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Where Is a Mormon’s Abode?

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 02, 2008

Mormonism has provoked a great deal of legislation and legal commentary over the years: laws to abolish plural marriage, administrative policies to curtail Mormon immigration, test oaths to eliminate Mormon suffrage. While most of that occurred during the bad old pre-Manifesto days, echoes of those early days forced the courts to consider and accommodate Mormonism for years after those courts had seemingly forced us to adapt to their ways.

Here is one such echo, from 1910:

Mr. Heber J. Grant was a Mormon missionary and the husband of two wives; the first being Augusta and the second Emily. Determining to do missionary work in England, Mr. Grant took Emily and her six children along with him to the Old World, leaving Augusta behind. She thereafter built a house in Utah. Action was brought in one of the Utah courts against Mr. Grant, and process served by leaving it at the house occupied by his first wife. Judgment was rendered by default, and after Grant’s return he brought suit in equity to have it set aside on the theory that no process had ever been legally served on him. On the part of the plaintiff in the former action, it was claimed that Augusta, being his first wife, was the only legal wife, and a presumption arose that her home was the usual place of abode of her husband, justifying service by leaving a copy with some suitable person not less than 14 years of age. The Utah Supreme Court, passing on this question in Grant v. Lawrence, 108 Pacific Reporter, 931, decided that the evidence showed that, irrespective of any question of legality of marriage, Grant’s usual place of abode was not with his first wife, and process left at her home did not constitute a legal service upon him.

[“Where Is a Mormon’s Abode?” The Virginia Law Register 16:6 (Oct. 1910), 474]



14 Comments »

  1. Ardis, didn’t we just go through a variation of this question a year or so ago when people were trying to decide whether Utah should get another representative in congress? As I recall, the question of whether to count as residents missionaries who left from Utah but were serving somewhere else had some bearing on the question.

    Comment by Mark IV — June 2, 2008 @ 8:32 am

  2. You’re right about the debate over whether missionaries who left from Utah were residents of Utah, the same as students who are temporarily living elsewhere. Utah missed out on its third representative because said missionaries were not counted.

    I hadn’t thought about that in connection with this case. Those slippery Mormons — they just can’t be pinned down, can they?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 2, 2008 @ 8:40 am

  3. That reminds me of the story (posibly apocryphal but I heard it from James Allen himself) about the polygamist who returned to St George (?) late one evening from a church conference in SLC and went home, only to be told by his wife that it was not “her” week.

    He went to the next house, then the next and no one would take him in. Somewhere there had been a mix up in the schedule and he had no place to lay his weary head.

    I forget how the story resolved, but what a fix to find yourself in!

    Comment by Researcher — June 2, 2008 @ 9:48 am

  4. Ha — Plural marriage was often mocked as being the other way around, as a man having a home to go to no matter where he might find himself at nightfall. There’s a folk song about a railroad engineer who has a wife in every town, for instance. Never thought of the problem you raise!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 2, 2008 @ 9:55 am

  5. “Ha” all you want! Obviously the wives in the story saw the husband’s visits as a burden, not a blessing. Which just suggests that Twain was right, but perhaps for different reasons:

    Our stay in Salt Lake City amounted to only two days, and therefore we had no time to make the customary inquisition into the workings of polygamy and get up the usual statistics and deductions preparatory to calling the attention of the nation at large once more to the matter.
    With the gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform here — until I saw the Mormon women. Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically “homely” creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, “No — the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure — and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence.”

    Comment by Mark B. — June 2, 2008 @ 11:23 am

  6. I should have included the reference:

    Roughing It

    I searched the words “Christian charity” after opening the whole book, and was taken right to this passage.

    Comment by Mark B. — June 2, 2008 @ 11:25 am

  7. I wonder if Augusta mentioned Lawrence’s lawsuit in any of her letters to Heber while he was living in England.

    Comment by Justin — June 2, 2008 @ 4:48 pm

  8. That question does arise, doesn’t it? Although it would be hard to get an answer from England during the time allowed for filing an answer in court.

    Still, shouldn’t Augusta, a person of suitable age and experience, have thought about contacting one of Heber’s business associates and having him get the lawyers involved?

    Comment by Mark B. — June 2, 2008 @ 7:24 pm

  9. Interesting legal question. So, according to the court ruling, what was his usual (legal) place of abode? Where should it have been served?

    Comment by Ray — June 2, 2008 @ 8:56 pm

  10. Btw, the story in #2 is hilarious.

    The reality in #1 is not.

    Comment by Ray — June 2, 2008 @ 8:57 pm

  11. Ray,

    The court didn’t say where his “usual place of abode” was. But they did say that the home Augusta lived in was not it. I don’t know the rules of procedure for Utah courts in that period, and, as a practical matter, he may have been impossible to serve until he returned to Utah. Now there are procedures for serving process abroad, but I don’t know what the law was then.

    Comment by Mark B. — June 3, 2008 @ 5:35 am

  12. A practical way to look at an actual abode would be to look at who was paying taxes on the property.

    Another way would be to find where someone was listed as living in the census. Can the courts access current census records?

    But like Mark B said, you would have to research the procedures at the time for serving process when the person was out of the country which may have rendered the normal process serving invalid regardless of his normal abode.

    Should the court have ruled on both points of law?

    Comment by Amy T — June 3, 2008 @ 2:39 pm

  13. No, Researcher. Courts should only rule on the case before them. The plaintiff didn’t attempt service abroad, so there was no question about the validity of any method of such service.

    Payment of taxes or the census records aren’t useful tests in this situation, because what matters for the commencement of a lawsuit is that the method of service of process be reasonably likely to give actual notice of the lawsuit to the person being sued. And a person can pay taxes for property that he has never seen, and census records record one point in time, and people could have moved between that time and the date of service of process.

    Comment by Mark B. — June 4, 2008 @ 10:12 am

  14. Thanks Mark B for the info!

    Comment by Amy T — June 4, 2008 @ 11:30 am

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