Bank of the United States v. Deveaux - 9 U.S. 61 (1809)
U.S. Supreme Court
Bank of the United States v. Deveaux, 9 U.S. 5 Cranch 61 61 (1809)
Bank of the United States v. Deveaux
9 U.S. (5 Cranch) 61
A corporation aggregate composed of citizens of one state may sue a citizen of another state in the circuit court of the United States.
Where the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States depends not on the character of the parties, but upon the nature of the case, the circuit courts derive no jurisdiction from the Judiciary Act except in case of a controversy between citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants from different states.
No right is conferred on the bank by its act of incorporation to sue in the federal courts. A corporation aggregate cannot, in its corporate capacity, be a citizen.
The duties of this Court to exercise jurisdiction where it is conferred and not to usurp it where it is not conferred are of equal obligation. The Constitution therefore and the law are to be expounded without a leaning the one way or the other, according to those general principles which usually govern in the construction of fundamental or other laws.
A constitution, from its nature, deals in generals, not in detail. Its framers cannot perceive minute distinctions which arise in the progress of the nation, and therefore confine it to the establishment of broad and general principles.
The Judicial Department was introduced into the American Constitution under impressions and with views which are too apparent not to be perceived by all. However true the fact may be that the tribunals of the states will administer justice as impartially as those of the nation to parties of every description, it is not less true that the Constitution itself either entertains apprehensions on this subject or views with such indulgence the possible fears and apprehensions of suitors that it has established national tribunals for the decision of controversies between aliens and a citizen or between citizens of different states.
The declaration, or petition, as it is there called, was as follows:
"District of Georgia"
"To the Honorable the Judges of the Sixth Circuit
Court of the United States in and for the District aforesaid."
"The petition of The President, Directors and Company of the Bank of the United States, which said bank was established under an act of Congress entitled 'An act to incorporate the subscribers to the Bank of the United States,' passed 25 February, 1791, showeth,"
"That Peter Deveaux and Thomas Robertson, both of the City of Savannah, Esquires, have endamaged your petitioners in the sum of three thousand dollars for this, to-wit, that the said Thomas Robertson, then acting under authority from the said Peter Deveaux, on 20 April, 1807, at Savannah, in the district aforesaid and within the jurisdiction of this honorable court, with force and arms entered into the house and premises of your petitioners at Savannah aforesaid and then and there seized, took, and detained two boxes (the goods and chattels of your petitioners) containing each one thousand dollars in silver, then and there found in the possession of your petitioners, and being of the value of two thousand and four dollars, and carried the same away, and converted and disposed thereof to their own use, and other wrongs to your petitioners then and there did against the peace of the district and to the great damage of your petitioners, therefore your petitioners say they are injured and have sustained damage to the value of three thousand dollars, and therefore they bring suit. And your petitioners aver that they are citizens of the State of Pennsylvania, and the said Peter Deveaux and Thomas Robertson are citizens of the State of Georgia. Wherefore your petitioners pray process, &c."
"And the said Peter and Thomas, by R.L., their attorney, come and defend the force and injury, when, &c., and pray judgment of the declaration aforesaid, because they say that the Sixth Circuit Court of the United States ought not to have and
entertain jurisdiction of the said declaration and the matters therein contained, for that the said president, directors, and company of the bank of the United States aver themselves to be a body politic and corporate, and that in that capacity these defendants say they cannot sue or be sued, plead, or be impleaded in this honorable court by anything contained in the Constitution or laws of the same United States, and this they are ready to verify; wherefore, for want of jurisdiction in this behalf, they pray judgment, and their costs, &c."
To this plea there was a demurrer and joinder, and judgment in favor of the defendants upon the demurrer.