Green's Administratrix v. Creighton - 64 U.S. 90 (1859)
U.S. Supreme Court
Green's Administratrix v. Creighton, 64 U.S. 23 How. 90 90 (1859)
Green's Administratrix v. Creighton
64 U.S. (23 How.) 90
The courts of the United States, as courts of equity, have jurisdiction over executors and administrators where the parties to the suit are citizens of different states, and this jurisdiction is not barred by subsequent proceedings in insolvency in the probate court of a state.
In such a case, the courts may interpose in favor of a foreign creditor, to arrest the distribution of any surplus of the estate of a decedent among the heirs.
Although at law a creditor cannot sue the surety upon an administration bond until he has obtained a judgment against the administrator, yet it is not so in equity, and in the present case, where the original debtor and his surety are both dead, insolvent, and a portion of the assets of the estate of the latter can be traced to the possession of his administrator and his surety, the power of a court of equity is required to call for a discovery of the amount had nature of the assets in hand.
The bill was originally filed by Daniel Green, a citizen of the State of Arkansas, against Fletcher Creighton and Jonathan McCaleb. Whilst the proceedings were pending, McCaleb died, and a bill of revivor was filed against Fletcher Creighton, his executor.
In 1836, Wheeler C. Green died in Mississippi intestate and without issue. His personal representatives were Daniel Green, Reuben Green, and Sally Smith. In 1837, the latter two conveyed their interest in the estate to Daniel Green, who thus became the sole claimant.
In October, 1836, letters of administration were granted to Albert Tunstall, who gave as sureties upon his bond, Amos Whiting, George W. Summers, and Eli West.
In 1837, Whiting died, and letters of administration upon his estate were granted to his widow, Maria L. Whiting, and George Lake. In 1839, Maria intermarried with J. M. Rhodes, who thereupon became administrator of said Whiting in right of his wife.
In March, 1839, Green instituted proceedings against Tunstall, as administrator, in the Probate Court of Claiborne County, and at June Term, 1841, obtained a decree for $61,194.76, and it was further ordered that the administration bond should be put in suit in any court having cognizance of the matter.
So far, Green's remedy was against Tunstall personally and those who represented Whiting, the surety upon his bond.
In October, 1841, Lake and Rhodes and wife were removed from the administration by the probate court, and Fletcher Creighton was appointed administrator de bonis non of Whiting, who gave bond in the penalty of $100,000, with Jonathan McCaleb as surety.
Green had therefore to look to Tunstall personally, and Creighton as the administrator of Whiting, and McCaleb as the surety of Creighton. The bill alleged that a large amount of assets of the estate of Whiting came into the hands of Creighton.
In August, 1843, Tunstall died insolvent, without having paid any part of the money which he had been decreed to pay by the probate court.
The bill stated that a large amount of the assets in the hands of Creighton were at interest with McCaleb, his surety.
In 1844, Creighton, on citation for that purpose, made another and further administration bond, with Jonathan McCaleb as his surety, in the penalty of one hundred thousand dollars.
In 1848, Green filed his bill against Creighton and McCaleb. The prayer of the bill was that the claim of the complainant against the estate of Amos Whiting, as surety of Tunstall, who administered on the estate of Wheeler C. Green, may be established by decree of this Court, and against said Creighton, in his capacity as administrator de bonis non of said estate, to the amount of the liability of said Amos, for and on account of said Albert Tunstall, as administrator of W. C. Green. Also, that said Creighton and Jonathan McCaleb may admit assets in the possession of Creighton sufficient to pay the claim of complainant, or set forth in his answer a full account of all the assets &c., of the estate of said Amos Whiting, which have come to the hands or knowledge of said Creighton, or of any other person within his knowledge.
That said Creighton may be decreed to pay to complainant such sums of money as may be decreed against the estate of Amos Whiting, or against said Creighton in his character as administrator de bonis non, if sufficient assets shall be found in his hands for that purpose, and if not, then for such amount as said Creighton shall be found liable for; and in case said Creighton shall not be able to pay such sum or sums on account of said insolvency, then that said Jonathan McCaleb may be decreed, as his surety, to pay it for him. The bill concludes with the general prayer for relief.
The defendants demurred to this bill, but the demurrer was overruled and they were required to answer. Answers were accordingly put in which entered into the merits of the case, but as the opinion of this Court did not touch upon that branch of the subject, it is unnecessary to do so in this report.
One part of the answer must be inserted because it raises one of the questions decided by this Court, viz., the pendency of the proceedings in insolvency.
Further answering, these defendants aver that the estate of the said Amos Whiting was reported to be insolvent to the March term, A.D. 1841, of the Probate Court of Claiborne County, and was then so declared by said court, and commissioners appointed to receive and audit claims against the said estate; and that, by reason of various delays in relation thereto, the same still remains open for the proof of claims; and these defendants insist that the complainant is bound to make out his claim in the probate court in the manner required by the laws of the state of Mississippi, and has no right to maintain this suit to establish said claim against the estate of Whiting; and they pray that they may be allowed to rely on the same as a plea in bar to said bill; and they further insist that, in any event, the complainants can only be entitled to such a dividend upon his claim as the estate of said Whiting may pay.
This cause having come on to be heard at the May term, 1855, of said court, and the same having been argued and submitted, on the nineteenth day of May, 1855, on final hearing on bill, bill of revivor, answers to original bill and bill of revivor, exhibits, and proofs, and the same having been taken under advisement by his honor S. J. Gholson, the judge presiding on said final hearing, and the court, being now sufficiently advised in the premises, doth see fit to order, adjudge, and decree, and it is accordingly so ordered, adjudged, and decreed, that said bill and bill of revivor be and the same is hereby dismissed, and that the complainant pay the costs to be taxed, ordered, adjudged, and decreed, on this, the twenty-sixth day of January, 1856.