Benton v. Woolsey
37 U.S. 27 (1838)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Benton v. Woolsey, 37 U.S. 12 Pet. 27 27 (1838)

Benton v. Woolsey

37 U.S. (12 Pet.) 27

Syllabus

The district attorney of the United States filed an information in his own name in behalf of the United States in the District Court for the Northern District of New York to enforce a mortgage given to the United States by Woolsey, one of the defendants. This form of proceeding has been for a long time used without objection in the courts of the United States in New York, and was doubtless borrowed from the form used in analogous cases in the courts of the State of New York, where the state itself was the plaintiff in the suit. The United States may be considered as the real party, although in form it is the information and complaint of the district attorney.

It is certainly desirable that the practice should be uniform in the courts of the United States and that in all suits where the United States is the real plaintiffs, the proceeding should be in its name unless it is otherwise ordered by act of Congress.

The District Attorney of the United States for the Northern District filed in the District Court of the Northern District an information on behalf of the United States for the purpose of foreclosing a mortgage executed by Melancthon T. Woolsey to the United States in July, 1825, as a security for the payment of a debt due by him to the United States in one year after its date. The mortgage comprehended land in the County of Jefferson and in the County of St. Lawrence, New York, and it was recorded in Jefferson County on 26 November, 1830, and in the County of St. Lawrence on 10 June, 1831.

The Bank of Utica had obtained a judgment against Melancthon T. Woolsey, in the supreme court of New York on 17 October, 1816, for one thousand six hundred dollars, which judgment was docketed on 24 November, 1817. No execution was issued on this judgment until it was revived by a scire facias on 9 July, 1828. A fieri facias was then issued on the judgment, and the lands mortgaged to the United States were sold to satisfy the debt and were purchased by the Bank of Utica, to whom they were conveyed by the sheriff on 3 May, 1830. The lands in

Page 37 U. S. 28

St. Lawrence County were sold by the sheriff January 30, 1829, and conveyed to the Bank of Utica on 15 May, 1830, having been purchased by the bank.

By the law of New York, the judgments in favor of the Bank of Utica ceased to be a lien on the lands of Woolsey after ten years against bona fide purchasers and subsequent encumbrances, and the district attorney, on behalf of the United States, claimed the operation of the mortgage to the United States so as to exclude the claim of the bank under the judgment upon which the land was sold and purchased by the bank to satisfy their debt. No money was paid by the bank at the time of the purchase except the expenses attending the proceedings against the land, but the bank claimed to hold the land as a bona fide purchaser, the property having been bought to satisfy the debt due on the judgment and without notice of the mortgage to the United States, it not having been put on record until after the proceedings under the judgment.

The district court gave a decree in favor of the defendants, and the plaintiff appealed to this Court.

The judgment of the district court was affirmed by a divided court, and no opinion was given on any of the questions raised and argued in the cause except upon a question of jurisdiction. MR. JUSTICE THOMPSON did not sit in the cause, being connected with one of the parties to it.

The Court intimated a doubt of its jurisdiction in the case, as the district attorney had instituted the suit in his own name.

Page 37 U. S. 29

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