Heirs of Emerson v. Hall
IN error from the Supreme Court of the eastern district of Louisiana.
In 1829, Charles H. Hall, residing in New York, presented a petition to the Court of Probates of the city and parish of New Orleans, stating that the estate of William Emerson, deceased, was indebted to him, in the sum of seventeen hundred dollars and upwards, with interest; and he prayed the Court, that Charles Byrne, the tutor and curator of the children of William Emerson, should be decreed to allow the debt, and to pay the same.
Mr. Byrne, as tutor and curator of the minor heirs of William Emerson, by his answer, denied that the estate of Emerson was in any wise indebted to the petitioner: and on the 8th of February, 1830, a decree was given in the Court of Probates against the estate of Emerson for the amount of the debt elaimed in the petition.
Afterwards a case was submitted to the Court of Probates by the petitioner, Charles H. Hall, and Charles Byrne, tutor and curator, &c. by which it appeared, that William Emerson died in the year 1828; previous to that time, he, as surveyor, B. Chew, as collector, and E. Lorrain, as naval officer of the port of New Orleans, had, at their sole expense, the brig Josepha Secunda condemned in the name of the United States, in the District Court of the United States, for the Louisiana district, for an infraction of the slave laws; they claimed title to the proceeds of this seizure, as the true and actual captors and seizors, who made the last and only effectual seizure, and prosecuted the same to a final decree of condemnation. The decree of the District Court allowed the claim; but the case having been brought up before the Supreme Court of the United States, that tribunal reversed the judgment, on the ground that Congress had made no provision for their compensation, and they were left, in common with those who made the military seizure, to the liberality of the government. Thereupon, the said collector, and surveyor, and naval officer, applied for relief to Congress, and obtained from that branch of the government, an act entitled 'An act for the relief of Beverly Chew, the heirs of William Emerson, deceased, and the heirs of Lorrain, deceased,' the same being duly approved on the 3d March, 1831; and in compliance with the provisions of said act, upon motion before the District Court, the moneys remaining in Court after the payment of costs were paid over to Beverly Chew, and to the legal representatives of both Emerson and Lorrain.
The question for the decision of the Court was, whether the money received by the minor children, as the legal representatives of William Emerson, by virtue of the act of Congress of the 3d of March, 1831, could be made liable for the payment of the debts of their father.
The judge of the Court of Probates decreed that the judgment rendered in favour of the petitioner, should be satisfied out of those moneys or any other assets belonging to the estate, in the hands of the curator, or in those of the heirs of the deceased.
Mr. Byrne, as curator and tutor, appealed from this decree, to the Supreme Court of Louisiana; by which Court, the decree of the Court of Probate was affirmed.
This appeal, under the 25th section of the judiciary act of 1789, was prosecuted on behalf of the heirs of William Emerson.
Coxe, for the appellants, contended that the money derived by the children of William Emerson, under the act of Congress of 3d March, 1831, were not assets for this payment of the debts of their father. They were a gratuity from the government of the United States; and made no part of the personal assets to which the curator of the estate was entitled. They were not a debt due by the United States to the naval officer. The whole proceeds of the Josepha Secunda, had, by the decree of the Supreme Court of the United States, been held to be the property of the United States. The act of Congress gave a portion of those proceeds to the officers of the customs; but this was a gift, and not the admission of a claim.
Mr. Justice M'LEAN delivered the opinion of the Court.