United States v. Yazell

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Yazell
LOCATION: Yazell’s Little Ages

DOCKET NO.: 10
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 382 US 341 (1966)
ARGUED: Oct 13, 1965
DECIDED: Jan 17, 1966

Facts of the case

After a flood, the Small Business Administration made a disaster loan to Ethel May Yazzel and her husband to cover damages to their shop. The mortgage securing the loan referred to Texas law. When the Yazzel's defaulted on the loan, the U.S. Government sued to collect the balance due. Mrs. Yazzel moved for summary judgment on the ground that the Texas law of coverture meant the contract was not enforceable against her personally. Under the law of coverture, a woman's legal rights are subsumed by her husband upon marriage. The Government argued that federal law, which would not recognize coverture, applied because there was an overwhelming federal interest. The district court granted summary judgment and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed.

Question

Does Federal or local Texas law apply to the loan?

Media for United States v. Yazell

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 13, 1965 in United States v. Yazell

Earl Warren:

Number 10, United States, Petitioner, v. Ethel Mae Yazell.

Mr. Solicitor General.

Thurgood Marshall:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

Assume I am called upon to answer the question about our brief in the former case.

While the brief was being prepared there were many conferences with the Department of Agriculture and indeed other agencies of the Federal Government.

We tried to corral everybody's idea into a brief.

When the brief was in final form the Secretary of Agriculture notified us he did not agree with the Government's position on the preemption point however he did not desire to have that point set out in the brief.

It's best I can explain what happened.

Earl Warren:

Thank you.

Thurgood Marshall:

On the other case.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Excuse Mr. Solicitor General?

Thurgood Marshall:

Yes sir?

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

This is only the preemption point?

Thurgood Marshall:

Only the preemption point.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

On the conflict point getting over the preemption point, are we to assume the -- that would express the fact (Voice Overlap) --

Thurgood Marshall:

I'd explain the statement on that.

Yes.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Thank you.

Thurgood Marshall:

The reason is most of this happened before I took over.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

The Secretary did agree with you on the conflict?

Thurgood Marshall:

Right.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Yes.

Thurgood Marshall:

Its -- the one point is the preemption and he flatly disagreed.

In the present case is an action filed in the District Court in the western district of Texas by the United States of America on behalf of small business administration seeking to recover balance due on a promissory note executed by one Delbert Yazell doing business as Yazell's Little Lake agent and Ethel Mae Yazell.

The amount involved was $47,019.

A copy of the note was attached and there was also a modification of the note attached.

Immediately thereafter the defendant Ethel Mae Yazell filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that no action could lie against their separate estate and this was accompanied by an affidavit asserting her covertures.

And that the defendant's original answer after Yazell again asserted her coverture and dealt with -- Yazell pleaded a whole lot of set off claims etcetera.

Now the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment was granted against Delbert but except as to the set off point and the defense of coverture of Ethel Yazell was deferred for briefing, etcetera and finally in the opinion by Judge Hutcheson, summary judgment was given for Ethel Mae Yazell.

And the -- in his opinion Judge Hutcheson was very plain to the point and he pointed out that the sole issue was whether the law of Texas where the contract was made that married women is protected by coverage of a personal liability under contract is controlling here or whether since the transaction was a transaction with the Federal Government, the Texas law of coverture was nullified and abrogated and then he specifically held no and he disagreed with the case of United States versus Helz in the Sixth Circuit.