Ingersoll v. Coram

Ingersoll v. Coram by Joseph McKenna
Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

211 U.S. 335

Ingersoll  v.  Coram

 Argued: March 11, 12, 1908. --- Decided: December 7, 1908

The petitioner, as administratrix of the estate of Robert G. Ingersoll, deceased, sued the respondents and certain other persons, in the circuit court of the United States for the district of Massachusetts, to subject certain interests in the estate of Andrew J. Davis to a lien which is alleged to have accrued to her intestate by the agreement which is set out in the opinion, and by the laws of Montana, in which state the services were rendered.

Andrew J. Davis, a man of great wealth, a citizen of Montana, died, leaving property in that state and in Massachusetts. By a will, which was offered for probate in Montana, all of his property was left to his brother, John A. Davis. Certain other of his next of kin, five in number (referred to in the bill as the 'five heirs'), associated to contest the probate of the will. Henry A. Root, one of the respondents, and a nephew of Andrew J. Davis, agreed with the four other contestants to conduct the litigation and to procure evidence and counsel at his own expense, receiving therefor an assignment of a part of the prospective distributive shares of the others. Joseph H. Coram, another respondent, also acquired an interest in the prospective shares of some of the contestants. Robert G. Ingersoll, the petitioner's intestate, was engaged as counsel to conduct the litigation, and Root and Coram entered into the agreement with him, which will hereafter be set out.

Upon the trial of the contest the jury disagreed. Pending the preparation for the second trial an agreement of compromise was made, by which Ingersoll's clients received a larger portion of the estate than though Davis had died intestate. It is alleged that this was the result of Ingersoll's services as counsel. 'By reason,' it is alleged, 'and in consideration of the prosecution of said contests, and the force, effect, and stress thereof, as against the proponent of such alleged will, in preventing the admission thereof to probate, and in consideration of the determination of said controversy and litigation, and for no other consideration or reason,' was the compromise effected. It is hence further alleged that the 'will was defeated in so far as it could affect the rights, shares, or interest in and to said estate of said five heirs mentioned in said agreement and promise made and delivered by said Root and Coram to said Robert G. Ingersoll, for as much as they were entitled to only 350 eleven hundredths of said estate as such heirs at law of Andrew J. Davis, deceased, and got absolute right and title to 515 1/2 eleven hundredths thereof, through the prosecution of said contests and decree determining the same.' Two hundred and fifty eleven hundredths, it is alleged, were allotted directly to said five heirs and 265 1/2 eleven hundredths, for their use and benefit, to Charles H. Palmer (a respondent here) and Andrew J. Davis, Jr., trustees. A copy of the decree was annexed to the bill and made part of it. And it is alleged that, by reason of said agreement and the fulfilment thereof and the 'provisions of the laws and statutes of Montana,' which are set out, an attorney's lien accrued in favor of said Ingersoll and his legal representatives, 'and is existing and is in force and effect upon the portions, parcels, and interests of, in, and to the funds and other property of said Andrew J. Davis, deceased, so acquired for said five heirs.' That Root and Coram have conveyed away the real estate vested in them by the decree determining the said will contests, and that the distributions under said decree 'have practically exhausted the funds and property of said estate in the state of Montana, and that, by reason of the employment of Ingersoll and the services rendered by him, and by the promises of payment, an equitable lien exists on the funds and effects acquired by said heirs, situate in Boston, Massachusetts,' and that such funds and effects should not be distributed or carried away 'in default of payments of said indebtedness owing by Root and Coram to the estate and legal representatives of Robert G. Ingersoll, deceased, but that said funds and effects situate in Boston, Massachusetts, should be and remain subject to said indebtedness, and to be resorted to for the payment thereof.'

It is alleged that John H. Leyson is the duly appointed, equalified, and acting administrator of the estate of Andrew J. Davis, deceased, situate in Massachusetts, and has custody of the funds and effect acquired by Root and his associates, and upon which the said lien exists in favor of the estate and legal representatives of Ingersoll, and that, if such funds and effects should be distributed, the lien will be defeated.

The death of Ingersoll in the state of New Yrok is alleged, and the appointment of Eva A. Ingersoll, administratrix, by the surrogate's court of the county of Westchester, of that state, and her qualification. And it is alleged that she was subsequently appointed administratrix of his estate by the probate court of the county of Suffolk, commonwealth of Massachusetts, situate in that commonwealth, and that she duly qualified as such. It is alleged that the estate of Andrew J. Davis, situate in Boston, and in the hands of said John H. Leyson as administrator, consists of money, convertible stocks and bonds of the value of $450,000, after paying expenses of administration, of which funds and effects Coram and other parties for whom Ingersoll prosecuted said will contest are entitled, by virtue of the decree of the district court of the state of Montana, directly and through Charles H. Palmer and Andrew J. Davis, Jr., to 515 1/5 eleven hundredths, 'acquired as part of the fruits of the labors of said Robert G. Ingersoll in the prosecution of said will contests.' That Root, Coram, and their associates have petitioned the probate court of Suffolk county to order distribution of said shares of said funds and effects to them. That all of said 515 1/2 eleven hundredths, except the interest owned by Sarah Maria Cummings and the interest owned by Ellen S.C.ornue, are subject to the lien of Ingersoll. It is alleged that the interests of Elizabeth S. Ladd and Mary L. Dunbar have been transferred to Root and Coram.

A conspiracy and purpose of Coram and Root to defeat the lien of Ingersoll are alleged, and that distribution of the estate in Massachusetts is sought as a means thereto; further, that if the funds and effects be removed from Massachusetts or distributed to Root and Coram before the representatives of said Ingersoll have an opportunity to enforce their lien, the same will be placed beyond their reach and the payment of the indebtedness secured thereby defeated; that the funds and effects remaining in Montana will be required and used to pay indebtedness and expenses of administration there; and that Root and Coram have no tangible property other than their shares and interest in the estate of Davis.

It is further alleged that petitioner brought suit in the district court of the state of Montana in her name, as administratrix of Robert G. Ingersoll, to enforce payment of said claim existing in favor of the estate and legal representatives of Ingersoll. That Root and the other defendants therein appeared and demurred to the complaint on the ground that the same did not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action, but did not specify or raise the objection that she was not qualified to prosecute said suit, although she alleged her appointment as administratrix by the surrogate's court of New York. That, upon her urging the pendecy of said suit against the petition for distribution filed by Root and Coram and their associates, it was objected that said suit had not been brought by an administrator of Ingersoll appointed in Montana. The court sustained the objection. That thereupon John S. Harris was appointed administrator in Montana, and substituted in said suit for petitioner. The cause coming on to be heard in the district court of Montana, Root objected to the introduction of any evidence, on the ground that the complaint therein did not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action. The motion was sustained, and, without further proceedings, the court granted a nonsuit and dismissed the complaint on the alleged ground that it did not state facts fufficient to constitute a cause of action; in consequence no trial thereof has been had, nor has the claim and lien of Ingersoll even been adjudicated, nor is it barred by any statute of limitation.

The bill prays an injunction against Leyson to restrain him from delivering, and against respondents to restrain them from receiving, said funds and effects, and for the appointment of a receiver, discovery of Coram's interest, and judgment for the same, and that it be declared a lien on such interest. Judgment is prayed against Root for $95,000, with interest, and that the sum be declared a lien on his shares and interests. What else is prayed need not be noticed.

There were demurrers to the bill that went to the parties, the jurisdiction of the court, to the merits, and that the judgment of the district court of Montana constituted a bar. The grounds of demurrer to jurisdiction were expressed in the demurrer filed by Root and Coram and Herbert P. Cummings, executor of the last will and testament of Sarah Maria Cummings, one of the five heirs, as follows:

'2. These defendants also demur to the bill of complaint upon the further ground that this court has not jurisdiction of this action, because it appears from the said bill that this action is brought to secure from this court a writ of injunction staying proceedings now pending in the probate court in and for the county of Suffolk and commonwealth of Massachusetts, to distribute the funds and effects of the estate of Andrew J. Davis, deceased, situate in the state of Massachusetts, among the persons entitled thereto, or to otherwise dispose of said funds and effects, and this court is forbidden by § 720 of the United States Revised Statutes (U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, p. 581) from granting a writ of injunction to stay proceedings in any court of a state.'

The demurrer of Leyson was more general, stating that the court 'had no jurisdiction to grant the relief prayed for in the bill of complaint or any part thereof.' And Andrew J. Davis particularized this by the specification that to enjoin the disposition of property in the hands of Leyson as administrator 'would be an interference with the proceedings of the probate court of Suffolk county, having jurisdiction of the matter, and would be unauthorized and illegal.'

The demurrers were overruled except as against certain parties, and except so far as the bill claimed a statutory lien. The court said: 'No statutory lien can be maintained, and that portion of the bill must be regarded as ineffectual; and, as it is specially demurred to, it must be stricken out.' 127 Fed. 418. The bill was amended in compliance with the order of the court, making Charles H. Ladd, individually and as administrator of the estate of Elizabeth S. Ladd, a party. The bill, however, was subsequently ordered to be dismissed as to him, Mary Louise Dunbar (one of the five heirs), and Herbert R. Cummings, executor. 132 Fed. 168. They seem, however, to have been regarded as parties until the final disposition of the case, for they joined Coram, Root, and Palmer in an answer. Leyson filed a separate answer. In the answers some of the allegations of the bill were denied and others admitted. The answers also pleaded in bar of the suit the proceedings and judgment in the action brought in the district court of Butte county, state of Montana. Proofs were taken, the allegations of the bill were found to be true, and a decree entered for petitioner. 136 Fed. 689. Root, Coram, and Palmer took an appeal to the circuit court of appeals, the other respondents declining to join them, which court reversed the decision by a divided court. 78 C. C. A. 303, 148 Fed. 169. This certiorari was then granted.

Messrs. Hannis Taylor, E. N. Harwood, Hollis R. Bailey, and John H. Hazelton for petitioner.

[Argument of counsel from pages 342-348 intentionally omitted]

Messrs. Louis D. Brandeis and William H. Dunbar for respondents.

[Argument of counsel from Pages 348-354 intentionally omitted]

Statement by Mr. Justice McKenna:

Mr. Justice McKenna, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the court:


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).