Cowles v. Mercer County - 74 U.S. 118 (1868)
U.S. Supreme Court
Cowles v. Mercer County, 74 U.S. 7 Wall. 118 118 (1868)
Cowles v. Mercer County
74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 118
1. A municipal corporation created by one state within its own limits may be sued in the courts of the United States by the citizens of another state.
2. The statutes of a state limiting the jurisdiction of suits against counties to circuit courts held within such counties can have no application to courts of the national government.
A statute of Illinois enacts by one section that,
"Each county established in the state shall be a body politic and corporate, by the name and style of 'The County of _____,' and by that name may sue and be sued, plead and be impleaded, defend and be defended against, in any court of record, either in law or equity, or other place where justice shall be administered,"
and by another that
"All actions, local or transitory, against any county may be commenced and prosecuted to final judgment and execution in the circuit court of the county against which the action is brought. [Footnote 1]"
And the Supreme Court of Illinois has decided that a county can neither sue or be sued at common law, independent of legislative provisions, and have construed the
foregoing sections of the statute to exclude the right to sue any county elsewhere than in the Circuit Court of the county sued. [Footnote 2]
In this condition of the state law, Cowles, a citizen of New York, brought suit in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois, against the Supervisors of Mercer County, Illinois (a board authorized to contract for the county), upon certain bonds issued by them on behalf of the county. The defendant, relying on the statute and the interpretation of it by the highest court of the state, moved to dismiss the case for want of jurisdiction. The motion was overruled, and various other defenses, already frequently settled in this Court as untenable, having been also disallowed, judgment was given for the plaintiff below. The case was now brought here on error by the county.