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Niles v. Niles

Court of Chancery of Delaware, New Castle County

February 25, 1955

Robert L. NILES, Jr., and Wilmington Trust Company, a corporation of the State of Delaware, Trustees under the Last Will and Testament of John Barron Niles, Deceased, Plaintiffs,
v.
Lynam NILES, Isabelle P. Niles, and Philip V. Manning, Guardian of Julian B. Niles, Jr., a minor, Defendants.

Suit involving right of minor son of testator's deceased nephew to share in income and corpus of testamentary trust as lawful issue of nephew. On a motion by guardian of child for summary judgment, the Court of Chancery, Seitz, Chancellor, held that decision of New York Surrogate's Court that child, though born after annulment of marriage, was lawful issue within meaning of deceased father's will constituted collateral estoppel against relitigation of such issue by parties to proceeding in New York in subsequent suit in Delaware.

Motion for summary judgment on issue of legitimacy granted.

Page 698

[35 Del.Ch. 107] Charles F. Richards (of Richards, Layton & Finger), Wilmington, for plaintiffs.

Thomas Cooch and Thomas Lodge (of Connolly, Cooch & Bove), Wilmington, and Joseph F. McCloy and Esther Glantz (of McCloy & Glantz), New York City, for defendants Lynam Niles and Isabelle P. Niles.

Harold Leshem and Albert J. Stiftel, Wilmington, for Philip V. Manning, guardian of Julian B. Niles, Jr., a minor.

SEITZ, Chancellor.

The ultimate question here is whether the minor defendant, Julian B. Niles, Jr., is the lawful issue of Julian B. [35 Del.Ch. 108] Niles so as to be entitled to take under the will of John Barron Niles, deceased.

The basic facts here relevant are not in dispute. John Barron Niles (hereafter called ‘ testator’ ) died domiciled in Delaware on December 15, 1933. His will, executed December 31, 1930, created a trust, appointed plaintiffs as co-trustees,[1] and provided for its distribution under various circumstances. The minor defendant, Julian B. Niles, Jr. (‘ minor’ ) is the grandnephew of the testator. He is entitled to share in the trust income and corpus only if he is the ‘ lawful issue’ of Julian B. Niles (‘ Julian’ ), who was the testator's nephew. Since other beneficiaries under the will contended that the minor was not Julian's lawful issue and was not entitled to share, the co-trustees filed this complaint to have that matter determined in aid of a proper discharge of their duties.

Julian died in New York in 1946. He died testate as to some of his property and intestate as to the balance. Subsequently, his executor filed a proceeding in the New York Surrogate Court to have determined, in aid of his accounting, whether the minor was Julian's legitimate son. The other two defendants here were also parties to the Surrogate proceedings and unsuccessfully contested both the merits and the Surrogate's jurisdiction to decide the issue as there presented. In his opinion the Surrogate determined that the minor was Julian's legitimate son and directed that he was entitled to an interest as ‘ issue’ under his father's will and also to an interest in his father's intestate property. In re Niles' Will, Sur., 99 N.Y.S.2d 238. It is unnecessary at this stage to pass upon the correctness of that decision. However, while it could have been appealed, it was not and the time for doing so has expired.

Subsequently, this action was brought by the plaintiffs to have this court determine whether the same minor is entitled to a share of the income and corpus of the trust being administered by them in this state. The matter is now before the court on a motion for summary judgment filed by the defendant, Philip V. Manning, guardian for the minor. The basic issue posed by the

Page 699

motion is whether the New [35 Del.Ch. 109] York Surrogate's decision that Julian B. Niles, Jr., was the legitimate son of Julian B. Niles is binding in this proceeding.

The parties concede that we are not concerned with any doctrine of res adjudicata but solely with the doctrine of collateral estoppel because this is a different cause of action. The minor defendant says the other defendants are, by virtue of the judgment of the New York Surrogate Court, estopped to deny his legitimacy here. The other defendants contend that the New York judgment does not so operate because they say the doctrine does not apply to a matter incidentally determined in a court which would have had no jurisdiction to determine such issue in an action brought to determine it directly. As an adjunct, they say and the minor does not deny that there was no waiver of objection to that Court's jurisdiction. They also contend that the New York Surrogate Court did not determine the fact in issue here because they say that a finding that a person is the legitimate child of his father is not tantamount to a finding that he is the lawful issue and descendant of his father's ancestors.

Generally speaking, collateral estoppel involves the same parties but a different claim or cause of action. It prevents only the relitigation of those matters actually determined in a previous suit, provided the determination was ...


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