Sheldon v. Sill
49 U.S. 441 (1850)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Sheldon v. Sill, 49 U.S. 8 How. 441 441 (1850)

Sheldon v. Sill

49 U.S. (8 How.) 441

Syllabus

Courts created by statute can have no jurisdiction but such as the statute confers.

Therefore, where the Third Article of the Constitution of the United States says that the judicial power shall have cognizance over controversies between citizens of different states, but the act of Congress restrains the circuit courts from taking cognizance of any suit to recover the contents of a chose in action brought by an assignee when the original holder could not have maintained the suit, this act of Congress is not inconsistent with the Constitution.

A debt secured by bond and mortgage is a chose in action.

Therefore, where the mortgagor and mortgagee resided in the same state, and the mortgagee assigned the mortgage to the citizen of another state, this assignee could not file his bill for foreclosure in the circuit court of the United States.

The appellee was the complainant in the court below. The bill was filed to procure satisfaction of a bond, executed by the appellant, Thomas C. Sheldon, and secured by a mortgage on lands in Michigan executed by him and Eleanor his wife, the other appellant. The bond and mortgage were dated on 1 November, 1838, and were given by the appellants, then and ever since citizens of the State of Michigan, to Eurotas P. Hastings, President of the Bank of Michigan, in trust for the President, Directors, and Company of the Bank of Michigan.

The said Hastings was then and ever since has been a citizen of the State of Michigan, and the Bank of Michigan was a body corporate in the same state.

On 3 January, A.D. 1839, Hastings, President of said bank, under the authority and direction of the Board of Directors,

"sold, assigned, and transferred, by deed duly executed under the seal of the bank, and under his own seal, the said bond and mortgage, and the moneys secured thereby, and the estate thereby created"

to said Sill, the complainant below, who was then and still is a citizen of New York.

These are all the facts which it is necessary to state, for the purpose of raising the question of jurisdiction.

The circuit court decided in favor of the complainant below, and decreed a sale of the mortgaged premises &c.

From this decree the defendants appealed to this Court.

Page 49 U. S. 448

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Primary Holding

Congress can remove a case or controversy from being heard by a federal court, notwithstanding the separation of powers.

Facts

A resident of Michigan named Sheldon executed a bond and mortgage obligating him to the Bank of Michigan. The president of the bank, Hastings, assigned the obligations to Sill, a resident of New York. Sill eventually brought an action against Sheldon in federal court to recover the bond and mortgage. Sheldon responded by arguing that the Judiciary Act withheld jurisdiction from federal courts in cases that were brought by assignees of choses in action except when the assignor also would have had the right to sue in federal court. However, Sill responded that federal courts have jurisdiction under Article III to determine controversies between citizens of different states. He prevailed in the lower courts.

Opinions

Majority

  • Robert Cooper Grier (Author)
  • Roger Brooke Taney
  • John McLean
  • James Moore Wayne
  • John Catron
  • John McKinley
  • Peter Vivian Daniel
  • Samuel Nelson
  • Levi Woodbury

The lower federal courts owe their authority to Congress rather than the Constitution, so Congress has the authority to shape the extent of their jurisdiction. It may do so even in a way that limits the grant of authority under Article III. The Constitution created only the Supreme Court rather than the system of lower federal courts, and the language in Article III thus may be read as applying only to the Supreme Court. Under the Judiciary Act, the plaintiff is an assignee of a chose of action, so the judgment in his favor must be reversed.

Case Commentary

An example of how Congress acts to remove jurisdiction from the federal district courts is when it gives the Supreme Court original jurisdiction to resolve certain controversies. In the modern era, there has been little dispute over its ability to take certain cases away from the lower levels of courts.

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