Williams v. Gibbes (58 U.S. 239)/Dissent Daniel

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United States Supreme Court

58 U.S. 239

Williams  v.  Gibbes

Mr. Justice DANIEL dissenting.

When, at a former term, these cases were brought before this court, in the name of Nathaniel Williams, trustee for the creditors of James Williams, an insolvent debtor, and for the same Nathaniel Williams, as trustee for the creditors of John Gooding, an insolvent debtor, the court, after argument and upon full consideration, dismissed them for the want of jurisdiction. The decision of the court then pronounced, commanded my entire concurrence. I still concur in that decision, and hold the reasons on which it was founded as wholly impregnable. Those reasons were specifically these: That the questions involved in the cases were purely questions arising upon the construction of the insolvent laws of Maryland; questions properly determinable, and which had been determined by the highest tribunal of that State; and such, therefore, as vested no jurisdiction in this court.

Such, then, being directly and explicitly the decision of this court, as will be seen in the report of its decision in 12 How. 111, 125, it becomes a matter for curious speculation to inquire by what view of the facts and the law of these cases, by what process of reasoning upon the same facts and the same law, this court have now arrived at a conclusion diametrically opposed to that which had been formerly reached by them. The parties in interest are essentially the same, varied only in name; it is the same insolvent law of Maryland which it is now, as it formerly was, undertaken to interpret; and it is the identical exposition of the identical court, formerly examined and sanctioned here, which this tribunal now assumes the right to reject and condemn.

Indeed, the field for discussion and criticism is now much more narrow than was that which existed when these cases were formerly before this court. At that time there were strenuously urged grounds for contestation, founded upon an alleged construction of the Mexican treaty, and of the acts of the commissioners under that treaty. At present, the claims of the appellants, and the impeachment by them of the decision of the state court, and of that of the circuit court of the United States, have been rested chiefly, if not exclusively, upon the fact, that the personal representatives of the insolvent assignors were not made parties to the suits brought for the distribution of the effects of the insolvents.

It cannot be correctly insisted on as a universal or necessary rule, that in suits by assignees the assignors from whom they derive title must be made parties. Cases may occur in which there may be a propriety of joining the assignors in such suits, but, without some apparent cause for such a proceeding, the rule and the practice are otherwise. Indeed, the calling into a controversy or litigation a person who can have no interest in such litigation, would be discountenanced by the courts, who would dismiss him from before them at the costs of the person who should have attempted such an irregularity. And it would seem that, if there could be a case in which such an attempt would be irregular, it would be that in which the person so made a party, had not, and could not have, any interest in the controversy; in other words, should be an insolvent, who had transferred upon record every possible interest he possessed in the matter in controversy. But suppose it be admitted as the general rule, that an assignee should, in the prosecution of an assigned interest, call in his assignor as a voucher, or for any other purpose, how will these cases be affected by such an admission?

The absence of the personal representatives of the insolvent assignors is the only circumstance imparting a shade or semblance of difference between the attitude of these cases as formerly brought before us, and that in which they are now presented. Of what importance, either now or formerly, could be the presence or absence of the personal representatives of these insolvents, it might puzzle OEdipus himself to divine. The rights or interests of the representative can never be broader than are those of the person represented; and as the persons represented in these cases are admitted on all sides, and are shown upon record, to have nothing, by reason of the transfer to their trustees of all that they had ever possessed, or to which they had any claim-and that, too, by a mode of transfer which declared the inadequacy of their all for the liquidation of their debts-it followed, that those who came forward under these insolvents, jure representationis, merely, could themselves be entitled to nothing, by representation, from their principals, nor claim any thing in opposition to the universal and absolute assignments to the trustees of those debtors.

Had these personal representatives of the insolvents been made parties to the suits for distribution, it is probable that they would have been regarded by the court as mere men of straw, used for the purpose of depriving the purchasers, for valuable consideration, from the trustees or assignees of the insolvent's interests, deemed, at the time of the sale by the trustees, precarious and contingent, but which the progress of events had subsequently rendered available.

But whatever may be admitted as the general rule applicable to suits by an assignee; however that rule may be supposed to require that in such suits the assignor, or his representative, should be a party, still, we are brought back to the true character of these cases, and of the rule of law peculiarly applicable to them, namely, that they are controversies depending upon the construction of the statutes of Maryland, which regulate the administration of the effects of insolvent debtors. That, in the construction of those statutes, it has been, by the supreme court of the State, decided, that in suits by the purchasers or assignees from the statutory trustees of insolvent debtors, the personal representatives of those insolvent debtors are not necessarily to be made parties, but that such suits may be prosecuted and decided without participation or interference on the part of such representatives; that in conformity with this construction of the statute of Maryland, by the supreme court of the State, the circuit court of the United States for the district of Maryland, and this court, in the cases herein mentioned, have concurrently ruled in direct opposition to the pretensions of the appellants now advanced.

Regarding the decision just pronounced as in conflict with all that has been heretofore ruled upon the subjects of this controversy, and as transcending the just authority of this court to reject the construction of the statute of Maryland proclaimed by the supreme court of that State, I am constrained to declare my dissent from the decision of this court, and my opinion that the decrees of the circuit court, in these cases, should be affirmed.

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).