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United States Supreme Court

76 U.S. 387

Bushnell  v.  Kennedy

ERROR to the Circuit Court for the District of Louisiana; the case being thus:

The 11th section of the Judiciary Act, a section which defines the original jurisdiction of the Circuit Courts, [1] enacts:

'That the Circuit Courts shall have original cognizance, concurrent with the courts of the several States, of all suits of a civil nature at common law or in equity, when the matter in dispute exceeds, exclusive of costs, the sum or value of $500, and the United States are plaintiffs or petitioners, . . . or the suit is between a citizen of the State where the suit is brought and a citizen of another State.'

But the section gives this original cognizance subject to two limitations, of which one runs thus:

'Nor shall any District or Circuit Court have cognizance of any suit to recover the contents of any promissory note or other chose in action in favor of an assignee, unless a suit might have been prosecuted in such court to recover the said contents if no assignment had been made, except in cases of foreign bills of exchange.'Having thus conferred and limited the original jurisdiction, the act in the 12th section provides:

'That if a suit be commenced in any State court against an alien, or by a citizen of the State in which the suit is brought against a citizen of another State, . . . and the defendant shall, at the time of entering his appearance in such State court, file a petition for the removal of the cause for trial into the next Circuit Court, . . . it shall then be the duty of the State court to accept the surety, and proceed no further in the cause, . . . and the cause shall then proceed in the same manner as if it had been brought by original process.' [2]

With these enactments in force, Kennedy & Co., merchants of New Orleans, brought suit against Bushnell, to recover from him the balance of ten thousand dollars, which had been intrusted or lent by them to Mills & Frisby, doing business at Baton Rouge, for the purchase of cotton, to be shipped to the firm in New Orleans. Bushnell borrowed the whole sum of Mills & Frisby under a promise to return it within six days; repaid, in fact, twenty-five hundred dollars, but failed to refund the balance. Thereupon, Mills & Frisby assigned all their claim to the debt of Bushnell to Kennedy & Co., who filed their petition against him in the Third District Court of New Orleans, and prayed a writ of attachment, which was issued accordingly.

Certain parties, resident in New Orleans, were made garnishees, and required to answer interrogatories touching the moneys, credits, or property of Bushnell in their hands, or under their control. These interrogatories were answered by the peremptory denial of the garnishees that they had in their hands, or under their control, anything belonging to Bushnell. Afterwards, a citation was issued against Bushnell, and served personally upon him, requiring an answer to the petition. Thereupon he appeared and filed a petition, averring that all the members of the firm of Kennedy & Co. were citizens of Louisiana, and that he was a citizen of Connecticut, and prayed that the suit against be removed into the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Louisiana. This petition was allowed, and the cause removed according to its prayer. But, by an order of the Circuit Court, the suit was remanded to the State District Court, and it was this order which was brought here for revision by the writ of error.

That Kennedy & Co., as assignees of Mills & Frisby, were entitled, under the laws of Louisiana, to sue in the State court upon the debt assigned to them, in their own names, was apparently conceded upon the argument at the bar. But it seemed to have been the opinion of the Circuit Court that they could not maintain a suit in that character in a court of the United States without averring in their petition that their assignors, Mills & Frisby, were citizens of another State than the defendant, entitled, if no assignment had been made, to maintain suit upon the debt against the defendant; the ground of this opinion, doubtless, having been the disability to sue in the National courts, imposed by the already quoted 11th section of the Judiciary Act upon the assignees of a chose in action, in cases of which those courts would not have jurisdiction if the suit were brought by the assignors.


Mr. Durant, in support of the order below:


A suit brought by original process in a Circuit Court of the United States, on a chose in action assigned to the plaintiff, must show on the face of the record that the action could be maintained under the jurisdiction of the court if no assignment had been made, [3] but the petition originally filed in the State court, and transferred to the United States Circuit Court, does not show on its face that the parties, Mills & Frisby, who assigned the claim sued on to Kennedy & Co., could have brought suit against Bushnell by original process in the Circuit Court. The Circuit Court was, therefore, on the face of the record, without jurisdiction.

The theory of the 11th section of the Judiciary Act of 1789 is, that the civic title or quality of citizenship pertaining to him who assigns a chose in action is transferred by the assignment to the assignee, and will disqualify the latter, however qualified otherwise he may be, from suing in the Circuit Court, if the former were himself disqualified; and if his quality be not affirmatively set forth, it is as if he were presumed to be disqualified, and the suit cannot be maintained; or, as an equivalent expression, the citizenship of the assignor of the chose in action must be alleged in the petition. This necessity goes into the 12th section, which expressly enacts that the cause, when transferred, shall 'proceed in the same manner as if it had been brought by original process.' Had this cause been brought by original process, confessedly it would have been dismissed.

Mr. Ashton, contra.

The CHIEF JUSTICE delivered the opinion of the court.

NotesEdit

^1  1 Stat. at Large, 78.

^2  1 Stat. at Large, 79.

^3  Turner v. Bank of North America, 4 Dallas, 8; Mollan v. Torrance, 9 Wheaton, 538.

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).