California law uses two formulas to calculate the community property interest which accumulates during a marriage in a separate property business. The first, Pereira v. Pereira (1909) 156 Cal. 1, dealt with a saloon and cigar business. The analysis the court used is now applied to businesses such as dentist’s offices, accounting firms, and law firms, in which the value of the business derives from the “personal services” of the spouse. The second, Van Camp v. Van Camp (1921) 53 Cal.App.17, deals with businesses which have “valuable capital” in the form of machinery, real property, or inventory. Hence the mnemonic device, that “Pereira = personal services, Van Camp = valuable capital”.

The Pereira analysis asks the court to look at the value of the separate property business at the date of separation, and apply a reasonable rate of return (usually a percentage as recommended by an expert) to that value. Any value that the business has in excess of that original value + rate of return is community property. This is in accord with the principal that community property is derived from the efforts of the spouse. Meanwhile, the Van Camp analysis looks only into whether the spouse receives a sufficient salary (or other compensation) compared to a hypothetical reasonable replacement. If they do, then the community has been sufficiently compensated for its labor, and the business remains separate property. If not, the community accumulates an interest in the business equal to the unpaid compensation.

California courts have grappled with applying these two principles in a variety of situations, as the overriding rule is to use whichever formula creates substantial justice between the parties – usually read by lawyers to mean “whichever creates the best outcome for my client.” (Beam v. Bank of America (1971) 6 Cal.3d 12). But why are there two formulas to begin with? Why did the Court of Appeal, Second District, Division One (the opinion is Per Curiam and no single judge is listed as the author), find it necessary to create a new approach to community property accumulation in a separate property business in 1921?

Frederick Van Camp was born in Indiana in 1863, worked at his father’s canning business and inherited it when he died in 1900. Legend has it that Frank revolutionized their pork-and-beans product by adding ketchup to a dry batch of beans one day, creating “Pork and Beans with Tomato Sauce,” soon to become a flagship product. He would lose his majority ownership of that business through accumulation of debts by gambling, construction of a massive mansion in Indiana, and unsuccessful attempts to expand his business by cornering the tomato market. He moved to San Pedro and in 1914 purchased the California Tuna Canning Company with his son, which would become Van Camp Seafood. The marketing slogan “Chicken of the Sea” was devised to describe the taste, and would eventually become the name of the company. Tuna is still sold today under that name, although ownership has long since passed on from the Van Camp family. Advertisements for “Van Camp’s Baked Beans” would appear in the papers and the LA Times published articles about Van Camp’s plans to build a $300,000 cold-storage facility and $50,000 refrigerating plant, which would add “further to the development of Los Angeles as a world port.” Frank Van Camp was literally a household name.

Frank’s second wife, Euphrasia Van Camp, née Molle, had a much less well-documented life. She had worked for Frederick at his office, although she was a postal clerk at the time of her marriage. Their wedding in 1916 made the papers. He was 54, she was 21; it was to be a short marriage with an eventful conclusion.

Once married, Euphrasia found Frank a cold man, much concerned with business rather than marital affection. His kisses were “matter of habit”, he would not go with her to the moving pictures, though he said he might go with her to a “legitimate” show. He pushed her away from him when she asked him if he loved her; he told her to her face that he had grown tired of her. On one occasion he called her a “damn fool.” She spent nights sleepless due to worry though at trial Frank would blame this on pain from eyebrow plucking. Testimony revealed Frank struck Euphrasia at least twice during the marriage, once during “hysterics” due to her concerns over infidelity, once after she pulled a paper out of his hands when he was ignoring her.

Time was not the only thing that abraded Frank’s affection for Euphrasia. Ruth Cruzen, Frank’s stenographer, was often to be found with him, beginning in 1918 and increasingly so in 1919. Their closeness incited talk among family and associates, and Frank promised Euphrasia to stop associating so closely with Ms. Cruzen, a promise he would immediately break. Accusations flew, of gifts of silk stockings and $35 shoe buckles, of roses, of repeated trips together, and of long, private lunches. After one such accusation, Frank struck her because she was “being hysterical.” Euphrasia asked that Frank fire Ms. Cruzen; he refused. Euphrasia’s mother would testify to Frank and Ms. Cruzen’s relationship and to one of the instances of physical violence. There was a dramatic confrontation at a eucalyptus grove, where two detectives accompanied Euphrasia to meet the alleged lovers and confront them and harsh words were employed. Eventually, Euphrasia filed for divorce, alleging adultery and extreme cruelty.

It was half a century before the implementation of no-fault divorce in California, so the facts of the relationship between the three were of great importance and the private lives of the three were soon to come under close scrutiny. Newspapers provided updates with each day of trial, for the divorce and later the related legal suits. The testimony and facts of the case were reproduced. Both Ms. Cruzen and Euphrasia’s pictures were to grace the papers, allowing the public to evaluate their charms for themselves. Perhaps the most dramatic revelation occurred on March 5, 1920, when Euphrasia revealed that Frank had committed a hit-and-run and killed a pedestrian and said he should be charged with murder. Although corroborating testimony from witnesses suggested Frank committed the act, the charge was never pursued by the police, as it was deemed to be most likely manslaughter rather than murder and the statute of limitations had expired.

The eucalyptus grove, where Frank and Ms. Cruzen had been on multiple trips, was a subject of much testimony and argument during the trial, especially due to the dramatic confrontation where Euphrasia brought two detectives with her to accuse the pair. Frank admitted the trip occurred, he claimed he and Ms. Cruzen “ate fruit” and a light lunch. On March 6, 1920, Euphrasia’s counsel urged Judge Crail to visit the grove, the road, and the Van Camp factory with the attorneys; Judge Crail agreed with some reluctance to visit the grove alone.

Another revelation was that Ms. Cruzen had a fiancé, one George Newhouse, called forth with great showmanship as the “George” Ms. Cruzen wrote about in her diary. Counsel for Ms. Cruzen described Mr. Newhouse as a “red-blooded young man, who has come back from the war.” Ms. Cruzen “did not have to wait around” for a “gray-haired, decrepit, bespectacled, elderly man.” Frank Van Camp was 57 at the time.

Whatever their relationship to Frank, Euphrasia and Ms. Cruzen clearly had strong negative feelings for each other, and it spread to the legal proceedings. During the eucalyptus grove confrontation, Euphrasia called Ms. Cruzen a “low-down creature” and accused her of taking “Du Bois Pills.” Cruzen’s counsel, a Mr. Joseph Scott, attacked Euphrasia viciously in his closing arguments, focusing on her French extraction on her mother’s side. According to Scott, the charges which Euphrasia brought “Reek from top to bottom with the dirty, filthy, low mind that is so prevalent in France… and is absolutely foreign to the soil of this country, where we do trust our women, where we do trust our girls.” He went on to imply that Euphrasia was alike to a French street prostitute, and that allegedly ever-present manure piles in France inured Euphrasia to the smell of the “dirty, rotten fish in the Van Camp factory.” He accused Euphrasia of being the kind of women who “plucks her eyebrows out” and “shaves the back of her neck.”

With mention of France came mention of the Great War and the closing arguments devolved into a true argument between the attorneys. Captain John Fredericks, counsel for Euphrasia, accused Mr. Scott of being a “captain of the home guard,” leading a “gallant assault on the fair women of France” and Mr. Scott replied that “I think I was nearer the front-line trenches than Capt. Fredericks was during the war… My brother is lying in France and I do not propose to take second place to anybody like that upon that question.” Eventually this diverting aside ended; Captain Fredericks acknowledged, no doubt with a regret familiar to many attorneys, that “I must try this case on the evidence.” This exchange gave the case a briefly international flare – the local Consul for France wrote to the LA Times rebuking Mr. Scott for his rhetoric, especially as Mr. Scott had appeared as a speaker for a Bastille Day celebration.

Judge Crail did not find that Frank and Ms. Cruzen had committed adultery, though he seemed not entirely convinced of the purity of Frank’s intentions towards his stenographer. He described Ms. Cruzen, as “a demure little girl with a sad face, not blessed with an over-abundance of good looks or health,” theorizing that no man had ever noticed her before, or at least “no successful man who did big things and was the head of the institution for which she worked” which is somewhat more generous. He waxed poetic, stating “[Frank] tolled the knell of her (Mrs. Van Camp’) happiness; he digged the grave for a strangled love.” A reference to “women’s intuition” regarding their husbands’ faithfulness sits next to further poetic musings, such as “no bitterness is like a bottomless bucket. You may pour into it all the happiness of earth and never fill it up.” His statement that “Money does not bring happiness in married life” remains wise enough.

In addition to gifts from Frank in the amount of $48,000, Euphrasia was awarded $60,000 of the $90,000 of the Van Camp estate which was considered community property, a decision both sides appealed. Judge Crail asserted that the public should not overlook the distinction between a divorce and a “broken home,” stating “A divorce is sometimes a blessing, the break-up of a home is never a blessing.” He reproached Frank for “becoming careless” with his wife’s happiness.

On March 11, Ms. Cruzen sued Euphrasia for slander in the amount of $50,000, half for damages to her reputation and health, half for punitives, alleging Euphrasia had made her accusation “willfully, wickedly, wrongfully and maliciously, and with the intent and design to injure, disgrace, and defame,” showing at least that Ms. Cruzen’s counsel had excellent grasp of alliteration. Euphrasia would sue Ms. Cruzen for “alienation of affection.” Eventually, the defamation case would settle – Euphrasia’s comments were deemed false, but to have been made without malice.

Frank’s son Gilbert had testified on Frank’s behalf during the trial; he said there was no gossip around the office about Ms. Cruzen and Frank, and that a vase of flowers was purchased “for the benefit of the office”. After the divorce, he would pursue a lawsuit against Euphrasia for various items he claimed belonged to the estate of Frank’s mother; this suit would stretch on after the divorce itself The first jury failed to reach a verdict, it was reset and Euphrasia eventually prevailed.

The case was appealed, and the Second District Court of Appeal made its famous verdict. According to the Appellate Court, Frank was “a man of large affairs”, and “where a girl of 21 is shown to have married a man of 54” the facts suggest “a marriage of convenience so far as [Euphrasia] is concerned.” Frank “brought to California property of great value;” that he had driven his father’s company into vast amounts of debt was not mentioned, nor his penchant for gambling, nor that he had inherited the funds he used to purchase his company. Although it acknowledged that Frank had struck Euphrasia and insulted her, the Court said “The evidence goes to show that defendant was in the main liberal in the direction of gratifying all the wishes of his wife as to things desired for her pleasure and comfort.”

The Court examined the charges of “extreme cruelty” in the context of Euphrasia’s character noting that “the use of vulgar and profane epithets may, in the case of a highly cultured, refined, and sensitive woman, produce an effect of great mental anguish;” while having no effect on a woman of “no refinement and coarse nature.” That she had married a man thirty years her senior, in, presumably, a “marriage of convenience” weighed against her, but the Appellate Court found that Frank’s actions had indeed created “comment and gossip” and that she “suffered greatly in her mind.” Regardless of whether she had “lively affection” towards Frank, his conduct could have “rendered intolerable a continuance of the marital partnership” in such a way to disturb her mind; this was a question for the trial judge. The substantial evidence rule won the day – the charge of cruelty was affirmed.

Euphrasia’s claims to ownership of the Van Camp Seafood business under Pereira v. Pereira were dismissed, as such would render Van Camp Sea Food a “mere agency through which defendant conducted his business.” The Court found that although Frank’s capacity and ability had played a large role, the investment of his capital and that of others was more significant than in the Pereira case. He acted as a manager, he was paid as a manager, the question of whether he is adequately paid was sent back to the trial courts.

To the Second District Court of Appeal, Frank Van Camp was a virtuous man, but an elderly, easily influenced one who had been taken advantage of by a cunning (and French) young woman of questionable character. He had given her gifts and financial support, and what more should she want? One cannot help but imagine they felt the urge to protect Frank from her grasp, and avoid rewarding her eyebrow plucking and neck-shaving.

However, there is another way of viewing the case, especially with modern context. A rich, influential business man, one driven by passion and grand ideas that had led him to failure in the past and great success in the present. As his wealth and power grew and he became not just involved in the affairs of his community but a symbol of aspirational success, he spied a young, beautiful postal worker who used to work for him. Unlike the Court of Appeal, we may imagine he took the lead in this courtship – these details are not available to us in the record. Once he successfully wooed her and won her, his attention almost immediately shifted to another conquest, another girl who worked for him, who was not a member of his social or economic class, who could be wooed by expensive gifts and the attention of a man of such importance. He struck Euphrasia at least twice, he treated her coldly, he mocked her for her jealousy. He killed a woman in front of her with his vehicle and successfully escaped justice. His son viewed her as a thief.

Euphrasia was not impoverished by her verdict. In addition to the furniture and silverware, whose value was disputed but seemed to be around $10,000-$15,000, she was to keep the gifts Frank had given her, including a car, half a bungalow court, a house, an empty lot, a certificate of deposit worth$10,000,and $10,000 in cash. No record of what happened to the $60,000 of community property on remand has been found, nor of what, if any, alimony Euphrasia might have received.

Ms. Cruzen appears to have obtained a happy ending, or at least a happy middle, to her story. She and George Newhouse wed later that year, hopefully avoiding further entanglements with the court system.

In Van camp, the judges of the Court of Appeal rejected Pereira and created an entirely new legal principle; granting a portion of Van Camp Seafood was unpalatable to them. This principle has stood the test of time; we use it a century later. However, had the Court of Appeal taken the second view, that Frank Van Camp was not a weak, decrepit victim at the mercy of a cold-blooded seductress, but a powerful businessman who enjoyed pursuing young women under his employ, one wonders what legal principles they might have set down for the ages.

Written by: Christopher McDonough, Esq.