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SIMONS v. MIAMI BEACH FIRST NATIONAL BANK

decided: May 3, 1965.

SIMONS
v.
MIAMI BEACH FIRST NATIONAL BANK, EXECUTOR



CERTIORARI TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF APPEAL OF FLORIDA, THIRD DISTRICT.

Warren, Black, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Goldberg

Author: Brennan

[ 381 U.S. Page 82]

 MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question to be decided in this case is whether a husband's valid Florida divorce, obtained in a proceeding wherein his nonresident wife was served by publication only and did not make a personal appearance, unconstitutionally extinguished her dower right in his Florida estate.

The petitioner and Sol Simons were domiciled in New York when, in 1946, she obtained a New York separation decree that included an award of monthly alimony. Sol Simons moved to Florida in 1951 and, a year later, obtained there a divorce in an action of which petitioner had valid constructive notice but in which she did not enter a personal appearance.*fn1 After Sol Simons' death in Florida in 1960, respondent, the executor of his estate, offered his will for probate in the Probate Court of Dade County, Florida. Petitioner appeared in the proceeding and filed an election to take dower under Florida law, rather than have her rights in the estate governed by the terms of the will, which made no provision for her.*fn2 The respondent opposed the dower claim, asserting that since Sol Simons

[ 381 U.S. Page 83]

     had divorced petitioner she had not been his wife at his death, and consequently was not entitled to dower under Florida law. Petitioner thereupon brought the instant action in the Circuit Court for Dade County in order to set aside the divorce decree and to obtain a declaration that the divorce, even if valid to alter her marital status, did not destroy or impair her claim to dower. The action was dismissed after trial, and the Florida District Court of Appeal for the Third District affirmed. 157 So. 2d 199.*fn3 The Supreme Court of Florida declined to review the case, 166 So. 2d 151. We granted certiorari, 379 U.S. 877. We affirm.

Petitioner's counsel advised us during oral argument that he no longer challenged the judgment below insofar as it embodied a holding that the 1952 Florida divorce was valid and terminated the marital status of the parties. We therefore proceed to the decision of the question whether the Florida courts unconstitutionally denied petitioner's dower claim.*fn4

[ 381 U.S. Page 84]

     Petitioner argues that since she had not appeared in the Florida divorce action the Florida divorce court had no power to extinguish any right which she had acquired under the New York decree. She invokes the principle of Estin v. Estin, 334 U.S. 541, where this Court decided that a Nevada divorce court, which had no personal jurisdiction over the wife, had no power to terminate a husband's obligation to provide the wife support as required by a pre-existing New York separation decree. As this was so, we there ruled that New York, in giving continued effect to the maintenance provisions of its separation decree, did not deny full faith and credit to the Nevada decree. See U.S. Const., Art. IV, ยง 1.*fn5 The application of the Estin principle to the instant case, petitioner contends, dictates that we hold the Florida courts to their constitutional duty to give effect to the New York decree, inherent in which is a preservation of her dower right.

The short answer to this contention is that the only obligation imposed on Sol Simons by the New York decree, and the only rights granted petitioner under it, concerned monthly alimony for petitioner's support. Unlike the ex-husband in Estin, Sol Simons made the support payments called for by the separate maintenance decree notwithstanding his ex parte divorce. In making these payments until his death he complied with the full measure of the New York decree; when he died there was consequently nothing left of the New York decree for Florida to dishonor.

This conclusion embodies our judgment that there is nothing in the New York decree itself that can be construed as creating or ...


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