Messenger v. Anderson - 225 U.S. 436 (1912)
U.S. Supreme Court
Messenger v. Anderson, 225 U.S. 436 (1912)
Messenger v. Anderson
Argued January 19, 22, 1912
Decided June 2, 1912
225 U.S. 436
Where the circuit court of appeals has before it, in the second trial of the same case, a will previously construed by it, and meanwhile the highest court of the state in which the real estate affected is situated has construed the will differently, the circuit court of appeals is not bound to adhere to it previous decision as being the law of the case. It may follow, and in such a case it should lean toward an agreement with, the state court.
In the absence of statute, the phrase " law of the case," as applied to the effect of previous order on the later action of the court rendering them in the same case, merely expresses the practice of courts generally to refuse to open what has been decided -- not a limit to their power.
In a conflict between decisions of the state and federal courts, this Court is free when the case comes here.
In this case, in which the circuit court of appeals construed a will as giving testator's son a life interest only, with remainder that he could not affect, and the state court construed it as giving him the estate subject to the divesting clause, held that the construction given by the state court was right, and that the circuit court of appeals should have followed it.
Quaere whether the decision of the state court did not finally adjudicate the question of title as between the parties so as to be binding upon every court before which the title might subsequently be discussed.
171 F. 785 reversed.
The facts, which involve the construction of a will affecting real estate in Ohio, and the question of whether the federal courts should follow the state court in such a case, are stated in the opinion.