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Clarke v. Clarke

    Brief Fact Summary
    Connecticut refused to recognize the prior decision of a South Carolina court’s interpretation of Mrs. Clarke’s will as working an equitable conversion of the property she had owned in Connecticut into personalty to pass as such under the will.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    The courts of the state where a decedent’s land is located are not bound to recognize the decision of another jurisdiction regarding how her will affects the status of the land.

    Facts
    Mrs. Clarke, a resident of South Carolina, died leaving a will that directed an equal division of her real and personal property between her husband, Mr. Clarke (Plaintiff), and their two daughters.  One daughter, Julia, died shortly afterwards.  Plaintiff served as administrator of his wife’s estate and as administrator of his deceased daughter.  He brought suit in South Carolina to obtain a construction of his wife’s will, his remaining daughter Nancy (Defendant) being represented by a guardian ad litem.  The court held the will worked an equitable conversion of the wife’s real property, including property located in Connecticut, so that it would be distributed as personalty.  When Plaintiff brought an action in Connecticut seeking instructions, the court there refused to recognize the South Carolina decision on how the will affected the status of the Connecticut property and ruled that, according to Connecticut law, the land located there was to pass as real property.  Plaintiff appealed, claiming that the South Carolina decree was entitled to full faith and credit.

    Issue
    In the state where a decedent’s land is located, are the courts there required to honor another jurisdiction’s decision regarding how her will affects the status of the land in question?

    Held
    (White, J.)  No.  In the state where a decedent’s land is located, the courts there are not required to honor another jurisdiction’s decision regarding how her will affects the status of the land in question.  The reason is that such land is not a subject matter directly amenable to the jurisdiction of the courts of non-situs states.  Therefore, there was no requirement that the South Carolina decision on the issue of how the will affected the Connecticut land be given full faith and credit.  Affirmed.

    Discussion
    Baxter criticizes the traditional view that the situs state always has exclusive jurisdiction over land.  His comment: “The historical reason for the traditional situs reference—legal acquiescence in the de facto power of the situs state to effectuate its policies—has no relevance to our federal system.† Choice of Law and the Federal System, 16 Stan. L. Rev. 1, 15-17 (1963).


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