Kane v. Paul
39 U.S. 33

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U.S. Supreme Court

Kane v. Paul, 39 U.S. 14 Pet. 33 33 (1840)

Kane v. Paul

39 U.S. 33

Syllabus

Letters testamentary to the estate of Edward Coursault, a merchant, who had died at Baltimore, were granted to Gabriel Paul, one of the executors named in the will. The other executor, Aglae Coursault, the wife of Edward Coursault, did not qualify as executrix, nor did she renounce the execution of the will. Afterwards, on the application of Aglae Coursault stating she was executrix of Edward Coursault, accompanied with a power of attorney given to her by Gabriel Paul, the qualified executor, who had removed to Missouri, the commissioners under the treaty of indemnity with France awarded to the estate of Edward Coursault a sum of money for the seizure and confiscation of the Good Friends and cargo by the French government. During the pendency of the claim before the commissioners, Aglae Coursault died, and letters of administration with the will annexed were, on the oath of Thomas Dunlap that the widow and executrix of Edward Coursault was dead, granted by the Orphans' Court of the County of Washington, in the District of Columbia, to the plaintiff in error, Elias Kane, a resident in Washington. The sum awarded by the commissioners was paid to Elias Kane, by the government of the United States. Gabriel Paul, the executor of Edward Coursault, brought an action against Elias Kane, for the money paid to him. Held, that he was entitled to recover the same. The letters testamentary granted in Maryland entitled the executor of Edward Coursault to recover without his having the letters of administration granted by the Orphans' Court of Washington repealed or revoked.

At common law, the appointment of an executor vests the whole personal estate in the person appointed executor, which he holds as trustee for the purposes of the will, and he holds the legal title in all the chattels of the testator, and for the purpose of administering them, is as much the proprietor of them as was the testator. The ordinary cannot transfer those chattels to any other person by granting administration of them.

The Act of Congress of 24 June, 1812, gives to an executor or administrator, appointed in any state of the United States or in the territories, a right to recover from any individual within the District of Columbia effects or money belonging to the testator or the intestate, in whatever way the same may have been received, if the law does not permit him to retain it, on account of some relations borne to the testator or to his executor, which defeats the rights of the executor or administrator, and letters testamentary or letters of administration obtained in either of the states or territories of the Union give a right to the person having them to receive and give discharges for such assets, without suit, which may be in the hands of any person within the District of Columbia. The right to receive from the government of the United States, either in the District of Columbia or in the state where letters have been granted, any sum of money which the government may owe to the testator or intestate at the time of his death or which may become due thereafter or which may accrue to the government as trustee for a testator or intestate in any way or at any time is given by that act. A bona fide payment of a debt to the administrator, which was due to the estate, is a legal discharge to the debtor, whether the administration be void or voidable.

The certificate of the Register of Wills, annexed to the proceedings of the Orphans' Court of Maryland giving letters testamentary to the executor, shows that the will had been proved and that the letters testamentary had been granted. This is proof that the person holding the letters testamentary is executor as far as the law requires it to be proved in an action of assumpsit upon a cause of action which arose in the time of the testator or of the executor. On the plea of the general issue in such an action, and even in a case where that plea raises the question of right or title in the executor, the certificate of probate and qualification meets the requisition. A judicial examination into their validity can only be gone into upon a plea in abatement after oyer has been craved and granted, and then, upon issue joined, the plaintiff's title as executor or administrator may be disputed by showing any of those causes which make the grant void ab initio, or that the administration had been revoked.

The declaration in an action by an executor for the recovery of money received by the defendant after the decease of the testator may be in the name of the plaintiff as executor

Page 39 U. S. 34

or in his own name without stating that he is executor. The distinction is that when an executor sues on a cause of action which occurred in the lifetime of his testator, he must declare in the detinet -- that is, in his representative capacity only; but when the cause of action accrues after the death of the testator, if the money when recovered will be assets, the executor may declare in his representative character, or in his own name.

Edward Coursault, then a merchant of the City of Philadelphia, in December, 1809, was the owner of the brig Good Friends and part of her cargo. Both the brig and cargo were seized at Morlaix, in France, by order of the French government, and were confiscated.

In 1825, Edward Coursault died in Baltimore, where he resided at the time of his decease, and by his will, dated August, 1814, he appointed Aglae Coursault, his wife, his executrix and Gabriel Paul his executor.

On 27 August, 1814, letters testamentary of the will were granted in Baltimore to Gabriel Paul. Mrs. Coursault did not qualify, nor did she renounce, as executrix. Sometime afterwards, Gabriel Paul removed to the State of Missouri.

The claim of the estate of Edward Coursault for indemnity for the seizure and confiscation of the brig Good Friends and cargo, having been provided for by the convention between the United States and France, concluded at Paris, in July, 1831, Aglae Coursault, styling herself the widow and executrix of the last will and testament of Edward Coursault, in January, 1833, presented a memorial to the board of commissioners appointed to carry the convention into effect, claiming indemnity for the seizure and confiscation of the brig and cargo.

The memorial stated the death of Edward Coursault, the appointment of the memorialist and Gabriel Paul executors by his last will, that letters testamentary were granted to the memorialist and Gabriel Paul, and the memorial also states that whatever amount of said claim may be awarded under said convention will belong solely and exclusively to the memorialist, as executor of the last will and testament of the said Edward Coursault, deceased.

Together with the documents presented to the commissioners, showing the property of the Good Friends and part of her cargo to have belonged, at the time of the seizure and confiscation, to Edward Coursault, there was a power of attorney from Gabriel Paul, as "administrator of the estate of Edward Coursault," to Mrs. Aglae Coursault authorizing her to present in his name to the commissioners of the United States the claim of the estate of Edward Coursault, promising to present himself before them as soon as required.

The commissioners awarded the sum of seven thousand eight hundred and sixty-four dollars in favor of the claimant.

On 27 March, 1837, an affidavit was made and presented to the Orphans' Court of the County of Washington, in the District

Page 39 U. S. 35

of Columbia, stating that Edward Coursault had died in the City of Baltimore in 1814, and that Aglae Coursault, his widow and executrix, had died about two years before the making of the affidavit.

On 29 March, 1837, the judge of the orphans' court directed letters of administration, with the will annexed, to be issued upon the estate of Edward Coursault to Elias Kane, Esquire, and the sum awarded on the claim of Aglae Coursault by the commissioners was paid at the Treasury of the United States to Mr. Kane as the administrator.

Gabriel Paul, in November, 1837, as executor of Edward Coursault, having taken out letters of administration in the District of Columbia, instituted a suit in the Circuit Court of the County of Washington against Elias Kane for the recovery of the sum paid to him by the United States, and at November term, 1838, the cause was tried and a verdict and judgment were rendered for the plaintiff.

At the trial, the defendant in the circuit court gave in evidence an exemplification of the letters of administration granted by the Orphans' Court of the County of Washington, but the court directed the jury that they were no bar to the action of the plaintiff. The defendant excepted to this opinion of the court. And the plaintiff having offered in evidence the award of the commissioners, the power of attorney from the plaintiff to Aglae Coursault (by copies from the State Department) and his letters testamentary, with a copy of the will annexed, and having proved that the plaintiff was then living, the court directed the jury that the plaintiff, if the said evidence was believed, was entitled to recover the amount received by the defendant under the award. The defendant excepted to this direction of the court, and prosecuted this writ of error.

Page 39 U. S. 38

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