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United States Supreme Court

81 U.S. 238

Caperton  v.  Ballard

ERROR to the Supreme Court of Appeals of Western Virginia; the case being thus:

The Constitution of the United States ordains 'that full faith and credit shall be given in each State to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other State,' and also ordains that 'the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.'

Congress in execution of this power thus given to it, by act of May 26th, 1790, [*] passed a statute prescribing the mode in which 'the records and judicial proceedings of the courts of any State shall be authenticated, so as to take effect in every other State.' This statute enacts:

'That the records and judicial proceedings of the courts of any State shall be proved or admitted in any other court within the United States, by the attestation of the clerk and the seal of the court annexed, if there be a seal, together with a certificate of the judge, chief justice, or presiding magistrate, as the case may be, that the said attestation is in due form.'

The act then proceeds:

'And the said records and judicial proceedings, authenticated as aforesaid, shall have such faith and credit given to them in every court within the United States, as they have by law or usage in the courts of the State from whence the said records are or shall be taken.'

In this state of the law one William A. Ballard, as administrator of William Ballard, deceased, brought suit against a certain Caperton, in the State Circuit Court of Monroe County, West Virginia-a county prior to about the 20th of June, 1863, of Virginia, but after that date a county of West Virginia-for a tortious seizure, sale, and destruction of the property of the intestate. [**] The letters of administration were issued to the plaintiff by the Circuit Court of Monroe County, on the 25th of April, 1866, after the suppression of the rebellion. In bar of the suit the defendant pleaded that on the 16th of February, 1863, letters had been duly granted by the County Court of the same county, on the same estate, to one John C. Ballard, who properly qualified as administrator. To this it was replied that the letters were granted by a court in rebellion, and void.

On the trial the plaintiff produced evidence to show that he was regularly appointed administrator by the Monroe County Circuit Court, on the 25th of April, 1866. The defendant, on the other hand, in order to sustain his plea, offered in evidence an order from the County Court of the same county, dated February 16th, 1863, reciting that administration of the estate of William Ballard, deceased, is granted to John C. Ballard, who had made oath, &c., and 'that letters in due form are granted to him.' This order, so far as the record shows, was certified in no other manner than by the teste of the clerk, one Lewis Callaway. There was not even a seal attached to the certificate. The defendant then offered evidence that he had paid to this administrator the net proceeds of the alleged tortious seizure and sale of the decedent's property, and he requested the court to charge that if the administration of the plaintiff's intestate had been granted to John C. Ballard by the County Court, composed of justices who held their commission under the authority of the Commonwealth of Virginia issued to them in 1860, such appointment was sufficient to authorize him to act as such administrator, and that there could be no other appointment subsequent thereto until the original appointment was set aside by a court of competent jurisdiction. The court refused so to charge, but on the contrary charged that if on the 16th of February, 1863, when the appointment of John C. Ballard was made by the Monroe County Court, that court was in rebellion against the government of the United States, and was composed of justices who were then engaged in giving aid and comfort to the rebellion by levying supplies, &c., its proceedings were void, and that their appointment to John C. Ballard gave no authority, and that it was not necessary to set aside an invalid order of such a court in order to give effect to the plaintiff's appointment, which was made by a competent tribunal.

Judgment having been given against the defendant, he took the case to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, where the instruction was declared to have been proper and the judgment was affirmed.

The judgment was now brought here by the defendant, Caperton, on an assumption that he could properly bring it, on the case stated, under the 25th section of the Judiciary Act, quoted supra, pp. 5, 6.

Mr. J. Hubley Ashton (with whom was Mr. B. Stanton), having asked to have the writ of error dismissed for want of jurisdiction; Messrs. Conway Robinson, R. T. Merrick, and Simeon Nash, argued contra, and in support of the jurisdiction, that it existed under that clause of the Constitution which provides for giving effect in one State to the judicial proceedings of every other State, and that this constitutional provision had been disregarded, because the courts in West Virginia did not give proper effect to the letters granted in 1863 by the court of a county which at that time formed a part of Virginia, but which, when the subsequent letters were granted, and this suit was tried, had become incorporated into West Virginia. [***]

Mr. Justice DAVIS delivered the opinion of the court.


^*  1 Stat. at Large, 122.

^**  The defendant, in this case, was the same one as in the preceding case; and his acts were done, here as there, as provost marshal of the Confederate government. This case, accordingly, had certain points in common with the preceding case, but as those points had been already decided when the opinion in this one was given, the court only noticed now one point not presented by that case.

^***  See Virginia v. West Virginia, 11 Wallace, 39, for the dates connected with the formation of the new State of West Virginia.

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).