Williams v. Oliver,
53 U.S. 111 (1851)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Williams v. Oliver, 53 U.S. 12 How. 111 111 (1851)

Williams v. Oliver

53 U.S. (12 How.) 111


In 1839, a treaty was made between the United States and Mexico providing for the "adjustment of claims of citizens of the United States on the Mexican Republic."

Under this treaty, a sum of money was awarded to be paid to the members of the Baltimore Mexican Company, who had subscribed money to fit out an expedition against Mexico under General Mina in 1816. See the case of Gill v. Oliver's Executors, 11 How. 529.

The proceeds of one of the shares of this company were claimed by two parties, one as being the second permanent trustee of the insolvent owner of the share, and the other as being the assignee of the first permanent trustee.

The Court of Appeals of Maryland decided that the plaintiff, viz., the second permanent trustee, did not take the claim under the insolvent laws of Maryland.

This decision is not reviewable by this Court under the 25th section of the Judiciary Act, and the case is similar to that of Gill v. Oliver's Executors, 11 How. 529.

Nor does jurisdiction accrue in this case in consequence of the additional fact that the Legislature of Maryland passed a law curing certain defects in the assignment to Oliver, the validity of which law was drawn into question as impairing the obligation of a contract, because if there had been no such law, the decision of the state court would have been the same.

Page 53 U. S. 112

This was a branch of the case of Gill v. Oliver's Executors, 11 How. 529, although it differed from that case in some particulars which will be mentioned. The history of the Baltimore Mexican Company was given in the report of that case, and need not be repeated.

James Williams was the owner of one of the shares of the company, and applied for the benefit of the Insolvent Laws of Maryland on 24 June, 1819. George Winchester was appointed provisional trustee, and gave bond as such, and James Williams conveyed and assigned to him, as provisional trustee, all his property whatever for the benefit of his creditors. On 2 August, 1819, Winchester executed a bond without security, reciting that he had been appointed permanent trustee, and the bond was conditioned for the faithful performance of his duties as such. The laws of Maryland required security to be given when such a bond was executed.

At March term, 1825, Baltimore County Court passed the following order:

"In Baltimore County Court, March Term 1825"

"In the case of James Williams, an Insolvent Debtor:"

"Ordered by the court that the trustee dispose of any part of the personal estate of the said insolvent debtor remaining unsold at public or private sale, as he may judge best."


On the 2d of April, 1825, Winchester assigned to Robert Oliver the share in the Mexican Company belonging to Williams, and signed a receipt for $2,000 as the consideration for the sale.

Winchester having died, Nathaniel Williams, the plaintiff in error, was appointed permanent trustee of James Williams, the insolvent, on 15 November, 1841, and gave bond with security, as required by law.

In the report of the case of Gill v. Oliver's Executors, it was stated in what manner the money came into the hands of Glenn and Perine as trustees, and how it came to be deposited in court for claimants to make out their title.

On the 29 January, 1842, Nathaniel Williams filed his petition, claiming the amount which belonged to the share of his insolvent, James Williams.

Page 53 U. S. 113

On 9 March, 1842, the Legislature of Maryland passed an act (December Session, 1841, chapter 309), entitled "An act to confirm the titles of purchasers in the cases therein mentioned," which act was passed on the memorial of Oliver's representatives, and was alleged to cure the defects resulting from Winchester's assignment without his having given security upon his bond as permanent trustee.

On 2 May, 1842, the executors of Oliver and the trustees filed their answer to the petition of Nathaniel Williams. They claimed the share of James Williams on two grounds: 1st, under the purchase from Winchester; 2d, because the award of the commissioners was a full and complete bar of all right and title on the part of Nathaniel Williams.

On 5 December, 1846, Baltimore County Court decreed in favor of the executors of Oliver, holding the act of 1841 to be constitutional. On the second point the court decided that the award of the commissioners was not conclusive.

Williams prosecuted an appeal to the Court of Appeals of Maryland.

At June term, 1843, the Court of Appeals affirmed the decree of the County court, three judges sitting. One of them, Judge Martin, filed the following reasons, viz.:

"I think that George Winchester is to be considered, upon the facts exhibited in this record, as duly and legally appointed the permanent trustee of James Williams; that the sale by him of the shares in controversy to Robert Oliver, was fairly and bona fide made within the meaning of the Act of Assembly of 1841, ch. 309, and that that statute being, in my opinion, neither repugnant to the Constitution of the United States nor the Constitution of the State of Maryland, is to [be] regarded as a valid exercise of legislative power."

The other two judges, viz., Chief Justice Dorsey and Judge Spence, stated that the grounds upon which they affirmed the judgment were first, the reasons assigned by the majority of this Court for the reversal of the decree in Oliver's Executors v. Gill, and because, under the proceedings based on or originating from, the insolvent petition of James Williams and the act of assembly applicable thereto, Robert Oliver acquired a valid title to all the interest of said James Williams in the fund in controversy.

The reasons assigned by the majority of the Court for the reversal of the decree in Oliver's Executors v. Gill and which are adopted as above and made part of the reasons for the decision given in the present case of Williams v. Oliver's Executors were published in the report of the case of Gill v. Oliver's Executors, 11 How. 529. They are here repeated:

Page 53 U. S. 114

"The majority of this Court, who sat in the trial of this cause, and by which was decreed the reversal of the decree of the county court, at the instance of the solicitors of the appellees, briefly state the following as their reasons for such reversal: they are of opinion that the entire contract, upon which the claim of the appellees is founded, is so fraught with illegality and turpitude as to be utterly null and void, and conferring no rights or obligations upon any of the contracting parties, which can be sustained or countenanced by any court of law or equity in this state or of the United States. That it has no legal or moral obligation to support it, and that therefore, under the insolvent laws of Maryland, such a claim does not pass to or vest in the trustee of an insolvent petitioner. It forms no part of his property or estate, within the meaning of the legislative enactments constituting our insolvent system. It bears no analogy to the cases decided in Maryland and elsewhere of claims not recoverable in a court of justice, which nevertheless have been held to vest in the trustees of an insolvent or the assignees of a bankrupt. In the cases referred to, the claims, as concerned those asserting them, were, on their part, tainted by no principle of illegality or immorality; on the contrary, were sustained by every principle of national law and natural justice, and nothing was wanting to render them recuperable but a judicial tribunal competent to take cognizance thereof. Wholly dissimilar is the claim before us. Such is its character that it cannot be presented to a court of justice but by a disclosure of its impurities, and if anything is conclusively settled or ought to be so regarded, it is that a claim, thus imbued with illegality and corruption, will never be sanctioned or enforced by a court either of law or equity."

"Entertaining this view of the case, it is unnecessary to examine the various minor points which were raised in the argument before us."

These reasons, as has been before remarked, are made applicable to the present case of Williams v. Oliver's Executors.

Williams sued out a writ of error and brought his case up to this Court.

Page 53 U. S. 119

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