Fourniquet v. Perkins - 48 U.S. 160 (1849)
U.S. Supreme Court
Fourniquet v. Perkins, 48 U.S. 7 How. 160 160 (1849)
Fourniquet v. Perkins
48 U.S. (7 How.) 160
The jurisdiction of courts of probate in Louisiana is confined to cases which seek an account and settlement of effects presumed to be held by the representative of a succession. It has not jurisdiction over cases of alleged fraud or waste, or embezzlement of the estate.
The district courts are courts of general civil jurisdiction.
Hence, where a petition was filed in the court of probate against an administrator, praying that he might account and also be held liable for maladministration and spoliation, it was proper to transfer the case for trial to the district court.
The judgment in the district court, being generally for the defendant, must be supposed to cover the whole case, and not to have rested upon only a branch of it, viz., a release which was pleaded by the defendant.
Therefore, where a bill was filed in the circuit court by the same petitioners against the same defendant, it was correct for that court to consider the question as res judicata.
The Louisiana decisions upon the jurisdiction of the probate and district courts examined.
In the year 1818, Mary Bynum, the widow of Benjamin Bynum deceased, was living in the Parish of Concordia, State of Louisiana, with four children, of whom Harriet, the wife of the appellant, was one.
In August, 1818, Mrs. Bynum intermarried with John Perkins, the present appellee.
In August, 1824, Mrs. Perkins died.
In March, 1827, Perkins filed two inventories and appraisements in the parish court; one, of the estate of Benjamin Bynum, deceased, amounting to $26,055, and the other of Mrs. Mary Perkins, deceased, amounting to $6,575. About the same time, Perkins was appointed administrator of the estate of Benjamin Bynum and guardian of the infant children.
In May, 1827, he filed an account showing an administration of the estate as far back as 1817. The account was filed by him as curator ad bona and tutor to the minor heirs.
In 1834, after the marriage of Harriet with Fourniquet (the present appellants), Perkins stated his account as guardian of Harriet Bynum separately, bringing her in debt to him $550.81, which sum Fourniquet paid by a check on the Planters' Bank. The following receipt was also subsequently given to Perkins by Fourniquet and wife:
"Received, Natchez, May 27, 1834, of John Perkins, in settlement of an account, debts due, and demands, whatsoever, to the present day, one hundred dollars in full, having on a previous occasion received from him, as guardian of my wife, Mrs. Harriet Fourniquet, late Miss Bynum, all the estate, portion, and share she inherited by the death of her late father, Benjamin Bynum, late of Concordia, Louisiana, deceased, or her mother, Mrs. Mary Perkins, of the County of Adams and State of Mississippi, and brothers, Benjamin S. Bynum, of the County of Claiborne, state last aforesaid, deceased, and do, by these presents, jointly with my said wife, release, and forever discharge the said Perkins, either as guardian or otherwise, growing out of the estate aforesaid or in any other manner or shape whatsoever, and forever exonerate him, by these presents, his heirs, executors, and administrators therefrom."
"In witness whereof, we have hereunto set our hands and seals the day and year first above written, to-wit, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-four, in the presence of Elijah Bell and John E. Maddox, whose names are hereunto subscribed as witnesses thereto, the said John Perkins being also personally present, and by these presents accepting."
"Signed, sealed, and delivered."
"E. P. FOURNIQUET [SEAL]"
"HARRIET J. FOURNIQUET [SEAL]"
"JOHN PERKINS [SEAL]"
"Witness present: "
"JOHN E. MADDUX "
"State of Mississippi, Adams County: "
"Personally before me, Woodson Wren, a justice of the peace for the County of Adams, appeared E. P. Fourniquet and Harriet J. Fourniquet, his wife, and John Perkins, whose names are subscribed to the foregoing instrument, and acknowledged that they signed, sealed, and delivered the same, as their act and deed, on the day and for the uses and purposes therein mentioned."
"Given under my hand and seal, 28 May, 1834."
"WOODSON WREN [SEAL]"
In 1837, the parties mutually confirmed the above instrument by the following acknowledgment:
"State of Louisiana, Parish of Concordia:"
"I, George W. Keeton, judge of the said parish, duly commissioned and qualified, do hereby certify and attest unto all whom it doth or may concern that Harriet J. Bynum, wife of Edward P. Fourniquet, and Edward P. Fourniquet, and John Perkins, personally appeared before me and acknowledged that they had signed and sealed the foregoing instrument of writing as and for their proper act and deed. To the due execution thereof, an act being requested, the same under my seal of office to serve as occasion may require."
"Done and passed at my office, in the Town of Vidalia, on the thirteenth day of January, A.D. eighteen hundred and thirty-seven."
"J. W. KEETON, P. Judge"
In December, 1838, Fourniquet and wife, then residing in the State of Mississippi, filed their petition in the Court of Probates for the Parish of Concordia in the State of Louisiana, proffering their claim against Perkins for a large amount of property alleged by them to have come to his hands, and alleging that the receipt obtained from them had been given through ignorance and error and in direct contravention of a provision of the law, and was therefore void. They charged upon Perkins, both as administrator and curator ad bona of the children of Mrs. Perkins, spoliations to a large amount, and prayed that he might render a full account of his transactions with respect to the successions of Benjamin Bynum and Mrs. Perkins, and with respect to his guardianship, and be compelled to make full compensation to the petitioner. In February, 1839, Perkins filed his answer, first interposing three exceptions to the prayer of the petition. The two first of these exceptions it is not material here to notice; the third was in effect a plea in bar, insisting on the receipt and release above set forth. The
answer followed the allegations of the petition and controverted them all, alleging that the respondent had discharged his duty with fidelity.
A supplemental petition and answer were afterwards filed, which it is not necessary to state particularly.
On 10 December, 1840, the case was transferred, by consent, to the Ninth District Court in the Parish of Concordia.
On 24 December, 1840, the cause came on for trial in the district court, when the jury found a verdict for the defendant, and the court thereupon pronounced judgment in his favor.
In June, 1844, Fourniquet and wife filed a bill on the equity side of the Circuit Court of the United States in and for the District of Louisiana. It claimed in right of the wife part of her inheritable portion of the estates of her father and mother, and prayed for a full account of the use and profits thereof from August, 1824, to May, 1827. It averred that Benjamin Bynum, the father of Harriet, left a large unencumbered estate at his death; that it was out of debt, and had a large amount of money on hand and debts due to it at the time when Mrs. Bynum intermarried with Perkins; that Perkins took possession of all the property, maladministered and used it as his own; that he presented false and fraudulent accounts to the court of probate. The bill admitted the execution of the receipt and release, but charged them to have been obtained by false representations; it stated that a suit had been brought in the probate court by the complainants and that it had been transferred by consent of all the parties to the district court, but protested that the district court had no jurisdiction of the subject matter thereof, and therefore its judgment could be no bar to the complainants' present suit. The bill then prayed for an account and general relief.
To this bill Perkins pleaded in bar the record, proceedings, and judgment of the district court, averring that these embraced and concluded the whole matter set forth and complained of in the bill. The plea was supported by an answer, which denied all the allegations of the bill.
On 10 April, 1845, the circuit court pronounced the following decree:
"This cause came on to be heard at this term, and was argued by counsel, and thereupon, upon consideration thereof, it was ordered, adjudged, and decreed, as follows, viz.: that the plea of the said defendant, by him pleaded in bar to the bill of the said complainants, be sustained and judged a good and sufficient bar to the said plaintiff's action as set forth in his bill, and that the said complainants' bill be dismissed, with costs."
An appeal from this decree brought the case up to this Court.