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United States Supreme Court

70 U.S. 334

Buck  v.  Colbath

COLBATH sued Buck in one of the State courts of Minnesota, in an action of trespass for taking goods. Buck pleaded in defence, that he was marshal of the United States for the District of Minnesota, and that having in his hands a writ of attachment against certain parties whom he named, he levied the same upon the goods, for taking which he was now sued by Colbath. But he did not aver that they were the goods of the defendants in the writ of attachment.

On the trial Colbath made proof of his ownership of the goods, and Buck relied solely on the fact that he was marshal and held the goods under the writ in the attachment suit.

The court refused to instruct the jury that the defence thus set up was a sufficient one; and the plaintiff had a verdict and judgment. This judgment was affirmed on error in the Supreme Court of Minnesota, and the defendant brought the case here under the 25th section of the Judiciary Act; an act which, as most readers will remember, provides that a final judgment in any suit in the highest court of a State where is drawn in question 'the validity of an authority exercised under the United States, and the decision is against its validity,' may be reviewed in this court.

Mr. Peckham, for the marshal, plaintiff in error, contended that the question whether the fact of his office, set up by the marshal, was or was not a sufficient defence to the suit brought against him, had been settled in the affirmative by the case of Freeman v. Howe in this court. [1] In that case White sued a railway company in the Federal court and the marshal attached a number of rail-cars: seizing and taking them into his own possession. While thus in his custody, the sheriff, under process from one of the State courts, sought to take them out of his possession under a writ of replevin. The marshal, in the replevin suit, set up by way of defence the authority under the Federal court by which he held the property; in other words, that he held it as marshal of the United States. And this court held that a sufficient defence.

If the present action were replevin instead of trespass it cannot be doubted that the plaintiff below would fail. The fact that the suit is one of trespass makes no difference. The thing has nothing to do with forms of action. The court, we may almost say, so declared in Freeman v. Howe. Quoting a former case in this court, [2] and declaring specifically that they agree to it, they say:

'It is a doctrine of law too long established to require citation of authorities, that where a court has jurisdiction it has a right to settle every question which occurs in the case . . . and that where the jurisdiction of a court and the right of a plaintiff to prosecute his suit in it have once attached, that right cannot be arrested or taken away by proceedings in another court.'

Now, this question whether the property which the marshal seized, was or was not liable to the attachment, does occur 'in the case.' It springs immediately out of it. A suit against him in a State court for a trespass in taking the property does, moreover, in effect 'arrest'-for it obstructs and hinders-the proceedings in the Federal court. It subjects the marshal and those under whose directions he acts to the annoyance of a multiplicity of actions in various jurisdictions for things springing out of the same 'question.'

Independently of which, trespass and replevin are universally concurrent remedies for taking goods as these have been taken. To hold that this action was properly brought and not overrule Freeman v. Howe, would be to hold that the marshal had the right to take these goods and was yet liable for a trespass; was bound to hold them, and yet should suffer for the detention.

The principles, we suppose, upon which Freeman v. Howe went were these:

1. That where the officers of a court, State or national, have taken possession of a res, under process of attachment or execution, as the property of the defendant in such process, such res is in the custody of the law, and the possession of such officers or court is exclusive.

2. That the question, whether such res, so seized as the property of the defendant in the process, is rightfully seized by the marshal as the property of the defendant in the process, or otherwise subject to the exigency of the writ, is one of jurisdiction, the authority to decide which belongs exclusively to the court issuing the process; or, in the language of this court, the 'question is one of right and title to the property under the Federal process, and which belongs to the Federal, not the State courts to determine.'

There was nothing new in these principles. Hogan v. Lucas, [3] and Taylor v. Caryl, [4] asserted the first; and other cases [5] assert in effect the second.

The last principle was thus stated by Marshall, C. J., in Slocum v. Mayberry:


^1  24 Howard, 450.

^2  Peck v. Jenniss, 7 Howard, 624.

^3  10 Peters, 400.

^4  20 Howard, 583.

^5  Slocum v. Mayberry, 2 Wheaton, 1; and Peck v. Jenniss, 7 Howard 624.

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).