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Dorf v. Tuscarora Pipe Line Co.

Decided: December 13, 1957.

PAUL DORF, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
TUSCARORA PIPE LINE COMPANY, LIMITED, ETC., DEFENDANT, AND HILDA H. DORF, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



Goldmann, Freund and Conford. The opinion of the court was delivered by Goldmann, S.j.a.d.

Goldmann

Plaintiff appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court, Law Division, directing the clerk of the court to disburse in equal shares the proceeds of a judgment recovered for damage to certain realty owned by him and his wife.

The parties were married in 1942 and for several years lived in South Bound Brook, N.J., in premises held by them as tenants by the entirety. In October 1952 an oil leak developed in an underground pipe line near their property, owned by Tuscarora Pipe Line Company, Limited. The oil seeped into the cellar of the home, causing extensive damage to the house as well as to plaintiff's personal property. The Dorfs were compelled to move and they took up residence in Metuchen, N.J.

Defendant left her husband on June 16, 1953 and about a year later brought an action in the Chancery Division for divorce on the ground of extreme cruelty. Our examination of the pleadings and transcript in that case reveals that defendant suddenly left her husband and their son and went to live with her mother in New York, after plaintiff discovered that she had taken $25,000 in cash belonging to him. He counterclaimed for this money, as well as for certain other valuable property which he claims she had taken. The divorce action eventually ended in a judgment dismissing the complaint with prejudice, granting custody of the son of the marriage to defendant, and reserving all other issues for further hearing and determination.

In the meantime, and on March 27, 1954, plaintiff instituted an action against Tuscarora for damages to the South Bound Brook premises and his personal property. He later added his wife as a party defendant. This litigation resulted in a settlement and judgment for $5,250 in favor of plaintiff and his wife. It was stipulated that $2,500 of this amount was to be paid to plaintiff for the damage to his personal property, the $2,750 balance being deposited in court to await the determination of the respective parties' interest therein.

Plaintiff applied for distribution of the fund, claiming that the $2,750 should be used to repair the damage caused by Tuscarora and also to pay taxes. Defendant contended that the money should be equally divided. At the hearing which followed plaintiff testified that in the years 1953 through 1956, while the parties were separated and the South Bound Brook property unoccupied, he paid out $2,479.24 for taxes, insurance and repair and maintenance charges. The property has remained vacant; it is in bad disrepair and uninhabitable. Plaintiff sought to introduce in evidence a contractor's estimate of repairs necessary to restore the house to its former condition, amounting to some $3,000, but the court sustained an objection to its admission.

The trial court determined that the $2,750 recovered in the Tuscarora action for damages to the real estate was personalty;

that there could be no estate by the entirety in that fund; that plaintiff was not entitled to reimbursement for the taxes, insurance and other monies expended; and that in the absence of probative evidence as to the cost of repairing the house, no consideration could be given to plaintiff's claim that he be allowed to withhold and expend all of the fund for its restoration. The judgment directing payment of the $2,750 to the parties in equal shares was thereupon entered, and this appeal followed.

Plaintiff contends that the money recovered from Tuscarora remains realty; it is held by the entireties and is subject to survivorship. The law of New Jersey is to the contrary.

A tenancy by the entirety in realty is an estate held by husband and wife by virtue of title acquired by them jointly after marriage. The tenancy is the creature of common law, created by legal fiction and based wholly on the common law doctrine that husband and wife are one. It is a peculiar and anomalous estate, sui generis in character. Estates by the entirety have no moieties; each owner holds the entirety and each receives per tout et non per my. Although divorce will convert such an estate into a tenancy in common, Sbarbaro v. Sbarbaro , 88 N.J. Eq. 101 (Ch. 1917); 4 Powell on Real Property (1954), § 624, p. 669, a mere separation, whether voluntary or judicial, will neither destroy the estate nor change its essential characteristics. Upon the death of one of the spouses the entire estate and interest belongs to the other, not by virtue of survivorship but by reason of the title that vested under the original limitation. 4 Thompson on Real Property (perm. ed. 1940), § 1803, p. 329 et seq.; 2 American Law of Property (1952), § 6.6(a) and (b), pp. 23, 27. Tenancies by the entireties do not exist in fully half of the United States. Some states have ...


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