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AURORA GASOLINE COMPANY v. COYLE

February 27, 1959

AURORA GASOLINE COMPANY, A CORPORATION, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
FERN CLINE COYLE ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Platt, Chief Judge.

This suit originated as a civil action of interpleader under § 1335, Title 28 U.S.C. Plaintiffs purchased oil runs from wells on leases covering lands in Illinois and Indiana leased to John M. Cline, deceased. All persons claiming any interest in the payment for this oil were made parties. An order was entered directing the plaintiffs to pay to the Clerk of this Court the amounts due as of January 31, 1958, and be discharged. Plaintiffs have complied with this order.

By stipulation of the parties the issue centers upon the proper division to be made of the funds remaining on deposit with the Clerk of this Court. Fern Cline Coyle, the widow of John M. Cline, deceased, maintains that she is entitled to her share of the funds as provided by the statutes of descent of Illinois*fn1 and Indiana,*fn2 where part of Cline's property was located. The brothers, sisters and a child of a deceased brother, the heirs-at-law of John M. Cline, deceased, contend that a written contract between the widow and her present husband, and the heirs providing for the distribution of the funds should be specifically enforced by this court.

John M. Cline died intestate at Mt. Carmel, Illinois, on February 23, 1953. Probate proceedings were commenced in Wabash County, Illinois, and Persaw and Dallas Cline are the duly qualified and acting administrators of his estate. Ancillary proceedings are pending in Knox County, Indiana, where Gerald Hall is the duly qualified and acting ancillary administrator.

John M. Cline left surviving him his widow, Fern Cline, now Coyle, Pearl McFarland, his mother, Dallas Cline, Persaw Cline, William Cline, Orville Cline, Ruby Urbansky, and Alice Widdows White, all brothers and sisters, and Cheryl Cline, a minor daughter of a predeceased brother, Virgil, as his only heirs-at-law.

Pearl McFarland died in Oklahoma intestate in 1956 leaving as her only heirs-at-law the other heirs who survived John M. Cline. Orville Cline was appointed and is the acting administrator of her estate in Oklahoma. Douglas McDonald is the duly qualified and acting ancillary administrator of her estate in Indiana.

Fern Hickey (now Fern Cline Coyle) and John M. Cline, were married in 1928. Though there was never a final decree of divorce the couple did not live together after 1936. For 17 years prior to his death in 1953, John M. Cline lived with one Opal Gleason. On July 19, 1954, Fern Cline married Ivan Coyle.

Subsequent to Cline's death, Opal Gleason claimed to be a full partner in his estate. A suit by her against John M. Cline's estate, resisted by the Illinois administrators, the widow and heirs, was adjudicated against her in the Circuit Court of Wabash County, Illinois, and the decision of the trial court was upheld in Cline v. Cline, 1957, 12 Ill. App.2d 231, 139 N.E.2d 828. That decision became final in December, 1956. At that time claims and taxes against the estate of John M. Cline, deceased, were due.

Toward the end of December, 1956, or the first part of January, 1957, arrangements were made for a meeting between Fern Cline Coyle, her husband, Ivan, Messrs. Howard and Cullen, their attorneys, Guy McGaughey, Jr., attorney for the Illinois administrators of Cline, and Alice Widdows White, as representative of the heirs, to be held in San Francisco, California, where Fern and Ivan Coyle were living. At the first meeting on January 14, 1957, the Coyles, their attorneys, Alice White, and Guy McGaughey, Jr., were present. The status of the estate of John M. Cline and a settlement agreement were discussed. Another meeting was held on the following evening at which the same persons were present and a written instrument or settlement agreement was drawn by McGaughey and Cullen. Fern Coyle and Ivan Coyle, who is an accountant, requested and were given opportunity to examine the instrument and consider it by themselves during the next day. On January 16, certain changes which Fern and Ivan requested were made. That evening Fern and Ivan Coyle advised that they were ready to sign the instrument provided, prior to February 5, 1957, the Illinois administrators would file an accounting through December 31, 1956 with the Clerk of Wabash County Court, and the signatures of all the heirs, their respective spouses, together with those of the administrators, Guy McGaughey, Jr., and George W. Cullen would be obtained to the instrument. Pursuant to the Coyles' instructions, Mr. Cullen, their attorney, on a separate sheet of paper, prepared a brief memorandum setting forth the conditions which they requested be fulfilled before they would execute the agreement, and it reads as follows:

            "San Francisco, Calif.
                    "1-16-57
  "To:
    Fern Cline Coyle
    740 Parnasus
    San Francisco, Calif.

"Dear Mrs. Coyle —

      "This is to confirm assurances to you this
    date that I will do the following:
      (a) Cause an accounting to be filed in the
    Wabash County Court (by not later than February
    (1957) by the Co-Administrators of the Estate
    of John M. Cline.
      (b) Direct George W. Cullen, attorney, for
    your interests to return to you all of the
    signed copies of the settlement agreement this
    day delivered to him if by February 5, 1957, I
    have not caused all other parties named therein
    to

    evidence their participation in said ...

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