Only in New Orleans will you find class being held in a cemetery. And, where else would you find a monument bearing the citation of a case? For the past ten years, Professor Monica Hof Wallace has taken her Civil Law of Successions class to Metairie Cemetery to honor the memory of two native New Orleanians, Pauline and her daughter, Angèle Langles. A monument to Angèle Langles bears the inscription “105 La. 39” which tells the story of the demise of a mother and daughter whose eternal wishes were obscured by an unfortunate application of Louisiana law. With the assistance of Gerard “Jerry” Schoen, Director of Community Outreach at Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home and Cemeteries, her students are introduced to one of the most intriguing Louisiana successions cases and learn more about Louisiana history found within the grounds of the cemetery.
Pauline Costa Langles and her daughter, Angèle Langles, were taking a trip from New York to France aboard the steamship La Bourgogne. Prior to the Langles women disembarking, both executed olographic testaments (a handwritten will) in New Orleans disposing to one another the whole of their property. In addition, both testaments contained clauses in case either woman predeceased the other. In that event, Pauline left the residue of her estate to build a memorial hospital for women and children; Angèle left the residue of her estate to support the hospital built by her mother. Both testaments also provided certain amounts for the construction of a tomb for each woman. Unfortunately, the vessel the La Bourgogne collided with another vessel and sank, leaving the bodies of the women undiscovered.
Upon probate of the estates of Pauline and Angèle, suit was brought to invalidate the testaments. At the time of their deaths, Louisiana law contained presumptions of survivorship, termed “commorientes,” which applied to reciprocal heirs when their deaths occurred simultaneously. As a result of this law, Angèle was deemed to have survived her mother, and her mother’s estate transmitted to her. Because no memorial hospital had yet been constructed, Angèle’s residuary legacy lapsed, and her intestate heirs – none of whom were named in her testament – inherited the large estate. No hospital would be built. To add insult to injury, the district court also concluded that because Angèle‘s body had not been recovered, no tomb need be built in her memory. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court with one exception, stating, “We think this is a proper occasion to give the word [tomb] its broadest meaning – a monument in memory of the dead. We are surprised that the heirs of the deceased, inheriting her property under the circumstances they have, should have opposed, as they have, the carrying out of Angèle Langles’ wishes on this subject. They should have been willing to perpetuate her memory even in this slight way.”
Legend has it that the executor in charge of constructing the tomb did not want to mislead people into thinking that Angèle’s remains lie in state at the site of the tomb by inscribing her birth and death dates on the edifice, so, “touched by inspiration,” he instead had the legal citation of the opinion of the Supreme Court of Louisiana inscribed in order for curious passers-by to be able to know the real story. Now, countless scores of Loyola students have seen and heard the story of the Langles women. When asked about his experience, Steven Matt, a 2L at the College of Law, said, “Professor Wallace’s annual Successions trip to see the Langles monument gives much credence to Holmes’s proposition that ‘the study of law is the study of history.’ For me, this history lesson has strengthened my understanding of the law; I will never forget it.”
Wallace currently serves as the Dean Marcel Garsaud, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law. She teaches in the areas of family law, successions, donations and trusts, and scholarly writing. Her scholarly interests include the extent and enforceability of child support for minor children as well as the evolution of marriage and family relationships both in civil and common law systems.