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Basic to the legal concept of duress is the controlling factor of the condition at the time of the mind of the person subjected to the coercive measures, rather than the means by which the given state of mind was induced, and thus the test is essentially subjective.
Plaintiff, Horace N. Rubenstein, allegedly under duress, conveyed all his properties to the defendant, his wife, Natalie Rubenstein, in exchange for her promise that the income of said properties would be used to take care of their infant children. Defendant contracted to sell a portion of the property for far below market value. Consequently, plaintiff instituted an action against defendant, seeking reconveyance of the property or equal shares of stock in defendant’s company, or a trust upon the land all for the benefit of the children. Plaintiff contended if the property were sold at the stated price, the property would be so depreciated in value that the interest of the children would be seriously jeopardized. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, which the district court granted. According to the district court, the threats and other conduct of defendant did not appear to subjugate the mind and will of the plaintiff; hence, the defendant’s acts could not be considered as the efficient cause of the execution of the deed of conveyance. The Appellate Division affirmed. Plaintiff challenged the decision.
Under the circumstances, was there no showing of a prima facie case of compulsion, thereby warranting the dismissal of the plaintiff’s action against defendant?
The court reversed the judgment and remanded the cause, finding that because plaintiff made a prima facie showing of a compulsive yielding to the demand of conveyance rather than the volitional act of a free mind, a full disclosure by defendant should have been made. According to the court, defendant's explanation should have been subjected to the same scrutiny as plaintiff's personal observations and the assessment of his testimony.