De St. Colombe v. United States/Opinion of the Court
APPEAL from the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The case was argued by Livingston, in a printed argument, for the appellants; and by Taney, Attorney-General, for the United States.
MARSHALL, Ch. J., delivered the opinion of the court.
The United States had obtained judgment against P. F. Dubourg de St. Colombe, in his lifetime, for a large sum of money. This judgment was revived after his death; or, in the law language of Louisiana, declared executory; and the property of which he died possessed, ordered to be seized and sold to satisfy the demand of the United States. The heirs of P. F. Dubourg de St. Colombe filed their bill, praying an injunction to stay proceedings at law on this judgment.
The bill alleges, that the estate of their parents was held in common, at the death of their mother, and that the moiety belonging to their mother descended, at her death, on them, and was not liable for debts afterwards contracted by their father. It also alleges, that they were infants, and that their father took possession of their estate, which he had wasted to an amount exceeding his effects in their hands. The law of Louisiana, they say, gave them a lien, at the death of their mother, on all the estate of their father, to the extent of this waste, exempt from the claim of any subsequent creditor.
Several witnesses were examined, and several documents filed to prove the amount of the estate, at the death of their mother. The accounts are complex and intricate. The judge examined them, and being of opinion, that the estate was insolvent at the death of the mother, dissolved the injunction and decreed costs. This has been understood to be a final decree, and to be equivalent to dismissing the bill; the plaintiffs appealed to this court.
We are of opinion, that a complex and intricate account is an unfit subject for examination in court, and ought always to be referred to a commissioner, to be examined by him and reported, in order to a final decree. To such report, the parties may take any exceptions; and thus bring any question they may think proper before the court. The decree, therefore, is reversed, and the cause remanded to the court of the United States for the eastern district of Louisiana, with directions to refer the account to a commissioner, with instructions to settle and report the amount of the estate, at the death of the wife, in order to a final decree; and to state such matters specially as he may think necessary, or as either party may require.