Bilyeu v. Wood, 169 Ark. 1181 (1925)

Dec. 21, 1925 · Arkansas Supreme Court
169 Ark. 1181

Bilyeu v. Wood.

Opinion delivered December 21, 1925.

*1185Martin & Martin and J. W. Warren, for appellant.

J. T. Sifford, J. E. Gaughan, E. E. Godwin and T. J. Gaughan, for appellee.

Hart, J.,

(after stating the facts). ' On appeal chancery cases are tried de novo, and the findings of fact by the chancery court are allowed to stand unless they are clearly against the preponderance of the evidence. Leach v. Smith, 130 Ark. 465.

Tb invalidate a deed on the ground of the grantor’s mental incapacity, the proof must show that the grantor was incapacitated from intelligently comprehending and acting- upon the affair out of which the transaction grew, and that he did not intelligently understand and comprehend the nature and consequences of his act. In other words, the mental capacity at the time of signing a deed Sufficient to comprehend the nature of the transaction is the standard fixed by the law for determining the mental competency of the person signing the deed. Kelly’s Heirs v. McGuire, 15 Ark. 555; Pulaski County v. Hill, 97 Ark. 450; McEvoy v. Tucker, 115 Ark. 430; and Reaves v. Davidson, 129 Ark. 88.

Tested by the principles of lav7, announced above, it can not be said that the chancellor erred in finding the facts to be against the plaintiff.

Mrs. Bell, the aunt of the plaintiff and her sister, took them when their mother died, and raised and educated them as a part of her own family. When her husband died Mrs. Bell formed the idea of selling her hus*1186band’s land together with the land which her nieces had inherited from their mother for the purpose of getting out of debt, and moving to another place. The land of the minors was of but little value- The timber had been cut off of it, and none of it was in cultivation. All the lands were sold for $7.50 per acre, but the evidence phows that the part of the lands which belonged to the estate of the husband of Mrs. Bell was much more valuable. The price paid for the lands was an adequate one, and the sale was void as to the plaintiff only because the order removing her disabilities as a minor did not state that she was a resident of the county in which the order was made. To correct this defect in the title, the quitclaim deed in question was executed. The land 'became more valuable on account of the discovery of oil in the vicinity, and the plaintiff seeks to set aside the quitclaim deed on the ground that she signed it on account of the love and confidence she had in Mrs. Bell, and on the further ground that she was not mentally competent to sign a deed. She states that she did not know that she was signing a deed.

On the other hand, Mrs. Bell and Watts testified that she knew she was signing a quitclaim deed for the purpose of curing a defect in the title of Watts. In other words, they explained to her that the probate order removing her disabilities as a minor was void because it did not state that she was a resident of the county in which it was made-

The chancellor made an express finding of fact in favor of the defendants on this phase of the case, and it can not be said that his finding is against the weight of the evidence so that it must be set aside on appeal.

The question which has given us the most concern is whether or not the plaintiff was mentally competent to execute the quitclaim deed in question. According to the testimony of a .specialist in mental diseases, her mind had never developed beyond the mind of a child eight and a half or nine years old, and consequently she did not understand the nature of her act when she signed the quitclaim deed. His testimony is corroborated by *1187that of her father-in-law, and two other witnesses who knew her well. On the other hand a physician who attended her in childbirth, and who knew her very well, testified that while he did not make any mental examination of the plaintiff, he talked with her frequently, and she appeared absolutely normal to him. He said that he had seen her a great many times and talked with her, and did not see any defect in her mind. Mrs. Bell, who raised the plaintiff, and one of her children both testified that the plaintiff had a normal mind, and that her mental condition was as good as that of any other of the children. Several other witnesses who knew her well also testified that her mental condition appeared to be normal.

The undisputed evidence shows that in the first instance the land was sold for an adequate price. The sister of the plaintiff, who was of lawful age and signed the deed, refused to take any part in trying to set it aside. It is true that she was not examined as to the mental condition of the plaintiff; but it must be remembered that the burden of proof was upon the plaintiff to show that she was mentally incompetent to execute the deed. The fact that the sister refused to have anything to do with setting aside the deed is a circumstance tending to show that she did not believe that there was any undue influence used in procuring it, or that the plaintiff was mentally incompetent when she signed it. She testified in positive terms that she had conveyed to Watts her interest in the land, and had no sort of right to invalidate the deed. This tended ho show that she believed the consideration was an adequate one, and that the original transaction was free of fraud.

The result of our views is that, in the application of the rules of law declared above to the facts of the case, it can not be said that the decree of the chancellor was wrong, and it will be affirmed.