Turner v. Bank of North America
4 U.S. 8 (1799)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Turner v. Bank of North America, 4 U.S. 4 Dall. 8 8 (1799)

Turner v. Bank of North America

4 U.S. (4 Dall.) 8

ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT

COURT OF NORTH CAROLINA

Syllabus

An action on a promissory note was instituted, and the plaintiff and defendants were properly described as citizens of different states. The note was drawn by the defendants in favor of Biddle & Co., who were described "as using trade or merchandise in partnership together at Philadelphia or North Carolina." The description of the promisee contains no averment that he was a citizen of a state, nor anything which, by legal intendment, can amount to such averment, which is error.

If a suit be on a promissory note by an assignee, it is necessary to show that the original promisee is an alien or a citizen of a different state from that of the plaintiffs, for by the special provision of the statute it is his description, as well as that of the assignee, which effectuates the jurisdiction.

A circuit court, though an inferior court in the language of the Constitution, is not so in the language of the common law; nor are its proceedings subject to the scrutiny of those narrow rules which the caution or jealousy of the courts at Westminster long applied to courts of that denomination, but are entitled to as liberal intendments or presumptions in favor of their regularity as those of any supreme court.

A circuit court is of limited jurisdiction, and has cognizance not of cases generally, but only of a few specially circumstanced, amounting to a small proportion of the cases which an unlimited jurisdiction would embrace. And the fair presumption is not, as with regard to a court of general jurisdiction, that a cause is within its jurisdiction unless the contrary appears, but rather that a cause is without its jurisdiction unless the contrary appears. This renders it necessary, inasmuch as the proceedings of no court can be deemed valid further than its jurisdiction appears or can be presumed, to set forth upon the record of a circuit court the facts or circumstances which give jurisdiction, either expressly or in such a manner as to render them certain by legal intendment.

This was an action upon a promissory note made in Philadelphia by Stanley, the intestate, in favor of Biddle & Co. and endorsed by Biddle & Co. to the Bank of North America.

The declaration (which contained only a count upon the note itself) stated that the president and directors of the bank were citizens of the State of Pennsylvania and that Turner, the administrator, and Stanley, the intestate, were citizens of the State of North Carolina, but of Biddle & Co., the payees and endorsers of the note, there was no other designation upon the record than "that they used trade and merchandise in partnership together at Philadelphia or North Carolina."

The error assigned and insisted upon, to-wit an insufficient description of Biddle & Co., was founded

Page 4 U. S. 9

on that part of the 11th section of the Judicial Act, 1 U.S.Stat. 79, which declares that no district or circuit court

"shall have cognizance of any suit to recover the contents of any promissory note or other chose in action in favor of an assignee unless a suit might have been prosecuted in such court to recover the said contents if no assignment had been made, except in cases of foreign bills of exchange. "

Page 4 U. S. 10

THE CHIEF JUSTICE delivered the opinion of the Court in the following terms:

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE ELLSWORTH.

The action below was brought by the president and directors of the Bank of North America, who

Page 4 U. S. 11

are well described to be citizens of Pennsylvania, against Turner and others, who are well described to be citizens of North Carolina, upon a promissory note, made by the defendant, payable to Biddle & Co., and which, by assignment, became the property of the plaintiffs. Biddle & Co. are no otherwise described than as "using trade and merchandise in partnership together" at Philadelphia or North Carolina, and judgment was for the plaintiff. The error assigned, the only one insisted on, is that it does not appear from the record that Biddle & Co., the promisees, or any of them, are citizens of a state other than that of North Carolina or aliens.

A circuit court, though an inferior court in the language of the Constitution, is not so in the language of the common law, nor are its proceedings subject to the scrutiny of those narrow rules which the caution or jealousy of the courts at Westminster long applied to courts of that denomination, but are entitled to as liberal intendments or presumptions in favor of their regularity as those of any supreme court. A circuit court, however, is of limited jurisdiction, and has cognizance not of cases generally, but only of a few specially circumstanced, amounting to a small proportion of the cases which an unlimited jurisdiction would embrace. And the fair presumption is (not as with regard to a court of general jurisdiction, that a cause is within its jurisdiction unless the contrary appears, but rather) that a cause is without its jurisdiction until the contrary appears. This renders it necessary, inasmuch as the proceedings of no court can be deemed valid further than its jurisdiction appears or can be presumed to set forth upon the record of a circuit court the facts or circumstances which give jurisdiction either expressly or in such manner as to render them certain by legal intendment. Among those circumstances, it is necessary, where the defendant appears to be a citizen of one state, to show that the plaintiff is a citizen of some other state or an alien, or if (as in the present case) the suit be upon a promissory note by an assignee, to show that the original promisee is so, for by a special provision of the statute it is his description, as well as that of the assignee, which effectuates jurisdiction.

But here the description given of the promisee only is that "he used trade" at Philadelphia or North Carolina, which, taking either place for that where he used trade, contains no averment that he was a citizen of a state other than that of North Carolina or an alien, nor anything which by legal intendment can amount to such averment. We must therefore say that there is error. It is exceedingly to be regretted that exceptions which might be taken in abatement and often cured in a moment should be reserved to the last stage of a suit, to destroy its fruits.

Judgment reversed.

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