De Valengin's Administrator v. Duffy
Annotate this Case
39 U.S. 282 (1840)
U.S. Supreme Court
De Valengin's Administrator v. Duffy, 39 U.S. 14 Pet. 282 282 (1840)
De Valengin's Administrator v. Duffy
39 U.S. (14 Pet.) 282
It has been frequently held that the device of covering property as neutral when in truth it was belligerent is not contrary to the laws of war or of nations. Contracts made with underwriters in relation to property thus covered have always been enforced in the courts of a neutral country where the true character of the property, and the means taken to protect it from capture have been fairly represented to the insurers. The same doctrine has always been held where false papers have been used to cover the property, provided the underwriter knew or was bound to know, that such stratagems were always resorted
to by the persons engaged in that trade. If such means may be used to prevent capture, there can be no good reason for condemning with more severity the continuation of the same disguise after capture in order to prevent the condemnation of the property or to procure compensation for it when it has been lost by reason of the capture. Courts of the capturing nation would never enforce contracts of that description, but they have always been regarded as lawful in the courts of a neutral country.
Whatever property or money is lawfully recovered by the executor or administrator after the death of his testator or intestate in virtue of his representative character he holds as assets of the estate, and he is liable therefor in such representative character to the party who has a good title thereto. The want of knowledge or the possession of knowledge on the part of the administrator as to the rights and claims of other persons upon the money thus received cannot alter the rights of the party to whom it ultimately belongs.
The owner of property or of money received by an administrator may resort to the administrator in his personal character and charge him de bonis propriis with the amount thus received. He may do this or proceed against him as executor or administrator, at his election. But whenever an executor or administrator, in his representative character, lawfully receives money or property, he may be compelled to respond to the party entitled in that character, and shall not be permitted to throw it off after he has received the money in order to defeat the plaintiff's action.
In the case of a factor who sells the goods of his principal in his own name upon a credit and dies before the money is received, if it is afterwards paid to the administrator in his representative character, the creditor would be entitled to consider it as assets in his hands and to charge him in the same character in which he received it. The debtor -- that is to say the party who purchased from the factor without any knowledge of the true owner and who paid the money to the administrator under the belief that the goods belonged to the factor -- is unquestionably discharged by this payment, yet he cannot be discharged unless he pays it to one lawfully authorized to receive it, except only in his representative character.
In the Circuit Court of Maryland, John H. Duffy, the defendant in error, instituted a suit against the administrators of Albert P. De Valengin for the recovery of a sum of money which he claimed to belong to him, being a portion of the indemnity paid by the government of Brazil for the capture and loss of the brig President Adams by a Brazilian cruiser in 1828.
John H. Duffy, a citizen of the United States domiciled at Buenos Ayres in 1828, shipped a quantity of hides and other articles of merchandise in 1828 on board the brig President Adams, commanded and part owned by Albert P. De Valengin, a citizen of Baltimore,
for Gibraltar. The government of Brazil and that of Buenos Ayres were then at war.
For the better security of the property from Brazilian capture, the property was shipped in the name of De Valengin, and soon after she sailed she was captured by an armed vessel of Brazil and carried into Monte Video. There both vessel and cargo were totally lost.
Under an agreement between John H. Duffy and Captain De Valengin, a claim for the cargo as well as the vessel was made by him on the government of Brazil, for indemnity. The ownership of John H. Duffy was concealed in this application, as his property was liable to capture by the cruisers of Brazil, he being domiciled at Buenos Ayres. Captain De Valengin died before anything was recovered from the government of Brazil for the President Adams and cargo, and a certain James Neale, who had become his administrator under letters of administration granted in Maryland, prosecuted the claim as the representative of De Valengin, and was at length paid the indemnity in Baltimore by the aid of Mr. James Birkhead of Rio de Janeiro, who remitted it to him from that place. The proceeds of the property remitted by Mr. Birkhead were returned in an inventory filed by Mr. Neale as administrator in the Orphans Court at Baltimore, as the estate of De Valengin.
A suit for the recovery of the amount claimed by John H. Duffy was instituted in the circuit court of the United States against James Neale as the administrator of De Valengin, and he having died before the trial of the cause, and the plaintiffs in error having taken out letters of administration de bonis non to the estate of De Valengin, they were summoned, and they appeared and took defense in the action.
In the declaration in the action, the only court applicable to the controversy between the parties to the suit, was that for money had and received by James Neale, the administrator of De Valengin, for the use of the plaintiff. On the issues of nonassumpsit and plene administravit, the jury found for the plaintiff on the first, and for the defendants on the second count. The circuit court entered a judgment on the first plea for the amount found by the jury, fourteen thousand and thirteen dollars and sixty-seven cents, the judgment to bind assets.
From this judgment the defendants prosecuted this writ of error.
On the trial of the cause in the circuit court, the defendants took a bill of exceptions to the decisions of the court on six different propositions or prayers submitted by their counsel for the opinion of the court. The bill of exceptions contains the whole evidence in the cause. All the prayers of the counsel for the defendants were refused by the court.
The opinion of the Supreme Court on the matters presented under the writ of error was given on two propositions into which all those submitted in the circuit court were considered to be resolved.
"1. That the agreement between Captain De Valengin and John
H. Duffy, under which De Valengin was to claim remuneration from the Brazilian government for the loss of the brig President Adams and her cargo on the ground of its being neutral property, when in truth the cargo was the property of John H. Duffy, and therefore belligerent, and liable to capture by the laws of nations, was fraudulent and immoral, and that the courts of justice of the United States will not assist a party to recover money due on such agreement."
"2. That if the money belonged to John H. Duffy, the action would not lie against Neale, as administrator, nor the money be assets in his hands of De Valengin's estate; that his return to the orphans court cannot alter the character of the transaction, and that this suit ought to have been continued against Neale's administrator, and not against the representatives of De Valengin. "
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