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United States Supreme Court

39 U.S. 141

Bank of Alexandria  v.  Dyer

This case arises upon an action of assumpsit, brought by the plaintiffs in error, against the defendants, in the Circuit Court of the United States, for Washington county, in the District of Columbia. The declaration contains the usual money counts, to which the defendants pleaded the statute of limitations. The plaintiffs replied, that they ought not to be precluded from having their action, because at the time of making the promise, they (the plaintiffs) 'were in the county of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia, beyond the seas;' and so in the county of Alexandria, beyond the seas, remained until the bringing of this action. To this replication, the defendants demurred. The plaintiffs joined in demurrer; and the Circuit Court gave judgment for the defendants.

The question presented by these pleadings, is the construction of that clause in the Maryland act of limitations, which exempts from the operation of the act all persons who are 'beyond the seas,' at the time cause of action accrues, and continues the exemption until they shall return. The words, 'beyond the seas,' in this law, are manifestly borrowed from the English statute of limitation of James I. ch. 21; and it has always been held, that they ought not to be interpreted according to their literal meaning, but ought to be construed as equivalent to the words, 'without the jurisdiction of the state.' According to this interpretation, a person residing in any other state of the Union was 'beyond the seas,' within the meaning of this act of assembly; and therefore, excepted from its operation until he should come within the limits of Maryland.

This statute is in force in Washington county, in this District, where the present action was brought; having been adopted for that county by the act of Congress of February 27th, 1801, together with the other laws of Maryland, as they then existed. And having been thus adopted, the Court will, of course, give to it the construction which it has uniformly received in the Courts of Maryland.

But the county of Alexandria, in this District, cannot be regarded as standing in the same relation to the county of Washington, that the states of this Union stand in relation to one another. When this act of limitation was passed, (1715, ch. 23,) no doubt a person in Alexandria was 'beyond the seas' in relation to Maryland, in the sense in which these words are used in the law in question. But it is equally certain, that if the county of Alexandria had afterwards been ceded to Maryland, and been incorporated with it, as a part of the same political body, the inhabitants of that county would no longer have been within the saving of this proviso; and the act of limitations would have operated directly upon them. The same principles must apply, when the county of Alexandria has become united with a portion of Maryland, in which this act of limitation is in force, and forms with such portion one political community, united under one government. Such is now the condition of the counties of Washington and Alexandria, which together constitute the territory of Columbia, and are united under one territorial government. They have been formed by the acts of Congress into one separate political community; and the two counties which compose it, resemble different counties in the same state, and do not stand towards one another in the relation of distinct and separate governments. The plaintiffs, therefore, were not 'beyond the seas,' in respect to the county of Washington; and the judgment of the Circuit Court must be affirmed.

This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Columbia, holden in and for the county of Washington, and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof, it is now here ordred and adjudged by this Court, that the judgment of the said Circuit Court, in this cause be, and the same is hereby affirmed, with costs.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).