Vaughan v. Administrator of Moody

Vaughan v. Administrator of Moody by Joseph Story
Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

40 U.S. 1

Vaughan  v.  Administrator of Moody

APPEAL from the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, and county of Washington. A bill was filed on the equity side of the circuit court of the district of Columbia, stating, that the complainants were the next of kin and distributees of James Moody, deceased, who resided in Kentucky, at the time of his death: that the defendant, Northup, took out letters of administration on the estate of said Moody, in the proper court in Kentucky, and by virtue of said letters, claimed and received from the government of the United States, a large sum of money, to wit, $5200. The bill further stated, that the complainants resided in Virginia; that Northup was in the district of Columbia, at the time of filing the bill (and Northup was actually found in the district, as appeared by the marshal's return of the subpoena), and that the other defendants resided in Kentucky, and pretendecd to be the next of kin and distributees of said Moody. The bill prayed an account of said estate against said Northup, and distribution of the assets received from the United States, & c.

Northup answered, and pleaded to the jurisdiction of the court, on the ground, that he was only responsible to the court in Kentucky, in which he had obtained letters of administration: he then went on and answered the bill at large, denying all its material allegations. The other defendants also came in and answered the bill. The complainants ordered the plea of Northup, to the jurisdiction of the court, to be set down for argument, and upon the argument, the court below ordered the bill of complaint to be dismissed. The complainants appealed to the supreme court.

The case was argued by Brent, for the appellants; and by Coxe, for the appellee.

Brent stated, that the question was, whether a foreign administrator, one who had taken out letters of administration in another state, can come into the district of Columbia, and receive money in the district, and was not answerable for the amount so received, in the district. The appellee, Henry Northup, was in the district when the suit was brought.

It is admitted, that at common law, an administrator is only liable to account where the administration is granted. But this rule should not be applied to cases in the district of Columbia. There would be a peculiar hardship in the rule, if it is applied here. A small amount of security might be taken on the granting letters of administration; and on those letters, a large amount of assets might be received, out of the state granting the same. The creditors and next of kin would have no relief against the sureties of such an administrator.

An act of congress of the 24th of June 1812 authorizes administrators from other states of the Union, to collect money and institute suits in the district of Columbia. This places the foreign administrator on the same footing as if letters had been granted to him in the district of Columbia, and places him under the same responsibilities. The court is bound to take notice of foreign administrators coming into the district. Kane v. Paul, 14 Pet. 33. Thus, no administration to the effects of Moody could be obtained in this district, after the granting of the letters to Northup in Kentucky; but the funds were all received here by the administrator; and the court will administer the assets, at the place where they have been received, and at the place of suit. 11 Mass. 264. A legatee can sue the administrator, where he obtains the assets. 4 Mass. 344; 3 Pet. 144. Story's Conflict of Laws (1st ed.) 425, declares, that non-resident claimants are to be regarded in the same manner as residents. Cited, 1 Mason 381; 1 Story's Conflict of Laws, § 534, 531, 588.

The act of congress of 1821 gives jurisdiction to the courts of the district of Columbia, in all cases in law or equity, where both or either of the parties are residents within the district of Columbia. The probate courts of Kentucky have not exclusive jurisdiction over the distribution of assets. 1 A. K. Marsh. 459. As to the pleadings, cited, Livingston v. Story, 11 Pet. 393; Mitf. Plead. 305, 309.

Coxe, for the appellees.-In the case of Livingston v. Story, there was a plea to the disability of the plaintiff. The objection in this case is to the jurisdiction of the circuit court of the district of Columbia, in the matter of this administrator, and the distribution of the assets, which must be made, as a great portion of them has already been made, in the state of Kentucky.

The act of congress of 1812 does no more than authorize administrators of other states to sue in the district of Columbia; this was necessary, in consequence of the large claims in the district, from every part of the Union. The act goes no further than this; and not to abrogate all the laws prevailing on the subject. The law never intended to oblige a foreign administrator to stand a suit here; it would be vastly injurious, if such should be the law. The act giving jurisdiction to the courts of the United States, in the district of Columbia, cannot receive the construction given to it by the counsel for the appellants; the jurisdiction is given in cases properly cognisable in the courts, when one of the parties is in the district. Cited, Story's Conflict of Laws, § 422, 513, 515. The argument for the appellants is, that as the money was received in the district of Columbia, it is to be distributed and administered according to the laws of the district. It is important, that this question shall be settled. This was a claim, in the hands of administrator in Kentucky, of a debt due to a citizen of Virginia, by the state of Virginia, for military services, for which the United States had agreed to pay. Is this to bring the fund, because it was received in the district, subject to the laws of the district?

STORY, Justice, 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).