Scott v. Jones
46 U.S. 343 (1847)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Scott v. Jones, 46 U.S. 5 How. 343 343 (1847)

Scott v. Jones

46 U.S. (5 How.) 343

Syllabus

An objection to the validity of a statute founded upon the ground that the legislature which passed it was not competent or duly organized under acts of Congress and the Constitution so as to pass valid statutes is not within the cases enumerated in the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act, and therefore this Court has no jurisdiction over the subject.

In order to give this Court jurisdiction, the statute the validity of which is drawn in question must be passed by a state, a member of the Union, and a public body owing obedience and conformity to its constitution and laws.

If public bodies not duly organized or admitted into the Union undertake, as states, to pass laws which might encroach on the Union or its granted powers, such conduct would have to be reached either by the power Of the Union to put down insurrections or by the ordinary penal laws of the states or territories within which these bodies are situated and acting.

But their measures are not examinable by this Court on a writ of error. They are not a state, and cannot pass statutes within the meaning of the Judiciary Act.

This was an ejectment brought in the Circuit Court for the County of Wayne, State of Michigan (state court) by the Detroit Young Men's Society against the plaintiffs in error to recover lot No. 56, in section one, in the City of Detroit.

On the trial of the cause in December, 1841, the plaintiffs below offered in evidence:

Page 46 U. S. 344

1. An act of incorporation by the Legislature of the State of Michigan, passed 26 March, 1836, entitled "An act to incorporate the members of the Detroit Young Men's Society." To the admission of this act in evidence the defendants objected, but the court overruled the objection and allowed it to be read to the jury, whereupon the defendants excepted.

2. A deed bearing date 1 July, 1836, executed by Solomon Sibley, judge, George Morell, and Ross Wilkins, judge, purporting to convey lot No. 56 to the Detroit Young Men's Society, the plaintiffs having first proved, by the witnesses to the deed, that on or before that day, the said Sibley, Morell, and Wilkins were reputed to be, and acted as, judges of the Territory of Michigan appointed by the authority of the United States.

The Act of Congress under which they acted was that of 21 April, 1806, ch. 43, 2 Stat. 398.

To the admission of this deed as evidence the defendants objected upon five grounds. But the court overruled the objections and allowed the instrument to be read to the jury, whereupon the defendants excepted.

The defendants then offered in evidence the following:

1. A deed from the Treasurer of the County of Wayne to John Scott dated 10 October, 1833, conveying the title for taxes, which deed the court refused to permit to be read in evidence unless it were first shown that the title had passed out of the United States and that the same had been regularly assessed and returned, to which refusal of the court the defendants excepted.

2. A resolution of the Governor and judges of the Territory of Michigan dated 8 September, 1806, that the basis of the town should be an equilateral triangle having every angle bisected by a perpendicular line on the opposite side, and then proved, by a mathematical calculation, that lot No. 56 was the same as that which was known as lot No. 52 prior to 27 April, 1807, and then offered a resolution of the governor and judges dated 13 March, 1807, conveying said lot No. 52 to Elijah Brush.

To all which evidence the plaintiff objected, and the court sustained the objection, whereupon the defendants excepted.

The defendants then offered a witness to prove that he had applied to the governor and judges for information as to what lots were taxable, and that they had informed him that the lot in question was taxable in 1828, to the admission of which evidence the plaintiff objected, and the court sustained the objection, whereupon the defendants excepted.

The defendants further offered parol evidence relative to the conduct and declarations of the governor and judges, to which the plaintiff objected, and the court sustained the objection, whereupon the defendants excepted.

And on the trial of said issue, it further appeared in evidence

Page 46 U. S. 345

from the records of the Secretary of State that a Legislature of the State of Michigan, duly elected and returned, was organized and duly qualified under the Constitution of said state on the third day of November, A.D., 1835, and that Stevens T. Mason, having been duly elected and returned, was on the same day duly qualified and took upon himself the execution of the office of governor under the Constitution of the said State of Michigan; that the aforesaid act, entitled "An act to incorporate the members of the Detroit Young Men's Society," was approved by the said Stevens T. Mason on 26 March in the year 1836, and who was at that time governor, acting under the Constitution of the State of Michigan; that John S. Horner was Secretary of the late Territory of Michigan, and in the month of July, 1835, acted as governor of said territory; that he was the last person who exercised the functions of Territorial Governor of the Territory of Michigan; that the last official act of said Horner, as Governor of the Territory of Michigan, in the office of the Secretary of State is a proclamation, dated in the month of July in the year 1835, but by reputation it appeared that the said Horner purported to act as Territorial Governor of Michigan until some time in the year 1836. It further appeared by the records produced by the late Clerk of the late Supreme Court of the Territory of Michigan that a session of said court purported to have been holden by George Morell and Ross Wilkins, as territorial judges, in the month of June, 1836, and adjourned the 30th of said month. And it further appeared on the trial of said issue that Solomon Sibley, George Morell, and Ross Wilkins purported to act as judges of the Territory of Michigan on 1 July in the year 1836. And on the trial of said issue, the defendants offered a witness, who was present at the time, to prove to the jury that Solomon Sibley and Ross Wilkins, acting as judges of the Territory of Michigan, held a session of the supreme court of said territory on the first Monday of January in the year 1837, and of which the clerk of said supreme court made no record, to the admission of which the plaintiff, by his attorney, objected, and the court sustained the objection and rejected said evidence, and the defendants, by their attorney, duly excepted thereto.

And the testimony on both sides being closed and commented upon, and the said court being about to charge the said jury and to commit to them the said cause, the said defendants, by their attorney, moved the said court and requested it to charge the said jury in the words or effect following, to-wit:

"First. That the act herein before mentioned, entitled, 'An act to incorporate the members of the Detroit Young Men's Society,' was not of force, or in any wise sufficient in the law to create and constitute of the lessors of the plaintiff a corporation or body politic, in the law, capable to take or hold said lot or premises, nor the title thereof, nor to exercise any corporate rights or powers in virtue

Page 46 U. S. 346

or under color of said act unless the jury should find that the state government of the State of Michigan was, at the time of the passing and approval of said act, established and in full and legal force and operation."

"Second. That from and after the establishment and coming into force and operation of said state government and of the legislature thereof, the territorial government established by the United States, and previously in full force in and over the Territory of Michigan, ceased, and in law and in fact became abrogated, superseded, and annulled."

"Third. That from and after the coming into effect and operation of said state government, the powers, duties, and office of judges of said territory ceased, and became in like manner abrogated and abolished, and by consequence the said Solomon Sibley, George Morell, and Ross Wilkins, as said supposed judges of said territory, were no longer, after the said establishment and coming into operation of said government, competent in the law as such judges of the Territory of Michigan by said supposed deed by them executed to convey any right or title in, to, or of said lot No. 56 or the premises in question to the said lessors of the plaintiff, nor to perform any other of the functions nor exercise the powers previously conferred by any act or acts of Congress upon the territorial judges of said Territory of Michigan."

"Fourth. But if the said jury should find that the said Solomon Sibley, George Morell, and Ross Wilkins were, on the said first day of July in the year 1836, severally in the legal exercise of the office of judge of said Territory of Michigan, duly appointed by the United States and holding office under such appointment, and that they severally signed and sealed said paper, writing, or deed in the execution of their said offices according to the act of Congress entitled, 'An act to provide for the adjustment of titles to land in the Town of Detroit and Territory of Michigan, and for other purposes,' approved April 21, A.D., 1806, then that by consequence it followed and resulted that the said act entitled 'An act to incorporate the members of the Detroit Young Men's Society' was without authority, and in contemplation of law did not create nor constitute the lessors of the plaintiff on 26 March, A.D., 1836, nor on any other day, a corporation or body politic and corporation competent to purchase, acquire, or hold the lot in question or any real estate whatever."

"Fifth. That a territorial and state government cannot coexist in any of their respective departments; that if the lessors of the plaintiff were well incorporated, and competent in virtue of said act of incorporation of the Legislature of the State of Michigan to take and hold the lot or premises in question, then the territorial government of the Territory of Michigan was, at the date of said paper, writing, or deed, under which the lessors of the plaintiff claim title,

Page 46 U. S. 347

abrogated and at an end, and the governor and judges of said territory had no legal existence, and said deed is therefore void, and can convey no title in any event; therefore the plaintiff cannot recover."

"Sixth. That the paper, writing, or deed under which the lessors of the plaintiff make title to the lot or premises in question, being a deed of bargain and sale, and not a donation, is void and can in no manner be the foundation of any title, not being executed by the Governor of the Territory of Michigan, as required by the act of Congress in virtue of which it purports to have been made and executed, and therefore the plaintiff cannot recover. All which charges the court refused to give to the said jury, and to which refusal the defendants, by their attorney, then duly excepted, and, on the contrary, the court charged the jury that the lessors of the plaintiff were well incorporated by the Legislature of the State of Michigan and by a body competent so to do, and that the aforesaid deed, under which the lessor of the plaintiff makes title, was well executed in the law, and by those competent in the law to convey title to the lot or premises in question, and that on 1 July, 1836, there was a governor and judges of the Territory of Michigan competent to convey title to the premises in question under the act of Congress referred to in said paper, writing, or deed, and that under said act of Congress, the said paper, writing, or deed was well and sufficiently executed without being executed by the Governor of the Territory of Michigan, or being acknowledged or proved as required by the law of the time when the same was made, in relation to all the conveyances affecting real estate, to which charge of the court the defendants excepted."

The supreme court of Michigan, in March, 1843, affirmed the judgment of the court below, 1 Doug. 119, and the cause was brought before this Court by a writ of error issued under the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act.

Page 46 U. S. 374

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