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Rubenstein v. Rubenstein

Citation. 22 Ill.20 N.J. 359, 120 A.2d 11 (1956)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Plaintiff, Horace Rubenstein (Plaintiff), brought suit against the Defendant, Natalie Rubenstein (Defendant) his wife, seeking rescission due to duress, of a contract whereby he conveyed all of his property to his wife.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A contract is voidable under duress when the party can show (1) fear of loss of life; (2) fear of loss of limb; (3) fear of great danger; or (4) fear of imprisonment.


Leon, the party’s oldest child, was diagnosed with childhood schizophrenia, which led to a sharp difference in opinion as to how the child should be cared for. Defendant pressured Plaintiff to allow her to care for the child and to give her his property so that she might use the income to care for the boy. Plaintiff eventually acquiesced after several threats were made. One of those threats was to poison him with arsenic. These threats caused Plaintiff to fear for his life, as Defendant’s father was imprisoned for murders associated with an arsenic ring. The trial Judge noted that Plaintiff exhibited great fear, but also noted that he was also giving up liabilities associated with the property and dismissed his complaint. Plaintiff appealed.


The issue of this case is whether spousal duress can serve to void a contract of conveyance.


Reversed and Remanded.
The course found that there was a prima facie case of duress, regardless of any liabilities the Plaintiff would be giving up and as such, the Defendant should be allowed to present her case so that a fair determination of the facts could be made.


When dealing with cases of duress, remember that not all pressure is wrongful. Only if it meets the level of fear that is invoked by duress should it be actionable.

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