An action of debt will not lie against an administrator in one
of these United States on a judgment obtained against a different
administrator of the same intestate, appointed under the authority
of another state.
The doctrine of privity examined.
The history of the case is this.
In April, 1836, Charles S. Lee, a resident of the County of
Claiborne and State of Mississippi, was sued in the County Court of
Claiborne, by Christopher Dart and William Gardner, who called
themselves late merchants and co-partners trading under the style
and firm of Dart & Co., and stated the suit to be for the use
of Christopher Dart.
It is not necessary to state the cause of action, or trace the
progress of the suit minutely.
Lee appeared to the suit.
In December, 1836, his death was suggested.
In July, 1837, Ann Lee took out letters of administration upon
the estate of Charles S. Lee, under the authority of the Probate
Court of Claiborne County.
In September, 1837, the suit was revived against the
administratrix by a scire facias.
Page 47 U. S. 45
In November, 1837, she appeared to the suit and pleaded the
On 1 December, 1838, the cause came on for trial, when the
plaintiffs obtained a judgment for $6,080.99.
On the same day, viz.,
1 December, 1838, Christopher
Dart, for whose use the judgment was entered, made an assignment of
it to John B. Thrasher, of Port Gibson, the nominal defendant in
error in the present case.
After this, however, a new trial was granted by the Court of
Claiborne County in the suit against Ann Lee, administratrix, which
resulted in another judgment, for a different sum of money, in
Another new trial was granted, and in December, 1840, another
judgment was rendered against the administratrix for $6,988.05.
Nothing further appears to have been done for some time. The
next fact in the history of the case is that David S. Stacy, the
plaintiff in error in the present case and a citizen of Louisiana,
took out letters of administration upon the estate of Charles S.
Lee, in the State of Louisiana. At what particular time these
letters were taken out the record does not show.
In January, 1844, John B. Thrasher, to whom the judgment in
Mississippi had been assigned by Christopher Dart, as above stated,
filed a petition in the Circuit Court of the United States for the
Eastern District of Louisiana, against Stacy, the administrator of
Charles S. Lee. Thrasher now stated himself to be suing for the use
of William Sellers, and averred that Sellers and himself were both
citizens of the State of Mississippi. The petitioner stated himself
to be the legal owner, by transfer and assignment, of a judgment
for $6,988.05, which judgment was final and definitive.
In February, 1844, Stacy appeared to the suit and filed the
following exceptions and answer, which are according to the
practice in Louisiana, and equivalent to a demurrer.
"David S. Stacy, a citizen of the State of Louisiana, residing
in the Parish of Concordia, administrator of the succession of
Charles S. Lee, in the State of Louisiana, under the appointment
and authority of the Court of Probates of the Parish of Concordia
aforesaid, being made defendant in the above-entitled suit, appears
and pleads as follows, by way of exception:"
"1. That plaintiff in his petition does not allege or show that
this Honorable Court has jurisdiction of this suit, as it is not
therein alleged that Christopher Dart, who is declared to be the
assignor of the judgment upon which this suit is brought, was
either an alien or a citizen of another state than Louisiana,
Page 47 U. S. 46
could have maintained this suit in this Honorable Court either
against the appearer or the said Charles S. Lee."
"2. Appearer alleges that Christopher Dart and William Gardner,
the alleged owners of the claim upon which the judgment was
obtained in Mississippi, were citizens of Louisiana, and members of
a commercial firm located in New Orleans, and could not have
maintained this suit in this Honorable Court either against the
said Lee or against this appearer, and that this Court has no
jurisdiction of this suit."
"3. That the said William Gardner, one of the joint owners of
said claim, was a citizen of Louisiana, and that the said Dart
& Gardner could not have maintained a suit upon said claim in
this Honorable Court either against the said C. S. Lee or against
"4. That the said C. Dart, under an assignment and transfer of
said claim from the said Gardner, could not have maintained a suit
thereon in this Honorable Court."
"5. Appearer further excepts and says, that this Honorable Court
has no jurisdiction over successions in the State of Louisiana, nor
over the settlement of said successions and the distributions of
the proceeds among the creditors, nor over administrators and
others appointed to administer them, nor of the establishment of
claims for money against such successions; that the court of
probate of this state have the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of
all these matters; that no property belonging to a succession in
the course of administration in the probate court, whose
jurisdiction has attached over the subject matter, can be taken,
levied upon, or sold by process from the courts of the United
States; nor can said probate courts be ousted or disseized of their
said exclusive jurisdiction once obtained, nor the property
withdrawn from their control by any other tribunal. That this has
been the well known and settled law of the state for the last
twenty years, and that the said Dart & Gardner contracted in
New Orleans, in Louisiana, under and in reference to this law, and
are bound by it; appearer alleges that this Honorable Court, for
the above reasons, has no jurisdiction in this suit, ratione
nor ratione materiae,
but avers that the
Court of Probates of the parish of Concordia has sole and exclusive
jurisdiction thereof. Wherefore appearer prays that this suit may
be dismissed at plaintiff's costs &c."
"If all the above exceptions should be overruled, then appearer
pleads that the plaintiff has neither alleged nor shown any cause
of action against him whatever, nor any indebtedness to the
plaintiff by the succession of C. S. Lee in the State of Louisiana.
Page 47 U. S. 47
"If the above exception should be also overruled, then defendant
denies generally and specially each and every allegation in
plaintiff's petition contained. Wherefore he prays that plaintiff's
demand may be rejected with costs, and for general relief in the
"[Signed] D. S. STACY, Adm'r Estate C. S. Lee
On 26 February, 1844, Thrasher filed an amended petition
averring that Christopher Dart, the assignor of the judgment, was,
at the time of the assignment, an alien, being a citizen of the
Republic of Texas, and resident therein, and that Charles S. Lee,
at the time of said assignment and of his death, was a citizen of
On 13 March, 1844, the court overruled the exceptions, and on 11
April following gave the following final judgment.
"This cause came on for trial, and the law and the evidence
being in favor of the plaintiff, it is ordered, adjudged, and
decreed, that the defendant, David S. Stacy, as administrator of
the estate of Charles S. Lee, be condemned to pay to the plaintiff,
for the use of William Sellers, the sum of six thousand nine
hundred and eighty-eight dollars and five cents, with eight percent
interest thereon per annum from the first day of December, eighteen
hundred and forty, until paid, and costs of suit. Judgment rendered
April 11, 1844. Judgment signed April 18, 1844."
"[Signed] J. McKINLEY"
From this decree, a writ of error brought the case up to this
Page 47 U. S. 57
MR. JUSTICE GRIER delivered the opinion of the Court.
John B. Thrasher, the plaintiff below, commenced this action by
a petition (according to the practice of the courts of Louisiana)
in the nature of an action of debt upon a judgment. He claimed as
assignee of a judgment obtained in the Circuit Court of Claiborne
County, in the State of Mississippi, by Dart & Gardner against
Ann Lee, administratrix of C. S. Lee, deceased. David S. Stacy, the
defendant below, is the administrator of Lee in the State of
Louisiana, where he had his domicile
Page 47 U. S. 58
at the time of his death. In his pleas he has set forth six
several grounds of exception against the plaintiff's right to
recover, the last of which is in the nature of a demurrer to the
declaration, or a denial of the plaintiff's right to recover on the
case set forth in his petition. As the decision of this point will
be conclusive of the whole case, it will be unnecessary to notice
The question presented by the demurrer is whether the judgment
against Ann Lee, the administratrix of Charles S. Lee in
Mississippi, is evidence by itself sufficient to entitle the
plaintiff to recover against Stacy, the administrator of the same
intestate in Louisiana. Or, to state the point disconnected with
the accidents of the case, will an action of debt lie against an
administrator in one of these United States, on a judgment obtained
against a different administrator of the same intestate appointed
under the authority of another?
This is a question of great practical importance, and one which,
we believe, has not yet been decided.
The administrator receives his authority from the ordinary or
other officer of the government where the goods of the intestate
are situate. But coming into such possession by succession to the
intestate, and encumbered with the duty to pay his debts, he is
considered in law as in privity with him, and therefore bound or
estopped by a judgment against him. Yet his representation of his
intestate is a qualified one, and extends not beyond the assets of
which the ordinary had jurisdiction. He cannot, therefore, do any
act to affect assets in another jurisdiction, as his authority
cannot be more extensive than that of the government from whom he
received it. The courts of another state will not acknowledge him
as a representative of the deceased, or notice his letters of
administration. See Tourton v. Flower,
3 P.Wms. 369;
Borden v. Borden,
5 Mass. 67; Pond v. Makepeace,
2 Metcalf 114; Chapman v. Fish,
6 Hill 554, &c.
It follows as a necessary inference from these well established
"that where administrations are granted to different persons in
different states, they are so far deemed independent of each other
that a judgment obtained against one will furnish no right of
action against the other, to affect assets received by the latter
in virtue of his own administration; for in contemplation of law
there is no privity between him and the other administrator."
Story Confl. of Laws, § 522; Brodie v.
2 Rawle 431. The same doctrine is recognized in the
case of Aspden v.
4 How. 467, by this Court.
But it is contended, that, however applicable these
Page 47 U. S. 59
may be to judgments against administrators acting under powers
received from states wholly foreign to each other, they cannot
apply to judgments against administrators in different states of
this Union, because of the provision of the Constitution, which
ordains that "full faith and credit shall be given in each state to
the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other
The Act of Congress of 26 May, 1790, which prescribes the mode
of authenticating records, and defines their "effect," enacts, that
"shall have such faith and credit given to them in every court
within the United States as they have by law or usage in the courts
of the state from whence the said records are or shall be
The question, then, arises, what is the "effect," or the "faith
and credit," given to the judgment on which this suit is brought,
in the courts of Mississippi? The answer to this must be, that it
is evidence, and conclusive by way of estoppel, 1st, between the
same parties; 2d, privies; and 3dly, on the same subject matter,
where the proceeding is in rem.
But the parties to these judgments are not the same.
Neither are they privies. "The term privity denotes mutual
succession or relationship to the same rights of property."
Greenleaf on Ev. § 523. Privies are divided by Lord Coke into three
classes -- 1st, privies in blood; 2d, privies in law; and 3d,
privies by estate. The doctrine of estoppel, however, so far as it
applies to persons falling under these denominations, applies to
them under one and the same principle, namely, that a party
claiming through another is estopped by that which estopped that
other respecting the same subject matter. Thus, an heir who is
privy in blood would be estopped by a verdict against his ancestor,
through whom he claims. An executor or administrator, suing or sued
as such, would be bound by a verdict against his testator or
intestate, to whom he is privy in law. With regard to privies in
estate, a verdict against feoffor would estop feoffee, and lessor,
the lessee &c.
An administrator under grant of administration in one state
stands in none of these relations to an administrator in another.
Each is privy to the testator, and would be estopped by a judgment
against him; but they have no privity with each other, in law or in
estate. They receive their authority from different sovereignties,
and over different property. The authority of each is paramount to
the other. Each is accountable to the ordinary from whom he
receives his authority. Nor does the one come by succession to the
other into the trust of the same property, encumbered by the same
debts, as in the case of an administrator de bonis non,
who may be truly said to have an
Page 47 U. S. 60
official privity with his predecessor in the same trust, and
therefore liable to the same duties. In the case of Yare v.
Cro.Jac. 3, it was decided that an administrator de
could not have scire facias
upon a judgment
obtained by his predecessor on a debt due to the intestate "for
default of privity." But in Snape v. Norgate,
167, it was decided that a scire facias
would lie against
an administrator de bonis non,
on a judgment against the
executor, and the court attempt to make a distinction between that
and the preceding case, on the ground that "he cometh in place of
the executor"; or in other words, by reason of an official
succession or privity. These cases cannot be well reconciled on
principle, but the difficulty was remedied in England by the
statute of 17 Charles 2, c. 8. The Court of Appeals of Virginia
have considered the latter case as founded on more correct
principles than the first, and have overruled the doctrine of
Yare v. Gough. Dykes v. Woodhouse,
We may assume, therefore, that in the State of Mississippi, as
in most other states in the Union, the administrator de bonis
is treated as privy with his predecessor in the trust, and
estopped by a judgment against him; but the question still recurs
as to the effect of a judgment in that state as against one who has
neither personal nor official privity with the defendant. Each
administrator is severally liable to pay the debts of the deceased
out of the assets committed to him, and therein they resemble joint
and several co-obligors in a bond. A judgment against one is no
merger of the bond, nor is it evidence in a suit against the other.
Their common liability to pay the same debt creates no privity
between them, either in law or in estate.
It is for those who assert this privity to show wherein it lies,
and the argument for it seems to be this: that the judgment against
the administrator is against the estate of the intestate, and that
his estate, wheresoever situate, is liable to pay his debts;
therefore the plaintiff, having once established his claim against
the estate by the judgment of a court, should not be called on to
make proof of it again. This argument assumes that the judgment is
and not in personam,
or that the estate
has a sort of corporate entity and unity. But this is not true,
either in fact or in legal construction. The judgment is against
the person of the administrator, that he shall pay the debt of the
intestate out of the funds committed to his care. If there be
another administrator in another state, liable to pay the same
debt, he may be subjected to a like judgment upon the same demand,
but the assets in his hands cannot be affected by a judgment to
which he is personally a
Page 47 U. S. 61
stranger. A judgment may have the "effect" of a lien upon all
the defendant's lands in the state where it is rendered, yet it
cannot have that effect on lands in another state by virtue of the
faith and credit given to it by the Constitution and act of
Congress. The laws and courts of a state can only affect persons
and things within their jurisdiction. Consequently, both as to the
administrator and the property confided to him, a judgment in
another state is res inter alios acta.
It cannot be even
evidence of a debt; for if it have any effect
at all, it must be as a judgment, and operate by way of
It is alleged by those who desire to elude this conclusion,
while they cannot deny the correctness of the principles on which
it is founded, that it is technical and theoretical, and leads to
an inconvenient result. But every logical conclusion upon admitted
legal principles may be liable to the same imputation. Decisions
resting only on a supposed convenience, or principles accommodated
to the circumstances of a particular case, generally form bad
precedents. It may be conceded that in this case there is an
apparent hardship -- that the plaintiff who has established his
claim after a tedious litigation in Mississippi should be compelled
to go through the same troublesome process in Louisiana. But the
hardship is no greater than if the administrators had been joint
and several co-obligors in a note or bond. A plaintiff may be
fairly presumed always to have the evidence of his demand in his
possession, and the ability to establish it in any court. But if a
judgment against an administrator in one state, raised up, perhaps,
for the very purpose of giving the plaintiff a judgment, should be
conclusive on the administrator in another state, the estates of
decedents would be subjected to innumerable frauds. And to what
purpose is the argument that the defendant may be permitted to
prove collusion and fraud, when, in order to substantiate it, he
must commence by proving a negative? This would be casting the
burden of proof where it ought not to rest, and would cause much
greater inconvenience and injury than any that can possibly result
from the present decision.
The judgment of the circuit court must therefore be
MR. JUSTICE McLEAN and MR. JUSTICE WAYNE dissented.
This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record
of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District
of Louisiana, and was argued by counsel. On
Page 47 U. S. 62
consideration whereof, it is now here ordered and adjudged by
this Court, that the judgment of the said circuit court in this
cause be and the same is hereby reversed, with costs, and that this
cause be and the same is hereby remanded to the said circuit court,
to be proceeded in according to law and justice, and in conformity
to the opinion of this Court.