Comegys & Pettit v. Vasse
26 U.S. 193 (1828)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Comegys & Pettit v. Vasse, 26 U.S. 1 Pet. 193 193 (1828)

Comegys & Pettit v. Vasse

26 U.S. (1 Pet.) 193

Syllabus

The object of the treaty with Spain which ceded Florida to the United

states, dated 2 May, 1819, was to invest the commissioners with full power and authority to receive, examine, and decide the amount and validity of asserted claims upon Spain for damages and injuries. Their decision, within the scope of this authority, is conclusive and final, and is not reexaminable. The parties must abide by it as the decree of a competent tribunal of exclusive jurisdiction. A rejected claim cannot be brought again under review in any judicial tribunal. But it does not naturally follow that this authority extends to adjust all conflicting rights of different citizens to the fund so awarded. The commissioners are to look to the original claim for damages and injuries against Spain itself, and it is wholly immaterial who is the legal or equitable owner of the claim, provided he is an American citizen.

After the validity and amount of the claim has been ascertained by the award of the commissioners, the rights, of the claimant to the fund which has passed into his hands and those of others are left to the ordinary course of judicial proceedings in the established courts of justice.

In general it may be affirmed that mere personal torts, which die with the party and do not survive to his personal representatives, are incapable of passing by assignment, and that vested rights, ad rem and in re, possibilities, coupled with an interest and claim growing out of and adhering to property, may pass by assignment.

The law gives to the act of abandonment to underwriters, when accepted, all the effects which the most accurately drawn assignment would accomplish. The underwriter then stands in the place of the insured, and becomes legally entitled to all that can be recovered from the destruction.

It is clear that the right to compensation for damages and injuries to which citizens of the United States were entitled and which under the treaty with Spain were to be the subjects of compensation passed by abandonment to the underwriters upon property which had been seized or captured.

The right to indemnify for an unjust capture on the sovereign, whether remediable in his own courts or by his own extraordinary interposition or grants upon private petition by cession to the account of the ultimate sufferer, and is afterwards assignable to the person to whom it had been ceded.

It is not universally, though it may be ordinarily, the test of a right that it may be enforced in a court of justice. Claims and debts due by a sovereign are not commonly capable of being so enforced. It does not follow that because an unjust sentence cannot be reversed, that the party injured has lost all right to justice or all claim upon principles of public law to remuneration.

The treaty with Spain recognized an existing right in the aggrieved parties to compensation, and did not in the most remote degree turn upon the notion of donation or gratuity. It was demanded by our government as matter of right such as was granted by Spain.

The right to compensation from Spain. held under abandonment made to

Page 26 U. S. 194

underwriters and accepted by them, for damages and injuries and which were to be satisfied under the treaty by the United States passed to the assignees of the bankrupt, who held such rights by the provisions of the bankrupt law of the United States passed April 4, 1800.

The defendant in error instituted his suit against the plaintiffs here, who were the surviving assignees under a commission of bankruptcy issued against him under the Act of Congress of the United States for establishing a uniform system of bankruptcy throughout the United States, passed April 5, 1800.

In the circuit court, a judgment was entered in favor of the defendant in error, the parties having agreed upon a case which, if required by either, might be turned into a special verdict, subject to the opinion of the circuit court:

The case was that Ambrose Vasse, previously to the year 1802, was an underwriter on various vessels and cargoes, the property of citizens of the United States, which were captured and carried into ports of Spain and her dependencies, and abandonments were made thereof to the said Vasse by the owners, and he paid the losses arising therefrom prior to the year 1802.

The said Ambrose Vasse became embarrassed in his affairs, and his creditors proceeded against him as a bankrupt under the Act of Congress of the United States for establishing an uniform system of bankruptcy throughout the United States. An assignment was made accordingly to Jacob Shoemaker, who is since deceased, and the defendants, Cornelius Comegys and Andrew Pettit, who proceeded to take upon themselves the duties of assignees and have continued to discharge the same. The certificate of discharge of the said Ambrose Vasse bears date 28 May, 1802.

In the year 1824, the sum of $8,846.14 was received by the defendants from the Treasury of the United States, being the sum awarded by the commissioners sitting at Washington under the Treaty of Amity, Settlement, and Limits between the United States of America and his Catholic Majesty the King of Spain dated 22 February, 1819, on account of the captures and losses aforesaid.

On 9 December, 1823, the said Ambrose Vasse filed a bill in equity in the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia claiming the sum awarded by the commissioners and a settlement of the accounts of the assignees. This bill was intended to operate upon the funds which were expected to come into the hands of the agent of the assignees, prosecuting for them the claim before the commissioners, but it was not

Page 26 U. S. 195

proceeded on, the said funds having been received by another person.

The said Ambrose Vasse made a return of his effects to the commissioners of bankruptcy. The claim upon Spain for spoliations was not in the schedule, but claims upon France and Great Britain were.

Page 26 U. S. 210

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