Law School Case Brief
HUTCHESON v. PECK - 5 Johns. 196
A father is bound, by the laws of nature, to afford protection and comfort to his child; and the same acts which in him ought to be considered as proceeding from parental affection, might in a stranger be deemed to proceed from improper and unjustifiable motives. The bare harboring of a married woman by a stranger, from motives of humanity, will not give to the husband a right of action.
A son-in-law filed an action against his father-in-law for harboring his daughter (the wife), claiming he was liable for actions that resulted in alienation of his wife's affection and the physical separation of her from him. At the trial, the evidence showed that the son-in-law's wife moved in with her father during a period when the son-in-law was changing residences. After the son-in-law completed the move, he went to retrieve his wife but was unable to do so. Witnesses for the son-in-law testified that the father-in-law had expressed concern to them that his son-in-law could not provide for his wife's needs and that the responsibility to care for her would ultimately fall upon him. Witnesses also stated that the father-in-law had threatened not to see his daughter if she returned to her husband and to cut of any material support for her. On the other hand, the father-in-law's witnesses testified that he had acted out of genuine concern for his daughter's welfare. After a jury trial in the case, damages were awarded to the son-in-law. The father-in-law filed a motion to set aside the verdict and for a new trial.
Was the son-in-law entitled to damages awarded to him for the alienation of his wife's affection and the physical separation of her from him?
The court granted the father-in-law's motion, and thus, set aside the verdict rendered against him and ordered that he receive a new trial. The court declared that while alienation of affections actions could be taken both strangers and parents, a stronger case had to be presented to prevail against the latter. Specifically, the court ruled that where the defendant was the parent of a spouse allegedly enticed, it was presumed that his actions were proper and in order to prevail it was necessary to show that he had acted with malice.
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