THIS was an appeal from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Maryland, sitting as a court of equity.
The bill was filed by John Deacon, the surviving partner of Baring, Brother & Company, of London, under the following circumstances:
In 1821, Baring, Brother & Company obtained a judgment, in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Maryland, against one Lyde Goodwin for $60,000, upon a bill of exchange, to be released on payment of $41,055.58, with interest and costs. Goodwin was at this time the owner of one ninth share in the Mexican Company, the history of which is given in the report of the case of Gill v. Oliver's Executors, 11 How. 529. This judgment was kept alive until the issuing of the attachment hereafter spoken of, in 1826.
On the 19th of July, 1823, the government of Mexico passed a decree, declaring that General Mina, amongst other persons, was a benefactor of his country; and on the 28th of June, 1824, another decree, acknowledging the debts contracted by the Generals declared to have been benefactors.
On the 11th of January, 1825, Lyde Goodwin addressed a letter to Mr. Oliver, which is too long to be inserted, but which was of the following tenor. He states the claim to have been acknowledged by Mexico; that the amount of his original proportion of the claim, exclusive of interest, was twenty thousand dollars; that his object in proposing to assign his interest therein was, 1st, to secure to Oliver the sum he already owed him; and 2d, to obtain barely the means of support for the present, and that the additional sum he would acquire, should not exceed $2,000.
Between this date and June, 1825, Oliver paid to Goodwin $2,000, and received an assignment of the share from Brown, the trustee in insolvency of Goodwin.
On the 22d of March, 1825, the company appointed Oliver their attorney to prosecute the claim, and informed him that Goodwin was entitled to a commission of five per cent. in addition to his one ninth share.
On the 28th of October, 1826, an attachment under the act of Maryland, of 1715, was issued upon the judgment against Goodwin, and laid in the hands of Oliver, as garnishee. At the same time, the following interrogatories were filed, which the garnishee was required to answer.
Interrogatory 1. Had you, at the time of laying the attachment in the above cause, in your hands, or at any other time, and when, any funds, evidences of debt, stocks, certificates of stock, belonging to Lyde Goodwin, or any acknowledgment of debt due by the government of Mexico to the said Lyde Goodwin?
2. Did not the said Lyde Goodwin transfer to you some certificate of stock, or evidence of debt due by the said Mexican government to Goodwin, or some document of that character, and when did such transfer take place?
3. Had you not a claim against said Goodwin, secured by a transfer or pledge of some certificate of stock, or document of a public character, showing that Goodwin was entitled to receive some funds from the Mexican government? If so, what was the amount of your claim so secured, and what was the sccurity; was, or was not, the balance or remaining credit, under your control at the time of laying the attachment? State particularly how your claim was secured.
4. Do you know any other matter or thing that may be of advantage to the plaintiffs, in the above cause? If so, state it as fully as if you were particularly interrogated thereto.
In December, 1827, Oliver filed the following answers:
1. To the first interrogatory he answers: That he had not, at the time of laying the attachment in the above cause in his hands, nor at any other time, any funds, evidences of debt, stocks, or certificates of stocks, belonging to Lyde Goodwin, or any acknowledgment of debt due by the government of Mexico, but that he had a power of attorney signed by said Lyde Goodwin, in conjunction with several other persons, claimants of a debt alleged to be owing by the Mexican government, and authorizing him to claim and receive the same for the benefit of said Goodwin's assignees and others.
2. To the second interrogatory he answers: That the said Goodwin did not transfer to him any certificates of stock or evidences of debt due by the Mexican government, or documents of that character, unless the before-mentioned power of attorney may be called one.
3. To the third interrogatory he answers: That he had, and still has, a large claim against said Goodwin for money lent him from time to time; that he is not secured for this debt, and never has been secured, by a transfer or pledge of some certificate of stock, or document of a public character, showing that Goodwin was entitled to receive some funds from the Mexican government, unless the aforesaid power of attorney be deemed such, but which he does not admit it to be.
4. To the fourth interrogatory he answers: That he knows nothing.
On the 10th of January, 1829, the counsel for the Barings caused the following entry to be made upon the docket, relative to the attachment: 'Discontinued without costs.'
On the 30th of May, 1829, Oliver obtained from Goodwin the following paper:
'Being indebted to Robert Oliver, of Baltimore, upwards of nine thousand dollars, I hereby assign, transfer, and make over to the said Robert Oliver, in payment of my debt to him, the following objects, which were assigned to him many years ago, to secure the payment of the said debt due by me, to wit, all my undivided ninth part, and right, title, and interest of every kind whatsoever, in the claim on the government of Mexico for supplies furnished, and advances made, to the late General Mina, or the proceeds thereof, and which claims are under the control of the said Robert Oliver and his agent, John Mason, Jr., now in Mexico; also a claim on a certain Louis Merwin, who died some years ago in Havana. The object and intention of this assignment, is to make a full and complete transfer to the said Robert Oliver of all my right, title, and interest, as aforesaid, for which said Robert Oliver has agreed to balance my account on his books, and to consider the same as satisfactorily settled; and I hereby authorize and order all my agents, or those holding any powers of attorney or instructions from me relative to the aforesaid property, to account with the said Robert Oliver for the same, or the proceeds thereof.
'Baltimore, May 30, 1829.
'I confirm the above agreement.
This claim was prosecuted under the treaty between the United States and Mexico, with the following result:
On the 11th of April, 1850, there were paid to Oliver's executors (he having died in 1834) the following sums, being net proceeds:
On account of Goodwin's commissions $22,143.12
" " " his share 35,110.47
In November, 1850, Deacon filed his bill against the executors, alleging that the answers of Oliver were untrue and evasive, by means of which deception the attachment had been discontinued; that at the time when it was laid, Oliver had under his control the evidences of debt due by the Mexican government; that so far from having a mere power of attorney from Goodwin to collect the debt, he had a transfer of the claim for the purpose of security, which, being irrevocable, was, by the laws of Maryland, the subject of an attachment, &c.
The executors of Oliver answered, and upon a hearing of the cause, the Circuit Court dismissed the bill, when the complainant appealed to this court.
It was argued by Mr. Davis and Mr. Howard, for the appellant, and Mr. Campbell and Mr. Johnson, for the appellees.
As the decision rested mainly upon one point of the case, namely, that, at the time of laying the attachment, Oliver had no interest which was attachable, many of the arguments of counsel upon other points, are omitted.
The following extract from the brief of Mr. Davis contains his view of the leading points of the case.
1. That a debt due by a foreign or domestic government is assignable, passing, by insolvency, to executors or administrators, and liable for debts of claimant, and liable to all the incidents of other debts, excepting that it cannot be enforced by suit. Comegys v. Vasse, 1 Pet. 193, 215, 217; Sheppard v. Taylor, 5 Pet. 675; Plater v. Scott, 6 Gill & Johns. 116; Gorgier v. Mieville, 3 Barn. & Cress. 45; 10 E. C. L. R. 16.
2. That the Court of Appeals of Maryland have decided, that, by the local law, the share of Lyde Goodwin, now in controversy, and his commissions, did not pass to his insolvent trustee in 1817, because then under the ban of the public policy of the country; but that after the decrees of 19th July, 1823, and 28th June, 1824, of Mexico, it became a fair and valid debt, due by the Mexican government, and as such was assignable, and did pass by the assignment of Goodwin of 1825, and 30th May, 1829.
3. That the Supreme Court have pronounced the above to have been the decision of the Court of Appeals; and that being on a question of local municipal law, not involving any law of the United States, such decision could not be reviewed by them. Gill v. Oliver's Ex's, 11 How. 529; Williams v. Oliver's Ex's, 12 Id. 111, 125.
4. That the award of the Mexican commission and the decree of the Court of Appeals, are conclusive upon Robert Oliver's representatives and in our favor, of the nature and origin of the fund, of the validity and assignability of the funds, and its liability to all legal incidents of a valid legal claim, from 1824 down to this time. Comegys v. Vasse, 1 Pet. 212; Sheppard v. Taylor, 5 Id. 708, 709, 713; Frevall v. Bache, 14 Id. 97; De Vallingan v. Duffy, Id. 290, 291; Barry v. Patterson, 6 Har. & Johns. 203, 204.
II. That the assignment of 1825 was a mortgage on the fund to secure the prior debt of Goodwin to Oliver, and the $2,000 then advanced; subject to which Goodwin remained owner ...