably deduced from the evidence. Flowers v. Dolan, Adm'x, Aplnt., 155 Pa.Super. 378, 38 A.2d 429; Bauer, Adm'x, v. Sacks, Aplnt., 355 Pa. 488, 50 A.2d 351; Cyclopedia of Federal Procedure, 2d Ed., Vol. 8, Section 3463, p. 124; Brunswick-Balke-Collander Co. v. Foster Boat Co., 6 Cir., 141 F.2d 882; Worcester et al. v. Pure Torpedo Co., 7 Cir., 140 F.2d 358; Hellweg v. Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., 71 App.D.C. 346, 110 F.2d 546.

 It is the obligation of the Court to consider all of the testimony which has been introduced by both the plaintiff and the defendant. Otto, Adm'x, Aplnt., v. Western Sav. Fund Soc., 343 Pa. 615, 621, 23 A.2d 462; 20 American Jurisprudence 140, Sec. 135.

 Sanity and mental capacity of a person signing an instrument are presumed, and the burden is on one who alleges the contrary. In the absence of fraud or undue influence, mere weakness of intellect resulting from sickness or old age is no ground for avoiding an instrument when sufficient intelligence remains to comprehend the transaction. Hamilton et al. v. Fay, 283 Pa. 175, 128 A. 837; In re Snyder's Estate, 279 Pa. 63, 123 A. 663; Patterson, Gdn., Aplnt., v. Snider et ux., 305 Pa. 272, 273, 157 A. 612; In re Draper's Estate, 215 Pa. 314, 64 A. 520; Guarantee Trust & Safe Deposit Co., ...


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