MAXFIELD v. LEVY, 4 U.S. 330 (1797)

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U.S. Supreme Court

MAXFIELD v. LEVY, 4 U.S. 330 (1797)

4 U.S. 330 (Dall.) 2 Dall. 381 2 U.S. 381 1 L.Ed. 424

Maxfield's Lessee

Circuit Court, Pennsylvania District.

April Term, 1797

THE opinion of the Court was delivered in this case, in the following terms;

IREDELL, Justice.

A motion was made for a rule to show cause, why these ejectments should not be dismissed, upon an allegation tht it appeared, by an answer to a bill in equity, for a discovery in this court, brought by the defendants in these ejectments, against the lessor of the plaintiff, that they are in reality the suits of a citizen of this state (viz. Samuel Wallis) though under the name of a citizen of another state, to whom it is alleged, conveyances were made without any consideration, for the sole purpose of making him a nominal lessor of the plaintiff in these ejectments.

A rule to show cause was granted, and, upon the day appointed, the case was fully heard and argued on both sides, the proceedings in equity on the bill for a discovery having been exhibited to the Court and read. [330-Continued.]

The importance of the present question is evident, because it concerns the constitution and laws of the United States, in a point highly essential to their welfare, to wit, the proper boundaries between the authority of a single state, and that of the United States.

This, not only the constitution itself has been anxious to ascertain by precise and particular definitions, but the congress, in carrying into effect that part of the constitution which concerns the judiciary, has been solicitous to preserve with the greatest caution. The strong instance of this is a provision in the judicial act, to the following effect:

    'That no district or circuit Court shall have cognizance of any suit to recover the contents of any promissory note, or other chose in action, in favour of an assignee, unless a suit might have been prosecuted in such Court to recover the said contents, if no assignment had been made, except in cases of foreign bills of exchange.' Sect. 11. 1 vol. p. 55.

This I adduce as a strong instance to show the solicitude of congress on this subject, for the regulation extends to a bon a fide assignment in the instances specified, as well as to one mala fide: but the provision goes to all, more effectually to prevent any practices of deception by means of the latter.

Page 4 U.S. 330, 331

Nothing is more evident than that if this be a controversy between citizens of different states, it is a controversy determinable in this Court, and of which, therefore, the Court must sustain jurisdiction. On the other hand, if it be not a controversy between citizens of different states, but between citizens of the same state, it not being one of those cases which entitle citizens of the same state to any exercise of jurisdiction by this Court, it ought not to be determined here. But if it shall appear, from a consideration of the facts, that this is not a case which the lessor of the plaintiff was entitled to bring into this Court, it will still remain to be inquired, whether the remedy pursued on the present occasion is proper. The first question, therefore, is, Whether it sufficiently appears to the Court, that this is a controversy subsisting between citizens of the same, state, and not between citizens of different states, so as to authorise a dismission of the suit, in case the remedy be in point of law a proper one? The evidence, upon which the charge is alleged, is an answer to a bill filed in the equity side of this Court by the defendants in the ejectments, in order to obtain a discovery by the oath of the lessor of the plaintiff. This is admitted to be competent evidence on a question at law, and therefore (supposing the method of proceeding in other respects proper) I am only to consider, if it affords satisfactory evidence of the facts suggested: The facts admitted by the answer, in substance, are these: That there were certain applications to the land-office of this state for 64 tracts of land, in the county of Luzerne, containing 27,400 acres: That the applications were made (as the respondent has been informed and believes) by and for the use of Samuel Wallis of the county of Northumberland in this state: That in April 1784, conveyances were executed to Maxfield the present lessor of the plaintiff, by which the legal title to the lands therein described was conveyed and assigned to Maxfield, as he apprehends and believes. That Maxfield paid no consideration, either pecuniary, or of any other nature, for the lands, and, therefore, he apprehends and believes, that the equitable title is in Samuel Wallis. That Maxfield consented to stand the trustee of the lands, for the use and benefit of Wallis, and left the management, direction, and prosecution, of the business to Wallis, by whose direction Maxfield apprehends and believes, that the caveats mentioned in the complainant's bill were filed, and all subsequent proceedings had. In comparing the facts thus admitted, with the bill he was called upon to answer, it is very remarkable, that the last interrogatory was expressed in such particular and pointed terms, that if it had been directly and positively answered, it would have [4 U.S. 330, 332]

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