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Bennett v. Bennett

SEPTEMBER 8, 1960.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Peoria county; the Hon. HENRY J. INGRAM, Judge, presiding. Affirmed.


Rehearing denied October 5, 1960.

This appeal comes to us from a trial de novo in the Circuit Court of Peoria County affirming an order of the Probate Court sustaining objections by a ward to certain items of disbursement in her conservator's Final Report. As a result, the requested discharge by the conservator was denied and the Final Report disapproved. The conservator appeals.

The conservator is the husband of the ward. As a result of the ward's confinement in the Peoria State Hospital, the Illinois Department of Public Welfare filed a claim against her estate in the amount of $2,768.00, under the Mental Health Code. Sec. 9-19, Chap 91 1/2, Ill. Rev. Stat. 1959. Prior to the filing of the conservator's final report on February 25, 1958, the Probate Court had, on April 25, 1956, entered an order, approving an interim report of the conservator finding the claim of the State to be valid, and authorizing and directing the conservator to pay it, to the extent called for by applicable regulations of the Department of Public Welfare, which was determined to be $1,640.09. Also, by the same order, the conservator was permitted to reimburse himself in the amount of $106.90 for advances he had made "for clothing and other necessities" furnished by him to his ward. The ward was not represented by a guardian ad litem at any hearing approving the interim report, nor was she served with notice that the report had been filed and approval sought. The interim order was entered ex parte. We recite this fact, not for the reason that it is, in our view of the case, especially significant, but simply to negate any implication that it was not ex parte. It really makes no difference.

Under "Items Paid Out", in the Final Report, appears the amount $106.90, identified as refund of moneys to the conservator spent for the ward, and $1,640.09 paid on the claim of the State of Illinois. The Report concluded with a request for approval, and the discharge of the conservator, to which the wife duly filed her objections.

Her position is simply that her husband is liable, in the final analysis, for the cost of her confinement in the Peoria State Hospital, and for the $106.90 refund item, representing expenditures for clothing and other necessaries, and therefore, he should be required to reimburse her estate in these amounts. She relies generally on the common law proposition that a husband is responsible for his wife's necessaries. The husband counters with the argument that such payments were made in the ordinary course of administration and were specifically approved by the Probate Court, that he was duty bound to abide thereby, and he should therefore be discharged, and his Report approved, since he did naught but do as he was directed by the Court.

The conservator agrees that there is a common law duty on a husband to furnish his wife with necessaries, which includes support, but denies that the expense incurred by a wife's confinement in a State Hospital falls within the category of necessaries, for the reason that such expense is but a creature of statute, and does not constitute support for which a husband is responsible. He further argues that the liability must fall where the statute puts it, which is on the estate of the patient. In other words, to the extent that the estate is sufficient, it must bear the burden, and this is so, he says, because the statute makes it so. He buttresses further his contention of non-liability by citing the Family Expense Statute (Sec. 15, Chap. 68, Ill. Rev. Stat. 1959) arguing that his wife thereby has a joint responsibility with him, and that if it is applicable, the claim was properly paid from her funds.

It is true that the Mental Health Code (Sec. 9-19, Chap. 91 1/2, Ill. Rev. Stat. 1959) creates a liability in the first instance in favor of the State against the estate of the patient, "for the payment of sums representing maintenance charges for the care, treatment, detention and training of such patient in a State Hospital . . .". The paragraph further provides that if the estate is insufficient, the spouse is liable. In Sec. 9-21, the Department of Public Welfare is authorized to investigate the financial condition of such persons, "to pay sums representing maintenance charges, and for such purposes to set a standard as a basis of judgment of ability to pay", if at all. If the latter status is determined (inability), then the payments representing maintenance charges for the patient are borne by the State. Secs. 9-21, 9-25, Chap. 91 1/2, Ill. Rev. Stat. 1959.

It is apparent, of course, that if the patient's estate is sufficient, it is liable in the first instance, and no duty devolves on others, so far as the State is concerned. But because the State looks first to the estate of the patient, it does not follow that the estate is precluded from seeking reimbursement from others who may be liable to it. The statute renders the estate of the patient liable to the State, it does not render it liable absolutely and in all events, denying to it such rights as it may have to recoup from others. Because the liability is statutory in origin, and something new, does not mean that older and more overriding concepts of liability must give way, their impact spiked, absent some expression in the statute delimiting the new liability.

The same can be said as to the Family Expense Statute, which provides, so far as here relevant:

"the expenses of the family . . . shall be chargeable upon the property of both husband and wife, or of either of them, in favor of creditors therefor, and in relation thereto they may be sued jointly or separately."

What words here cut down and narrow the common law in respect to the duties owed a wife? All this statute does is give to third parties for expenses of the family a remedy against them both, and that is all. To ascribe a larger import is to deny the meaning of plain words and accepted canons of construction. This we will not do. In 41 Corpus Juris Secundum 513, Husband and Wife, Sec. 50, it is stated:

". . . Notwithstanding the existence of a statute in the jurisdiction rendering both husband and wife liable to third persons for necessaries or family expenses, as considered infra Sec. 64, the liability of the husband to a third person for goods purchased by the wife may still be placed on a breach of his common law duty to provide necessaries; and as between husband and wife, the duty to furnish necessaries still rests on the husband."

We conclude that nothing in either the Mental Health Code or the Family Expense Statute detracts from the common law duty of a husband to supply his wife with necessaries, which, of course, includes support. A common law rule so firmly fixed in the legal firmament as this one, will not be by us so lightly cast aside. Statutes of this kind, having for their purpose the fixing of status relative to the obligations of man and wife to ...

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