TINDAL V. WESLEY, 167 U. S. 204 (1897)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Tindal v. Wesley, 167 U.S. 204 (1897)

Tindal v. Wesley

No. 231

Argued March 25, 1897

Decided May 10, 1897

167 U.S. 204


This was a suit by citizens of New York against citizens of South Carolina to recover the possession of certain real property in that state, with damages for withholding possession. One of the defendants in his answer stated that he had no personal interest in the property, but, as Secretary of State of South Carolina, had custody of it, and was in possession only in that capacity. The other defendant stated that he was watching, guarding, and taking care of the property under employment by his co-defendant. Both defendants disclaimed any personal interest in the property, and averred that the title and right of possession was in the state. Held that the suit was not one against the state within the meaning of the Eleventh Amendment of the Constitution of the United States declaring that

"the judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another state, or by citizens or subjects of a foreign state."

Whether a particular suit is one against the state within the meaning of the Constitution depends upon the same principles that determine whether a particular suit is one against the United States.

United States v. Lee, 106 U. S. 196, and other cases examined and held to decide that a suit against individuals to recover the possession of real property is not a suit against the state simply because the defendant holding possession happens to be an officer of the state and asserts that he is lawfully in possession on its behalf. The Eleventh Amendment gives no immunity to officers or agents of a state in withholding the property of a citizen without authority of law, and when such officers or agents assert that they are in rightful possession, they must make that assertion good, upon its appearing, in a suit against them as individuals, that the legal title and right of possession is in the plaintiff.

Page 167 U. S. 205

The judgment in this case does not conclude the state unless it becomes a party to the suit. Not having submitted its rights to the determination of the court, it will be open to the state to bring any action that will be appropriate to establish and protect whatever claim it has to the premises in dispute.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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