Lewis v. Cocks by Noah Haynes Swayne
Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

90 U.S. 466

Lewis  v.  Cocks

APPEAL from the Circuit Court for Louisiana.

In March, 1863, Anderson, alleging himself to be a creditor to the extent of $8840 of one Cocks, filed a petition in the 'Provisional Court of New Orleans'-a court established by proclamation of President Lincoln during the rebellion (while New Orleans was occupied by the troops of the United States), and of which a full account is given in preceding cases [1]-that Cocks, then absent from the State, and a certain Hyllested, who the petition alleged was the proper agent of Cocks in the matter of a proceeding like the one embraced by the petition, might be cited to appear, and after proceedings had, be condemned to pay the amount for which Anderson, as already said, alleged himself to be a creditor.

The Provisional Court gave judgment by default for Anderson, and execution having issued, two houses and lots, the property of Cocks, were sold to a certain Izard, to whom possession, which he still had, was delivered by the marshal of the court.

Hereupon-Anderson having died and administration having been granted on his estate-the rebellion also being ended and the regular courts of the United States re-established-Cocks filed, A.D. 1866, a bill in equity in the court below against Izard, praying that the defendant might be decreed to execute in favor of the complainant a deed for the property on receiving the price paid by the defendant for the same.

The relief was prayed for on the grounds—

1. That the Provisional Court was a nullity and its judgment against Cocks void.

2. That no service of process had been made upon Cocks; that no sufficient service had been made upon Hyllested, the agent of Cocks, and that Hyllested was not such an agent as that valid service could be made upon him.

3. That Izard was guilty of a gross fraud touching the sale of the property by the marshal; that he professed to be the friend of Cocks, and to intend to buy in the property for him; that he thus deterred others from bidding and himself bought the property at a sacrifice; that subsequently he acknowledged to Cocks his fiduciary relation to the property, and expressed a willingness to surrender it, but that finally his cupidity got the better of his integrity, and impelled him to deny that Cocks had any right whatever to the property, and that he now claimed it as his own.

The bill tendered back the purchase-money paid to Izard with interest.

Izard answered and denied all the material allegations of the bill. He also set up that he had mortgaged the property to Lewis; that it had been seized and sold under that mortgage; that Lewis became the purchaser, and that his, Izard's, entire title had thus become divested out of him and vested in Lewis.

Lewis also answered, setting up the same facts as to his title as had been stated by Cocks, and making the same denials as to the averments of the bill. He was accordingly substituted as defendant.

On the hearing, the great weight of evidence appeared to show that the fraud alleged against Izard had not been committed by him.

The Circuit Court, however, decreed in favor of the complainant, and Lewis took this appeal.

Mr. P. Phillips, for the appellant, after observing that the question as to the constitutionality of the Provisional Court was not longer open, contended that the case was nothing more in fact than a claim by a man out of possession (the complainant) for real estate of which another man (the defendant) was in possession; that to establish such a claim ejectment (which this proceeding was not) was the proper remedy, and a bill in equity (which this proceeding was) an improper one. That even if proper service had been made the bill was demurrable, and that therefore the question of service was of no importance. It might be admitted to have been well made, still the bill should have been dismissed.

Mr. Conway Robinson, contra, submitted that if fraud were disproved, a question of account growing out of the matter of purchase-money was still involved-in addition to the demand for the land-making equitable relief the most convenient and complete relief; that, at all events, the objection not having been profited of by demurrer or other proper pleading, could not now be taken advantage of. He also went into a quotation and examination of the Code of Louisiana to show the insufficiency of the service.

Mr. Justice SWAYNE delivered the opinion of the court.

Notes Edit

  1. The Grapeshot, 9 Wallace, 129; Handlin v. Wickliffe, 12 Id. 173; Pennewet v. Eaton, 15 Id. 382; Mechanics', &c., Bank v. Union Bank, 21 Id. 278.

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).

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