Briggs v. Walker
171 U.S. 466 (1898)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Briggs v. Walker, 171 U.S. 466 (1898)

Briggs v. Walker

No. 280

Submitted April 25, 1898

Decided October 17, 1898

171 U.S. 466

Syllabus

Under an act of Congress entitled "an act for the relief of the estate" of a certain person deceased, and conferring upon the Court of Claims jurisdiction to hear and determine "the claim of the legal representatives" of that person for the proceeds in the Treasury of his property taken by the United States, the executor is the legal representative, and any sum recovered by him by suit in that court is assets of the estate and subject

Page 171 U. S. 467

to the debts of the testator, and a decision of the highest court of a state in favor of creditors against the executor presents a federal question, as to which it may be reviewed by this Court upon a writ of error sued out by the executor.

The controversy in this case was between the executor and two creditors of Charles M. Briggs, and arose as follows:

On April 18, 1862, during the war of the Rebellion, Charles S. Morehead, of Kentucky, executed and delivered to his nephew, Charles M. Briggs, a bill of sale of cotton in Mississippi, in these terms:

"For and in consideration of money loaned and advanced heretofore by C. M. Briggs, and further valuable consideration by way of suretyship for me by said Briggs, I hereby sell and transfer to said C. M. Briggs all the cotton on my two plantations in Mississippi, near Eggspoint and Greenville. Said cotton so sold embraces all I have, baled and unbaled, gathered and ungathered. This is intended to cover all cotton that I have now or may have this year on said two plantations, supposed to be about 2,000 bales."

At the same time Briggs executed and delivered to Samuel J. Walker, Morehead's son-in-law, a writing in these terms:

"In consideration of the sale and transfer this day made to me by C. S. Morehead of all the cotton on his two plantations near Eggspoint, in the State of Mississippi, as specified in said sale and transfer in writing, I hereby assume and agree to pay to Samuel J. Walker the sum of forty thousand dollars, due and owing to said Walker by said C. S. Morehead, upon condition, however, that I realize sufficient amount from any cotton on or from said plantations or proceeds of same, together with about twenty-five thousand dollars due me from said C. S. Morehead for moneys advanced and liability for him as surety; also about ten thousand dollars, more or less, being a claim of A. S. Shotwell as he may hereafter establish against said C. S. Morehead; but in case I should not realize sufficient to pay all of said claims or amounts above named in full, then I am to pay or divide the amount that may be realized from said cotton, proportionately or pro rata according to the respective amounts named, to the parties above named, first,

Page 171 U. S. 468

however, paying and refunding any moneys paid by the respective parties for or on account of expenses pertaining to same, and in case more should be realized than sufficient to pay said amounts, with interest thereon to the time of realization and payment, then any surplus to be divided one-half to said Shotwell and C. M. Briggs jointly for any services, and the remaining one-half to said Samuel J. Walker, but no other consideration to be paid to said Shotwell and Briggs for their service."

Briggs at once took steps to get possession of the cotton, but was prevented by the federal forces and the Confederate forces in the vicinity. This cotton, amounting to 450 bales, was finally seized, together with other cotton, by Capt. G. L. Fort, Assistant Quartermaster General in the United States Army, in behalf of the United States, and was by him sold, and the proceeds paid into the Treasury of the United States. Briggs died in 1875 after repeated and unsuccessful efforts, through his attorneys, to obtain the proceeds of the cotton in question, and his executor continued the efforts, and, through the same attorneys, procured the passage of the Act of Congress of June 4, 1888, c. 348, copied in the margin. *

Page 171 U. S. 469

Under the provisions of that act, Briggs' executor brought suit in the Court of Claims, and therein recovered the sum of $88,000. See Briggs v. United States, 25 Ct.Cl. 126; 143 U. S. 143 U.S. 346. Half of that sum was paid to the attorneys, pursuant to a contract between them and Briggs, and the rest, being the sum of $44,000, came to the hands of the executor.

Thereupon the executor, in a suit previously brought against him for the settlement of Briggs' estate in the Chancery Division of the Circuit Court for the County of Jefferson and State of Kentucky, set up by amended answer that he had collected this sum of $44,000 and prayed that Walker's widow (to whom Walker had assigned his claim) and Shotwell's administrator might be made parties to the suit and be required to set up their claims to this sum. And Mrs. Walker and Shotwell's administrator filed petitions in the cause claiming the sums mentioned as due to Walker and to Shotwell, respectively, in the writing signed by Briggs April 18, 1862, and above set forth.

To these petitions the executor of Briggs filed supplemental answers in which, among other things, he set up the Act of Congress of June, 4, 1888, and the proceedings in the Court of Claims, and alleged that

"in pursuance to the said act, this defendant, through his said counsel, instituted an action against the United States in the Court of Claims to recover the proceeds of sale of the cotton aforesaid, and in and by said action it was finally determined and adjudged that the said

Page 171 U. S. 470

testator was loyal to the United States, and that the assignment made by said Morehead to defendant's testator was bona fide and founded on a valuable consideration, but this defendant was, by the act aforesaid as well as the final judgment of the Court of Claims, limited in his recovery to such sum as would satisfy the debts and claims of his testator, to secure which the said assignment was given, and this defendant says that, by the final judgment of said Court of Claims, he only received and recovered from the United States such sum as was owing directly to his testator by said Morehead, and did not recover anything whatsoever for or on account of anything that may have been owing by said Morehead to A. L. Shotwell or Samuel J. Walker,"

and further alleged that

"the passage of the act aforesaid was an act of grace on the part of the United States for the sole benefit of this defendant, and to permit this defendant to assert a claim against the proceeds of said cotton to the extent that said Morehead was indebted to his testator; that long prior thereto, all claim that had existed in favor of said testator as against the United States for any part of the proceeds of said cotton had been barred by limitation, and said claim was outlawed and worthless,"

and that "it was not intended by said act that this defendant should recover anything for the benefit, directly or indirectly, of any other person."

The Circuit Court of Jefferson County sustained demurrers of the petitioners to the supplemental answers of the executor, and upon a hearing found that there was due to Walker $44,000, in the hands of the executor, after deducting his commissions, be applied pro rata to the payment of these two sums, and of the further sum of $25,000 due from Morehead to Briggs. The executor appealed to the Court of Appeals of Kentucky, which affirmed the judgment. 43 S.W. 479. Thereupon he sued out this writ of error.

The case was submitted to this Court upon a motion by the defendants in error to dismiss the writ of error for want of jurisdiction, or to affirm the judgment.

Page 171 U. S. 471

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