Burgess v. Gray. 16 H.


his decision; nor to confirm a title which he had rejected. power, by the act of 1807, was expressly reserved to congress itself; and has not been committed even to the judicial tribunals of the general government. The decision of the recorder against him is final, unless reversed by act of congress; and the petitioner can make no title under the United States, by virtue of the provisions in that act.

It is, however, insisted that if it was not confirmed by the act of 1807, it was made valid by the act of 1814. And this confirmation is claimed under the first section, which confirms all claims where it appears by the report of the recorder that it was rejected merely because the land was not inhabited by the claimant on the 20th of December, 1803.

But it is very clear that this act does not embrace it. The report of the recorder does not place its rejection merely on that ground. On the contrary, it would seem to place it upon the want of proof of continued residence upon the land for ten consecutive years; and upon none other.

It may, indeed, have happened that the son of John Jarrett was in possession, and actually inhabited the land on the day mentioned in the law; and that from ignorance of its provisions, or from other cause, he omitted to produce proof of it to the recorder, and that the claim was in fact rejected on that account. But that question was not open to inquiry in the Missouri court. The act of congress does not confirm all claims where this fact existed and could be proved, but those only in which it appeared on the face of the report that the want of this proof was the sole cause of its rejection. This must appear on the written report of the recorder to bring it within the provisions of this act, and cannot be supplied by other evidence. And as it does not so appear in the present case, the act of 1814 does not embrace it nor confirm it.

Neither can the petition be maintained upon the long and continued possession held by the petitioner and those under whom he claims.

The legal title to this land, under the treaty with France, was in the United States. The defendants are in posses- [* 65 ] sion, claiming title from the United States, and with evidences of title derived from the proper officers of the government. It is not necessary to inquire whether the title claimed by them is valid or not. The petitioner, as appears by the case he presents in his petition, has no title of any description derived from the constituted authorities of the United States, of which any court of justice can take cognizance. And the mere possession of public land, without title, will not enable the party to maintain a suit against any one who enters on it; and

Peunington v. Gibson. 16 H.

more especially he cannot maintain it against persons holding possession under title derived from the proper officers of the government. He must first show a right in himself, before he can call into question the validity of theirs.

Whatever equity, therefore, the plaintiff may be supposed to have, it is for the consideration and decision of congress, and not for the courts. If he has suffered injury from the mistake or omission of the public officer, or from his own ignorance of the law, the power to repair it rests with the political department of the government, and not the judicial. It is expressly reserved to the former by the act of


We see no error in the judgment of the supreme court of Missouri, and it must be affirmed, with costs.

18 H. 272.


16 H. 65.

An action of debt lies in the circuit court for Maryland, founded on a decree for the payment of money made by a court of equity, of general jurisdiction, in the State of New York. Every reasonable presumption is to be made in favor of a judgment or decree of a court of general jurisdiction.

The courts of the United States can and should take notice of the laws and judicial decisions of the several States of this Union, and with respect to them, no averment need be made in pleading, which would not be necessary within the respective States.

THE case is stated in the opinion of the court.

Schley, for the plaintiff.

Frick and Collier, contrà.

¡ *74 ]

DANIEL, J., delivered the opinion of the court.

The defendant in error, a citizen of the State of New York, instituted in the circuit court an action of debt against the plaintiff in error, a citizen of the State of Maryland, to recover the amount of a decree, with the costs thereon, which had been rendered in favor of the defendant against the plaintiff in error by the supreme court in equity in the State of New York. The averments in the declaration are as follows: That at a general term of the supreme court in equity of the State of New York, one of the United States of America, held at the court house in the village of Cooperstown, in the county of Otsego, in the State of New York, on the first Monday

Pennington v. Gibson. 16 H.

in November in the year 1848, present William H. Shankland (and others) justices, it was ordered, adjudged and decreed, by the said court, in a certain suit therein pending, wherein the said Lyman Gibson was complainant, and the said Josias Pennington (and others) were defendants, that the said Lyman Gibson recover against the said Josias Pennington, and that the said Josias Pennington pay to the said Lyman Gibson the amount of the consideration money paid by the said Lyman Gibson to a certain Samuel Boyer, as agent and attorney of the said Josias Pennington, as should appear by the several indorsements upon the contract mentioned and set forth in the bill of complaint, and produced and proved as an exhibit in said suit, with interest on the several payments and indorsements respectively, amounting in the aggregate on the 25th day of November, 1848, to the sum of $5,473.18, and also that the said Josias Pen


nington pay to the said complainant his costs in said suit, [75] which were taxed at the sum of $661.68, as by the said de

cree duly signed and enrolled at a special term of the supreme court in equity aforesaid, held on the 30th day of April in the year 1849, at the village of Bath, in the county of Steuben, in the State of New York, and now remaining in the office of the clerk of Steuben county aforesaid, will on reference appear.

To the declaration as above stated, the defendant, the now plaintiff in error, demurred; and upon a joinder in demurrer, the court overruled the demurrer of the said defendant, and gave judgment for the plaintiff, the now defendant in error, for the debt and costs in the declaration set forth, together with costs of suit.

The defendant in the circuit court assigned for causes of demurrer the three following:

1. For that it appears from the said declaration that the cause of action in this case is an alleged decree of an alleged court of equity, as set forth in the said declaration, whereas an action at law cannot be maintained in this court on such a decree; at least, without an averment in pleading that said decree within the limits of its territorial jurisdiction is of equal efficacy with a judgment at law.

2. For even if an action at law can be maintained for the recovery of the sums of money directed by such alleged decree to be paid, as stated in said declaration, yet the form of action adopted in this case is not the proper form of action for the enforcement of such a recovery.

3. For that it does not appear in and by the said declaration, nor is it averred in any manner, that the said alleged court of equity had any jurisdiction to pass a decree against this defendant for payment

Pennington v. Gibson. 16 H.

to the plaintiff of any of the sums of money in the said declaration mentioned.

In considering these causes of demurrer, the attention is necessarily directed to the ambiguous terms assumed in the first assignment, by propounding a proposition general or universal in its character, and afterwards conceding a modification or change in that proposition inconsistent not merely with its scope and extent, but with its essential force and operation. For instance, it is first stated that "the cause of action is an alleged decree of an alleged court of equity, whereas an action at law cannot be maintained in this court on such a decree." We can interpret this proposition to have no other intelligible meaning than this, and to be comprehended in no sense more restricted than this, namely, that an action at law cannot be maintained in a court of law when the cause of action shall be a

decree of the court of equity. In other words, that the char[76] acter of the foundation, or cause of action, namely, its

being a decree of a court of equity, must, in every such instance, deprive the court of law of cognizance of the cause. The proposition, thus generally put, is then followed by a qualification in these words, "at least without an averment in pleading, that the decree within its territorial jurisdiction is of equal efficacy with a judgment at law." By this language the universality of the previous proposition is modified, or rather contradicted, for it contains an obvious concession, that, provided a particular efficiency can be affirmed with regard to it, an action at law may be maintained even upon a decree of a court of equity.

We will first examine the correctness of the general position, that an action at law cannot be maintained upon a decree in equity; and will, in the next place, inquire how far the jurisdiction of the court pronouncing this decree, and the efficiency of its proceedings with reference to the parties before it, may be inferred or rightfully taken notice of, from its style or character, or from proper judicial knowledge of the subject-matter of its cognizance, independently of a particular special averment.

We are aware that at one period courts of equity were said not to be courts of record, and their decrees were not allowed to rank with judgments at law, with respect to conflicting claims of creditors, or in the administration of estates; but these opinions, the fruits of jealousy in the old common lawyers, would now hardly be seriously urged, and much less seriously admitted, after a practice so long and so well settled, as that which confers on courts of equity in cases of difficulty and intricacy in the administration of estates, the power of marshalling assets, and in the exercise of that power the right of

Pennington v. Gibson. 16 H.

controlling the order in which creditors, either legal or equitable, shall be ranked in the prosecution of their claims. The relative dignity of courts of equity, and the binding effect of their decrees, when given within the pale of their regular constitution and jurisdiction, are no longer subjects for doubt or question.

We hold no doctrine to be better settled than this, that whenever the parties to a suit and the subject in controversy between them are within the regular jurisdiction of a court of equity, the decree of that court, solemnly and finally pronounced, is to every intent as binding as would be the judgment of a court of law, upon parties and their interests regularly within its cognizance. It would follow, therefore, that wherever the latter, received with regard to its dignity and conclusiveness as a record, would constitute the foundation for proceedings to enforce it, the former must be held as of equal authority. These are conclusions which reason and justice and consistency sustain, and an investigation will show them to be supported by express adjudication. It is true that, owing to the pe- [ * 77 ] culiar character of equity jurisprudence, there are instances of decisions by courts of equity which can be enforced only by the authority and proceedings of these courts. Such, for example, is the class of cases for specific performances; or wherever the decision of the court is to be fulfilled by some personal act of a party, and not by the mere payment of an ascertained sum of money. But this arises from the nature of the act decreed to be performed, and from the peculiar or extraordinary power of the court to enforce it, and has no relation whatsoever to the comparative dignity or authority between judgments at law and decrees in equity.

We lay it down, therefore, as the general rule, that, in every instance in which an action of debt can be maintained upon a judgment at law for a sum of money awarded by such judgment, the like action can be maintained upon a decree in equity which is for an ascertained and specific amount, and nothing more; and that the record of the proceedings in the one case must be ranked with and responded to as of the same dignity and binding obligation with the record in the other.

The case of Sadler v. Robins, 1 Campbell, 253, was an action upon a decree of the high court of chancery in the Island of Jamaica, for a sum of money; "first deducting thereout the full costs of the said defendants expended in the said suit, to be taxed by one of the masters of the said court; and also deducting thereout all and every other payment which S. and R., or either of them, might on or before the 1st day of January, 1806, show to the satisfaction of the said master, they or either of them had paid, &c." In this case, Lord Ellenborough

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