Where a suit was brought in the United States court by citizens
of another state against a citizen of Mississippi, who appeared to
the suit, pleaded and then died, after which the suit was revived
against his administrators, and judgment obtained against them, the
following proceedings of the probate court afford no bar to the
recovery of the claim:
1. A declaration by the probate court that the estate was
insolvent, and a reference of the matter to a commissioner in
2. A publication notifying the creditors of the estate to appear
and file their claims, or be forever barred of their demands.
3. A report by the commissioner leaving out the claim in
question, which report was confirmed by the court.
Page 59 U. S. 504
Where the estate turned out not to be insolvent, but a fund
remained in hand for distributees, the creditors can recover by a
bill in chancery against the administrators notwithstanding the
proceedings in the probate court.
The law of a state limiting the remedies of its citizens in its
own courts cannot be applied to prevent the citizens of other
states from suing in the courts of the United States in that state
for the recovery of any property or money there to which they may
be legally or equitably entitled.
The facts of the case are stated in the opinion of the
MR. JUSTICE WAYNE delivered the opinion of the Court.
The appellants filed a bill in December on the equity side of
the district court against the appellees.
The bill charges that in November, 1846, the bank instituted a
suit on the law side of the same district court against William
Jolly, as endorser of a bill of exchange held by plaintiffs. Jolly
appeared to the suit and filed his plea. He died in March, 1847,
and appellees were appointed his administrators by the Panola Court
of Probate in Mississippi. The suit against Jolly was revived
against his administrators, the appellees, and in June, 1851, the
same came on for trial on the issue joined on the single plea of
and a judgment was rendered in favor of
plaintiff for $5,041.33 with costs. Upon this judgment execution
was issued, which was returned by the marshal nulla bona.
The judgment remains wholly unpaid, and there is no visible
property in the hands of the administrators upon which a levy could
The bill proceeds to charge that pending the said suit against
the administrators in April, 1848, they represented to the said
Probate Court of Panola County that the estate of their intestate
was insolvent, and procured a declaration to be made by said court
to that effect, whereas the bill charges that said estate was not
and is not insolvent, and that the assets in the hands of the
administrators are more than sufficient to pay all the liabilities
of the estate. That the administrators have converted the assets
into cash to the amount of upwards of $20,000, and have fully paid
all the debts of intestate, with the single exception of that due
to complainant. The debts they have paid amount to about $11,000,
and the administrators have upwards of $9,000 in cash or available
assets belonging to the estate, which is not required for the
payment of any other debt, but refuse to apply any part thereof to
the payment of complainant's
Page 59 U. S. 505
debt, and will shortly pay the same over to the heirs at law of
Jolly unless prevented by the interposition of the Court.
The defendants pretend that complainants have no right to
require payment of their judgment out of said assets because they
have not established the claims upon which the judgment is founded
before the Probate Court of Panola County, and had the same allowed
by said court, but complainants are advised and insist that such
allowance by said probate court is not necessary.
Sundry special interrogatories are appended to the bill.
In June, 1852, defendants filed their answer. The principal
averments in the bill are admitted -- it is admitted that they have
received assets to the amount of $20,000; that they have paid all
the debts which have been legally established against the estate to
the amount of more than $13,000, and have in their hands assets to
the value of $6,500, and that if complainant's claim is disallowed,
the estate will be worth to the heirs about $6,000. They are
advised that complainant's judgment is barred, and if they were to
pay it, they would pay it in their own wrong.
They deny that they did illegally or fraudulently procure the
estate to be declared insolvent. When they took charge of the
estate as administrators, it was appraised at $18,090.76 1/2, and
debts or claims against it were brought to the notice of
respondents $18,597.40. Respondents, looking to probable results,
believed it might prove and would probably prove insolvent; under
these circumstances, they procured the declaration. The clerk was
appointed commissioner of insolvency, and publication was made for
the period of twelve months, warning all creditors of Jolly to
present their claims to the commissioner for allowance. In April,
1849, the commissioner made his report, and an order was passed
requiring all persons interested to appear and except to the report
at July term, 1849 -- at July term, respondents alone excepted to
the report, they excepted to two claims which had been allowed, one
of these claims was allowed, the other disallowed, and in October
term, 1849, the report was approved and confirmed -- p. 8.
Respondents append a transcript to these proceedings, and rely upon
the same as a bar to complainant's claim.
To the answer of the defendants a general replication was filed,
and on the hearing of the cause the court decreed a dismissal of
the complainant's bill.
In the argument of the case in this Court, the counsel of the
defendants urged the following grounds against the right of the
complainants to recover:
"If the complainant's demand is not barred by their failure
Page 59 U. S. 506
present it in the probate court, their remedy is at law, and not
in equity. The defendants admit that they have $6,000 in their
hands, belonging to the estate of their intestate. If they are
bound to pay this to the complainants, and refuse to do so, they
are guilty of a devastavit,
and are liable to an action on
their bond. In their answer, they expressly deny that complainant
the bank has made out a cause entitling it to relief in the
premises and that this Court has jurisdiction thereof."
"But the complainants are entitled to no relief, either in
equity or at law."
"The defendants cannot be prejudiced by suffering judgment to go
against them on the plea of non assumpsit.
Code, 657, § 57. Hemphill v. Fortner,
11 Sm. & Mar.
"The decrees of probate courts, in case of estates reported
insolvent, cannot be questioned or set aside unless by a regular
appeal taken or on account of fraud. Hutchison's Code, 667, 668,
673, 683, 684. Chewning v. Peck,
6 How.Mi. 524. Smith
1 Sm. & Mar. 321. Addison v. Eldridge,
510. Herrings v. Wellons,
354. Dalgren v. Duncan,
"Insolvency may be declared when the debts appear to be greater
than the probable value of all the real and personal property. The
court has a discretion, which, when exercised, is conclusive unless
a direct appeal be taken. Saunder's Adm'r v. Planter's
2 Sm. & Mar. 304."
"As to the responsibility of an administrator who pays debts,
when the estate subsequently becomes insolvent, see Woodward v.
11 Sm. & Mar. 304. Bramblet v. Webb,
"Creditors whose claims have not been presented to the
commissioner are forever barred, even when the estate proves not to
be insolvent. Allen & Apperson v. Keith & Vaiden,
26 Miss. 232. Anderson v. Tindall,
26 Miss. 332."
"The creditor must present his claim to the commissioner of
insolvency, though he have a suit pending against the
administrator. Trezevant v. McQueen,
13 Sm. & Mar.
"And when a commission of insolvency has been regularly opened
and closed, it will not be reopened, even at the instance of a
judgment creditor, whose judgment bears date since the closing of
the commission. Harrison v. Motz,
5 Sm. & Mar.
"The foregoing authorities must be deemed conclusive against the
appellants unless the rendition of a judgment by a federal court
can be held to take away from the probate courts their exclusive
jurisdiction in the administration of the assets of deceased
insolvents. But there can be no doubt that the
Page 59 U. S. 507
laws of the state, from which the executor or administrator
derives his authority to act, must prevail, as well in the federal
as in the state tribunals. Citizens of other states possibly cannot
be prevented from suing in the federal courts in order to establish
their demands; yet the effect of the judgment, its lien, or other
operation upon the assets of the deceased must be absolutely
controlled by the local law; otherwise the conflict of
jurisdictions would be irreconcilable and disastrous. And such, it
is believed, is the well established doctrine of this and all other
courts. Story's Conflict of laws 3d ed. § 521. Williams v.
8 How. 107. McGill v.
11 How. 142."
But we do not deem it necessary to discuss them in detail, for
the law of a state limiting the remedies of its citizens in its own
courts cannot be applied to prevent the citizens of other states
from suing in the courts of the United States in that state for the
recovery of any property or money there to which they may be
legally or equitably entitled. This principle was fully discussed
and decided by this Court in the case of Suydam v.
14 Pet. 67. We refer to the reasoning in
support of it given in that case without repeating it or thinking
it necessary to add anything on this occasion. It concludes this
And it is our opinion under the circumstances and the testimony
in this case that the surplus in the hands of the defendants must
be applied to the payment of the judgment of the complainant in
preference to any claim which has been asserted to it for the heirs
at law or distributees of the intestate, Jolly.
We reverse the decree of the court below and shall remand
the case with directions to that court for further proceedings in
conformity with this opinion.