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Auten v Auten (1922) Fuld, J.

Plaintiff: Margarite Auten


Defendant: Harold Auten
Concept:
Brief facts: Margarite Auten sues Harold Auten in New
York to recover support for her and her children that
Harold owed by virtue of a separation agreement. The
Autens were married in England. Harold deserted her,
went to America, obtained a Mexican divorce, then
married another woman. Margarite went to New York,
where she and Harold came to a separation agreement
which provided that Harold was to pay to a trustee, for
Margarites account, 50 pounds sterling (British
currency) a month for her support and that of their 2
children. The agreement also provided that they were
not to sue each other in any action relating to their
separation, and Margarite would not cause any
complaint against Harold in any jurisdiction because of
his alleged divorce and remarriage. Harold made a few
payments only, so Margarite filed a petition for
separation in England, charging Harold with adultery.
Harold was served in New York with process in that suit
and he was ordered to pay alimony pendent lite. This
English case never proceeded to trial. Margarite
instituted the instant suit to recover support due under
the agreement.
Doctrine: Center of Gravity/Grouping of Contacts
Theory: The courts, instead of regarding as conclusive
the parties intention or the place of making or
performance, lay emphasis rather upon the law of the
place which has the most significant contacts with the
matter in dispute.
FACTS:
1.1917: Harold and Margarite Auten were married in
England, living there with their 2 children until 1931.
2.1931: According to Margarite, Harold deserted her,
came to America, obtained a Mexican divorce, then
married another woman.
3.1933: They came to a separation agreement, which
provided that:
o Harold was to pay to a trustee, for the account of
Margarite, 50 (50 pounds sterling) a month for
the support of Margarite and her 2 children.
o They were to live separate and apart.
o They were not to sue each other in any action
relating to their separation.
o Margarite would not cause any complaint to be
lodged against Harold in any jurisdiction because
of the alleged divorce or remarriage.
4.Harold made a few payments only, leaving Margarite
and her children destitute.
5.August 1934: Margarite filed a petition for separation in
an English court, charging Harold with adultery
6.December 4, 1936: Harold was served in New York with
process in that suit.
7.July 1938: Harold was ordered to pay alimony pendente
lite.
8.This English case never proceeded to trial.
9.1947: Margarite brought the instant suit to recover
$26,564 representing support due under the
agreement, from January 1, 1935 to September 1,
1947.
CFI dismissed the complaint.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower courts


decision
ISSUES:
Which law applied as to the issue of whether
Margarites commencement of the English case
(petition for separation with charge of adultery)
constituted a rescission and repudiation of the
separation agreement? English
RATIO:
Based on the center of gravity or grouping of
contacts theory of the conflict of laws, English
law governs.
The decisions in New York jurisprudence as to which
law applies to contracts with elements in different
jurisdictions show several approaches.
o Most of the cases rely on these general rules,
which were thought to be conclusive:

"All matters bearing upon the execution, the


interpretation and the validity of contracts are
determined by the law of the place where the
contract is made"

"All matters connected with performance are


regulated by the law of the place where the
contract, by its terms, is to be performed."

What constitutes a breach of the contract and


what circumstances excuse a breach are
considered matters of performance, governable,
within this rule, by the law of the place of
performance.
o However, recent decisions have innovated by
employing a method that rationalizes the
choice of law. This method has been called
the center of gravity or grouping of
contracts theory.
The courts, instead of regarding as
conclusive the parties intention or the
place of making or performance, lay
emphasis rather upon the law of the place
which has the most significant contacts
with the matter in dispute.
This method may seem less predictable but it
gives to the jurisdiction having the most interest
in the problem, control over the legal issues
arising from a specific set of circumstances,
allowing the forum to apply the rules of the
jurisdiction most intimately connected with the
outcome of the particular case.
This has been thought to effect the probable
intention of the parties when making their
contract.
In the instant case:
o England has the most significant contacts with the
case.

The agreement was between British subjects.

They were married in England.

They lived there as a family for 14 years.

Harold abandoned his family and was in the US


on a temporary visa.

Margarites sole purpose was to get Harold to


agree to support their family.

The money was to be paid to a trustee in New


York but those who stood to benefit live in
England.


o
o

The agreement refers to British currency (pounds


sterling.)
New Yorks only connection to the case is where
the agreement was made , and where the trustee
to whom the money was to be paid held office.
It is unlikely that Margarite intended to subject
herself to the law of another state which she was
not familiar with.

English law must be applied.


It is for the courts of that state to determine
whether Margarites institution of a case
constituted a breach of their agreement.

The Court noted that based on English law, there


was no breach of the agreement by Margarite.

DISPOSITIVE: The judgment of the Appellate Division


and that of Special Term insofar as they dismiss the
complaint should be reversed, with costs in all courts,
and the matter remitted for further proceedings in
accordance with this opinion.