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U.S. Supreme Court


4 U.S. 3 (Dall.)

The State of New York
The State of Connecticut et al. *

August Term, 1799

The bill in this case contained an historical account of the title of New York to the soil and jurisdiction of the tract of land in dispute; set forth an agreement of the 28th of November 1683, between the two states on the subject; and prayed a discovery, relief, and injunction to stay the proceedings in the Connecticut ejectments. 3 Dall. 411. As the state had not appeared, the question of injunction was the only one now argued.

Hoffman (the Attorney-General of New York), in support of the prayer for an injunction, and the general merits of the bill, urged various points, with great force and ability. 1st. It is necessary to execute the special agreement between the states. It is a principle of equity, that wherever there is an agreement, as to a right, whether it is a mere franchise, or a right of soil, it shall be enforced, and rendered conclusive upon the parties, by the interposition of the Court. The agreement admits that the tract of land belonged to New York; and the bill states, that notwithstanding this admission, Connecticut has since undertaken to grant a part of it to the plaintiffs in the ejectments. Hence, it became necessary (or the bill would have been incomplete) to make those plaintiffs, parties to the present suit. The agreement, indeed, only gives the equitable title to New York; while the plaintiffs below possess the legal title, and must, of course, [ State of New York v. State of Connecticut 4 U.S. 3 (1799)

recover in the ejectments. A specific performance of the agreement being decreed against Connecticut, would not be an adequate and complete remedy; and all parties in interest, however remote, must be brought before the court, or they cannot be affected by its proceedings. 2d. It will prevent a multiplicity of suits. The bill is emphatically a bill of peace; since, considering the character of the parties to the principal controversy, without this remedy, the consequences upon the public tranquillity can hardly be conjectured. It is true, however, that the right of the state of New York cannot be affected by a decision in the Circuit Court; but till that right is lawfully settled, the number of suits, by individuals, must be indefinitely great; and merely to avoid a multiplicity of suits, to cut off, by one decision, various sources of strife and litigation, is a substantive ground for the exercise of a chancery jurisdiction. 1 Atk. 282. 2 Atk. 484. 3d. It is a bill for the discovery of title, which parties in interest, as well as parties in possession, may certainly maintain. 1 Vez. 249.(a) 4th. It is a bill to settle a question

Page 4 U.S. 3, 4

of boundary between two states. Of this question the Court can, incontestably, take cognizance; and it will not allow the decision of the principal matter to be interrupted, or prevented, by collateral considerations; particularly, when the decision of the principal, will settle all the inferior matters in dispute. In Penn v. Baltimore, 1 Vez. 454. the bill was sustained upon similar principles; and the jurisdiction there assumed upon principle, in a case of contested provincial boundary, may surely be exercised here under the additional sanction of the constitution. 2 Dall. 442. 415. 419. 3 Dall. 1. 412. But it is not simply a bill to settle a question of boundary between two states: it involves the right of soil, which, in relation to a great part of New York, results from the right of jurisdiction; so that deciding the latter, is virtually a decision of the former. In this respect New York is, perhaps, distinguished from her sister states, whose claims of territory are, generally, founded upon positive grant; while her claim of soil is a mere incident of the sovereignty and jurisdiction, with which the revolution invested her.(b)

Ingersoll, against granting the prayer for an injunction. In the suits below, the state of New York is not a party, and cannot be affected by their decision; while the defendants below are not parties to the present bill, though they are the persons most likely to be injured by those suits. But no part of the bill states, that any of the land belongs to New York; so non constat that she is interested in the question of soil; and the question of state boundary cannot be decided, as between the states, in the Circuit Court.(a) There is no instance of the interposition of a court of

(b) Patterson, Justice. Generally speaking the proposition is true, that, as to states, jurisdiction and the right of soil, go together.

(a) Ellsworth, Chief Justice. If the bill contains no averment of a right of soil in New York, I think it must be defective, and lays no foundation for an injunction. To have the benefit of the agreement between the states, the defendants below (who are the settlers of New York) must apply to a court of equity as well as the state herself; but, in no case, can a specific performance be decreed, unless there is a substantial right of soil, not a mere political jurisdiction, to be protected and enforced. Besides, is not the bill, likewise, defective for want of making the defendants below parties to it?

CHASE, Justice. The validity of the grant of either state must depend upon the question of boundary; for, neither New York, nor Connecticut, could grant land, which it did not own. Hence, I think, the question of boundary must necessarily arise in the suits below.

PATERSON, Justice. On the question just proposed by the Chief Justice, it may be remarked, that some difficulty would occur in sustaining a bill in this court, at the suit of the defendants below. [4 U.S. 3, 5]

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