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Wilhoite v. Beck

    Brief Fact Summary. Distant cousins lived with one another for over twenty years.  One cousin arrived at the other's home unexpectedly and unannounced.  An issue arose as to whether the cousin that arrived at the other's home should have to pay for room and board.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. "[T]he relationship of second or third cousins in and of itself is insufficient to raise the presumption of gratuity."

    Facts. The Appellant, Wilhoite's (the "Appellant") decedent, Flossie B. Lawrence ("Ms. Lawrence"), arrived unexpectedly and unannounced in 1939 or 1940 at the home of the Appellee, Ruth Beck (the "Appellee").  Ms. Lawrence was a distant cousin of the Appellee.  Ms. Lawrence stayed at the Appellee's home until July 12, 1963.  Evidence presentd showed that Ms. Lawrence generally kept to herself and ate her meals alone.  There was no evidence that an express contract existed, only an implied one.  After Ms. Lawrence's death, the Appellee filed suit against Ms. Lawrence's estate for room, board and care and companionship from January 15, 1942 to July 12, 1963 allegedly furnished to Ms. Lawrence by the Appellee. 

    Issue. Is "there [ ] a presumption that [  ]services and accommodations were rendered gratuitously" when a distant cousin – second or third – moves in with their cousin?

    Held. No.  The court concludes "the relationship of second or third cousins in and of itself is insufficient to raise the presumption of gratuity."  However, the court also observed that this presumption may also arise where people are living together, but are not related.  The court relies on [Crampton v. Logan] which observes "[t]his presumption affecting members of a household applies to all who actually live together as a family, however related, or whether related, or not, by blood or affinity, though the presumption may be strengthened or weakened by the closeness or remoteness of the relation and intimacy of the parties as a circumstance of the case."  This presumption is rebuttable by proof of a contract either express or implied. 
    •    The court concluded that reasonable minds could differ as to whether Ms. Lawrence and the Appellee had a family relationship.  The evidence demonstrated that Ms. Lawrence "was an independent person in the extreme, came and went when and as she pleased; and most of the time she took her meals alone, cooked for herself and entertained her own guests alone."
    •    The court then concluded that although an express contract did not exist, there were enough facts to conclude that an implied contract existed.  The court observed that "[o]ne definite strain runs throughout the record of the evidence in this cause as related by several witnesses, and that is the fact that decedent was an independent woman in the extreme, that she did not want charity and, in fact, when her meals were brought to her room it was necessary to tell her someone brought them to her or that they were 'left-overs.' "  The court then affirmed the trial court's finding that there was an implied contract.

    Discussion. This case demonstrates that an implied contract based on all the surrounding circumstances can be formed despite the fact that relatives are involved. 


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