Buchanan v. Patterson
190 U.S. 353 (1903)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Buchanan v. Patterson, 190 U.S. 353 (1903)

Buchanan v. Patterson

No. 266

Argued April 29-30, 1903

Decided June 1, 1903

190 U.S. 353

Syllabus

An administratrix of one who in 1818 became a member of a firm which had in 1798 sustained losses, resulting in what are known as French Spoliation Claims, presented the claims under the act of 1885 to the Court of Claims and obtained awards therefor. The findings clearly showed that the Court of Claims proceeded on the assumption that her intestate was a member of the firm when the losses were sustained. In 1899, Congress appropriated money to pay certain claims which had been favorably passed on by the Court of Claims, including those awarded to this administratrix as such and as representing such firm. After collecting the amounts, she applied to a state court of competent jurisdiction for instructions as to distribution of the fund. Next of kin of the partners of 1798 denied that her intestate could share in the fund under the provisions of the act of 1883, which limited payments thereunder to next of kin of the original sufferers; she contended that the awards of the Court of Claims and the appropriation by Congress to her as administratrix were conclusive as to the right of her intestate to participate in the awards.

Held that it was not the duty of the Court of Claims under the act of 1885

Page 190 U. S. 354

to investigate and determine the rights of each individual of a class, but only to determine the validity and amount of a claim with a specification of ownership sufficient to identify the claim itself for the payment of which an appropriation might thereafter be made, and the particular individuals of the class would be matter for subsequent investigation by some other tribunal.

Held that it was not within the intention of Congress to conclusively determine by the Appropriation Act of 1899 what persons were entitled thereto, but the payments were intended to be for the next of kin of the original sufferers.

Held that as it was clear in this case that the party named in the appropriation act was not entitled absolutely to the money as her own, and as she had submitted the question of distribution to a court of equity, that court had jurisdiction to determine the real meaning and proper construction of the act of Congress and who were entitled to the funds in her hands.

Held that, on the facts in this case, there was no error in holding that the next of kin of the members of the firm in 1798 were entitled to the fund to the exclusion of the next of kin of one who subsequently became a member thereof.

The plaintiff in error, Esther S. Buchanan, filed her bill in Circuit Court No. 2 of Baltimore City on August 17, 1899, against the parties defendant for the purpose of obtaining the instructions of that court as to whom and in what proportions she should pay and distribute certain sums of money received by her from the United States under what is termed the French Spoliations Acts of Congress. Answers were made by the various parties, and a decree was subsequently entered giving directions for the distribution of the funds. An appeal from that decree was taken by some of the defendants to the Court of Appeals, and that court reversed a portion of the decree (as to the proper distribution of the money) and remanded the case for further proceedings. 92 Md. 334. The trial court then entered a decree in accordance with the directions of the Court of Appeals, and thereupon the original plaintiff, Esther S. Buchanan, appealed to the Court of Appeals, and that court then affirmed the decree of the court below. 94 Md. 534. Plaintiffs in error bring the case here by writ of error.

The first act of Congress relating to the French spoliations was passed January 20, 1885. 23 Stat. 283.

Page 190 U. S. 355

Miss Buchanan was, in May, 1885, duly appointed administratrix upon the estate of her father, William B. Buchanan, deceased. She then, through her counsel and in common with other claimants for losses sustained by the seizures of the two vessels Patapsco and Jane, came into the Court of Claims and proved the facts upon which the rights of the several claimants were based as against the United States. In presenting the claims, she did in truth represent, with their consent, all the parties interested therein, including those now claiming against her.

The court reported (May 18, 1887) that the seizures of the two vessels complained of were illegal, and that the claimants were entitled to the following sums from the United States. A list was then given of those entitled to an appropriation on account of the ship Patapsco, in which was included the name of Esther S. Buchanan, as follows:

"Esther S. Buchanan, administratrix of the estate of William Buchanan, who was the surviving partner of the firm of S. Smith & Buchanan, deceased, to the sum of $25,056."

In relation to the ship Jane, in the list of those entitled to an appropriation was the following:

"Esther S. Buchanan, administratrix, representing Smith & Buchanan, $11,660.21."

After this report had been made, and on March 23, 1891, Esther S. Buchanan was duly appointed administratrix de bonis non with the will annexed of the personal estate of James A. Buchanan, her grandfather.

No action of Congress in relation to these claims was had until 1899, when an act was passed, approved March 3, 1899, 30 Stat. 1161. The act provided for the payment of claims allowed under the Bowman and Tucker Acts by the Court of Claims, and on page 1191 it provided as follows:

"French Spoliation Claims"

"To pay the findings of the Court of Claims on the following claims for indemnity for spoliations by the French prior to July thirtieth, eighteen hundred and one, under the act entitled 'An Act to Provide for the Ascertainment of Claims of American

Page 190 U. S. 356

Citizens for Spoliations Committed by the French Prior to the Thirty-first Day of July, Eighteen Hundred and One:' Provided, That in all cases where the original sufferers were adjudicated bankrupts, the awards shall be made on behalf of the next of kin instead of to assignees in bankruptcy, and the awards in the cases of individual claimants shall not be paid until the Court of Claims shall certify to the Secretary of the Treasury that the personal representatives on whose behalf the award is made represent the next of kin, and the courts which granted the administrations, respectively, shall have certified that the legal representatives have given adequate security for the legal disbursements of the awards, namely."

Then follow appropriations to a number of claimants in satisfaction of the losses sustained by the illegal seizures of vessels and cargoes.

Among them, on page 1194, is included the following:

"On the ship Jane, John Wallace, master, namely:"

"Esther S. Buchanan, administratrix, representing Smith & Buchanan, $11,660.21."

On page 1195 is the following:

"On the ship Patapsco, William Hill, master, namely: . . . [names of various claimants for other interests in same ship]."

"Esther S. Buchanan, administratrix of the estate of William B. Buchanan, who was the surviving partner of the firm of S. Smith & Buchanan, deceased, $25,056, the value of the cargo shipped by said firm."

Pursuant to the proviso in the act of 1899, the Court of Claims, upon the application of the attorney of record for Esther S. Buchanan, administratrix, representing Smith & Buchanan, deceased, ordered, in the case of the ship Jane, a certificate to be issued to the Secretary of the Treasury as follows:

"The Court of Claims hereby certifies that it appears by evidence on file in the above-entitled case that said Esther S. Buchanan, on whose behalf an appropriation or award was made by the Act of March 3, 1899, entitled"

"An Act for the Allowance of Certain Claims for Stores and Supplies Reported by the Court of Claims under the Provisions of the Act Approved March Third,

Page 190 U. S. 357

Eighteen Hundred and Eighty-three, and Commonly Known as the Bowman Act, and for Other Purposes,"

"for the sum of eleven thousand six hundred and sixty dollars and twenty-one cents ($11,660.21), represents the next of kin of William B. Buchanan, the surviving member of the firm of Samuel Smith & Buchanan, deceased, the original owner of the claim upon which said award was made."

"And the court further certifies that it appears on the record of the said case that, at the time when the award of this court was made, the said claim was not held by assignment or owned by an insurance company."

The same kind of a certificate was made in relation to the ship Patapsco.

These certificates were made on June 15, 1899, and were filed with the Secretary of the Treasury, and the moneys mentioned, being a total of $36,716.21, were thereafter paid to Miss Buchanan.

Having received the money from the government, the plaintiff in error then commenced this suit individually, and as administratrix of the estate of William B. Buchanan, deceased, and as administratrix de bonis non with the will annexed of James A. Buchanan, deceased, in Circuit Court No. 2 of Baltimore city, in which she stated the various facts under which the money had been paid her, and that she had in her hands for distribution, among the persons particularly entitled to the same, the sum of $22,629.47, after the payment of all costs, etc. She also averred that she was advised that she held funds for the benefit of and distribution among not only the next of kin of her own decedent, the said William B. Buchanan, but also the next of kin of the other partners of said firm of S. Smith & Buchanan, to-wit, Samuel Smith and James A. Buchanan, in the proportions and according to the laws of distribution which the court might hold to be proper in the cause. She also gave the names of the next of kin of William B. Buchanan, namely, herself and her brother, Wilson C. Buchanan, and then stated who were the next of kin of James A. Buchanan, deceased, living at the date of the passage of the act of Congress directing the payment of the claims, to-wit, March 3,

Page 190 U. S. 358

1899, so far as they were known to her, and she stated that she had given the names of all of the next of kin of Samuel Smith and James A. Buchanan living at the time of the passage of the Act of Congress, March 3, 1899, although she said there might be others unknown to her who might lay claim to participate in the distribution of the fund, and she was in doubt as to the proportion in which the beneficiaries should participate in the shares of their ancestors in the fund. She then stated:

"Twelfth. That, according to the information and belief of your oratrix, the said Samuel Smith, James A. Buchanan, and William B. Buchanan were equal copartners, but a claim has been made on your oratrix by Robert Carter Smith, one of the distributees of Samuel Smith, and a party defendant herein, wherein he asserts that his ancestor, the said Samuel Smith, had a one-half interest in the property of said copartnership, and that therefore the next of kin of the said Samuel Smith are entitled to have for distribution among them one-half of the fund now in the hands of your oratrix for distribution; but your oratrix is informed and does verily believe that distribution of said fund should be made in three equal parts among the next of kin of the three partners in said firm of S. Smith & Buchanan."

Other facts were given in relation to the existence of parties who might possibly claim some interest in the fund, and in her complaint she finally said that, by reason of the facts above set forth, she was in doubt to whom and in what proportion she should pay and distribute the sum of money in her hands, and that she was advised, and therefore alleges, that a distribution of the same can only be had under the order of a court of equity in a manner adequate to insure her own protection in the future. She thereupon asked that the court assume jurisdiction of the fund in her hands as administratrix, as already set forth, and that it direct and supervise the distribution of the same among the parties whom the court may find to be entitled to participate therein, according to the proportion and rule which this Court may declare to govern the same.

Answers were made by some of the parties and the bill taken as confessed as against others. Upon the trial, evidence was

Page 190 U. S. 359

given under objection, and the state court has found that, at the time of the illegal seizures of the vessels in 1798, William B. Buchanan was about three years old, he having been born on September 9, 1795; that, in 1798, the year the losses occurred, there was a firm of S. Smith & Buchanan, consisting only of S. Smith and James A. Buchanan, the father of William B. Buchanan, and they were the only original sufferers from the illegal seizures of the ships. William B. Buchanan did not become a member of the firm until about twenty years later, or until January 1, 1818, and he became the survivor of the firm formed in 1818, which was also known as S. Smith & Buchanan.

It thus appears that, although William B. Buchanan was the survivor of a firm of S. Smith & Buchanan as that firm was constituted in 1818, he was not the survivor of the firm of S. Smith & Buchanan as that firm was constituted in 1798, when these illegal seizures occurred.

The trial court held that the moneys should be divided into three portions, one of which should go to the next of kin of Samuel Smith, another to the next of kin of James A. Buchanan, and another to the next of kin of William B. Buchanan, being Esther S. and Wilson C. Buchanan.

The Court of Appeals, on appeal from the decree of the circuit court, held that this was an erroneous disposition of the money, and that it should be divided into two portions, one of which should go to the next of kin of Samuel Smith and the other to the next of kin of James A. Buchanan, Samuel Smith and James A. Buchanan being the only members of the firm that sustained the losses, and being the original sufferers from the illegal seizures. The writ of error has been sued out for the purpose of reviewing this decree.

Page 190 U. S. 360

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