Document Type



DeTenorio v. McGowan, 510 F.2d 92 (5th Cir. 1975).

Maria McGowan was the wife of E.J. McGowan, a United States national who owned 37 acres of land in Mississippi. McGowan died intestate in Panama on October 31, 1957.

His brother, H.E. McGowan, a Mississippi resident, was notified of the death by a United States consular report which indicated that Maria was the decedent's widow and listed her address. The widow was unaware of the land and of her inheritance rights under a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Consular Rights between the United States and Honduras. As a citizen of Honduras, Maria could inherit land in the United States under the treaty, provided that she had the land conveyed to herself within three years of the decedent's death. The treaty provided that if circumstances so required, the three-year period could be extended. When Maria died twelve years after her husband's death, she was still unaware of her right to the Mississippi acreage.

In 1968, eleven years after his brother's death, H.E. McGowan brought suit in a Mississippi Chancery Court to quiet title to the land. Possible claimants in the United States were notified by personal service, and constructive service by publication was provided by a newspaper circulating in the area where the land was located. No attempt was made to give notice to or serve process on Maria, then residing in Honduras. H.E. McGowan was awarded a default judgment.

When Maria died intestate one year later, her sister, Dorotea De Tenorio, became her heir. Dorotea learned about the land in Mississippi and filed a claim to confirm title and interest to the 37 acres in the United States District Court, Southern District of Mississippi. Also a citizen of Honduras, Dorotea claimed the land as an heir under the Honduran treaty. Meanwhile, the acreage's attraction had increased with the discovery of oil, and both H.E. and Dorotea sold drilling rights to the property. The district court held that Maria's interest in the land could not be divested from her without due process of law and just compensation. Under the treaty Dorotea was entitled to the same protection, since she was an heir of Maria.

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed and held that since the widow failed to sell the property within three years after her husband's death, as was required by the treaty, she was deprived of any interest in the property. The court ruled that the due process guarantees of the treaty applied only to acts of the signatory countries and were inapplicable to litigation between private parties concerning title to real property.

Publication Date

January 1976

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Law Commons



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