MCCLUNY V. SILLIMAN, 28 U. S. 270 (1830)

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U.S. Supreme Court

McCluny v. Silliman, 28 U.S. 3 Pet. 270 270 (1830)

McCluny v. Silliman

28 U.S. (3 Pet.) 270


The plaintiff sued the defendant as Register of the United States Land Office in Ohio for damages for having refused to note in his books applications made by him for the purchase of land within his district. The declaration charged the register with this refusal, the lands had never been applied for nor sold, and were at the time of the application liable to be so applied for and sold. The statute of limitations is a good plea, to the suit.

It is a well settled principle that a statute of limitations is the law of the forum, and operates upon all who submit themselves to its jurisdiction.

Under the thirty-fourth section of the Judiciary Act of 1789, the acts of limitation of the several states, where no special provision has been made by Congress, form a rule of decision in the courts of the United States, and the same effect is given to them as is given in the state courts.

Construction of the statute of limitations of the State of Ohio.

Where the statute of limitations is not restricted to particular causes of action, but provides that the action, by its technical denomination, shall be barred if not brought within a limited time, every cause for which such action may be prosecuted is within the statute.

In giving a construction to the statute of limitations of Ohio, the action being barred by its denomination, the Court cannot look into the cause of action. They may do this in those cases where actions are barred for causes specified in the statute, for the statute only operates against such actions when prosecuted on the grounds stated. [278]

Of late years, the courts in England and in this country have considered statutes of limitations more favorably than formerly. They rest upon sound policy, and tend to the peace and welfare of society. The courts do not now, unless compelled by the force of former decisions, give a strained construction to evade the effect of those statutes. By requiring those who complain of injuries to seek redress by action at law within a reasonable time, a salutary vigilance is imposed and an end is put to litigation.

In the Circuit Court of Ohio, the plaintiff in error instituted a suit on 15 December, 1823, against the defendant, who was Register of the United States land office at Zanesville, to recover damages for having, as register, refused to enter an application in the books of his office, for certain lands in his district; the entry having been required to be made according to the provisions of the tenth section of the Act of Congress passed 18 May, 1796, entitled


Page 28 U. S. 271

act providing for the sale of the lands of the United States, in the territory northwest of the River Ohio, and above the mouth of the Kentucky River."

The declaration charges that the register, on 2 August, 1810, refused to enter the application, although the lands had never been legally applied for or sold, and were then liable to be applied for and sold.

The defendant pleaded not guilty, and not guilty within six years before the commencement of the suit. To the latter plea there was a demurrer, and joinder in demurrer. The circuit court overruled the demurrer, and sustained the plea of the statute of limitations. The plaintiff prosecuted this writ of error, and sought to reverse the judgment on the grounds:

1. That the statute of limitations does not apply to an action upon the case brought for an act of nonfeasance or misfeasance in office.

2. That no statute of limitations of the State of Ohio, then in force, is pleadable to an action upon the case brought by a citizen of one state against a citizen of another, in the circuit court of the United States for malfeasance or nonfeasance in office, in a ministerial officer of the general government, and especially where the plaintiff's rights accrued to him under a law of Congress.

Page 28 U. S. 275

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