A citizen of one state getting letters of administration on the
estate of a decedent there, its citizen also, and afterwards
removing to another state, and becoming a citizen of it, may sue in
the circuit court of the first state, there being nothing in the
laws of that state forbidding an administrator to remove from the
A. W. Vanleer, a citizen of Tennessee, having died at Nashville,
letters of administration were granted by the proper authority
there to one Houston, on his estate. It seemed to be admitted by
counsel that at this time Houston was a citizen of Tennessee. But
he afterwards, it was equally admitted, was in Kentucky and
domiciled there. Thus domiciled, he brought two suits in the court
below, the Circuit Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, to
recover from Rice on certain notes given to his decedent, Vanleer.
In these suits, he described himself in his narr. as "a citizen of
the State of Kentucky and administrator of the estate of A. W.
Vanleer, deceased." The defendant craved oyer of the letters. This
disclosing that the letters were granted in Tennessee, the
defendant pleaded that
"by the said letters of administration it appears that the
administrator of the estate of the said A. W. Vanleer is the
creature of the law of Tennessee, and has no existence as such
outside of the State of Tennessee."
To this plea the plaintiff demurred, and the demurrer being held
good and judgment given for the plaintiff, the defendant brought
the case here. The point involved was of course the jurisdiction of
the circuit court.
Page 80 U. S. 67
MR. JUSTICE DAVIS delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question of jurisdiction is the only point in the case.
Although in controversies between citizens of different states,
it is the character of the real, and not that of the nominal,
parties to the record which determines the question of
jurisdiction, yet it has been repeatedly held by this Court that
suits can be maintained in the circuit court by executors or
administrators if they are citizens of a different state from the
party sued, on the ground that they are the real parties in
interest, and succeed to all the rights of the testator or
intestate by operation of law. And it makes no difference that the
testator or intestate was a citizen of the same state with the
defendants and could not, if alive, have sued in the federal
courts; nor is the status of the parties affected by the fact that
the creditors and legatees of the decedent are citizens of the same
state with the defendants. *
In this state of the law on this subject, it is not perceived on
what ground the right of Houston to maintain these suits can be
questioned. He was a citizen of Kentucky, had the legal interest in
the notes sued on, by virtue of the authority conferred on him by
the court in Tennessee, and, therefore, had a right to bring his
action in the federal or state courts at his option.
It is to be presumed, in the absence of an averment in
Page 80 U. S. 68
the pleadings to the contrary, that Houston, when appointed
administrator, was a citizen of Kentucky, and if so the appointment
was legal, for the laws of Tennessee do not forbid the probate
courts of that state to entrust a citizen of another state with the
duties of administering on the estate of a person domiciled at the
time of his death in Tennessee.
But if the fact be otherwise, as seems to be admitted in
argument, and Houston were a citizen of Tennessee at the time he
got his letters of administration, the liability of the defendants
to be sued in the federal courts remains the same, because there is
no statute of Tennessee requiring an administrator not to remove
from the state, and the general law of the land allows anyone to
change his citizenship at his pleasure. After he has in good faith
changed it, he has the privilege of going into the United States
courts for the collection of debts due him by citizens of other
states, whether he holds the debts in his own right or as
* Chappedelaine v.
4 Cranch 306, 8 U. S. 307
Browne v. Strode,
5 Cranch 303; Childress' Ex. v.
8 Wheat. 669; Osborn
v. Bank of the United States,
9 Wheat. 856;
McNutt v. Bland,
2 How. 9, 43 U. S. 15
14 Pet. 298; Huff v.
14 How. 586; Coal
Company v. Blatchford,
11 Wall. 172.