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December 1, 1854


THIS was an appeal from the circuit court of the United States for the eastern district of Louisiana. The history of the case is given in the opinion of the court. It was argued by Mr. Benjamin, for the appellants, and by Mr. Janin, for the appellee.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Curtis delivered the opinion of the court.

Mr. Benjamin traced the case throughout all its complications, and then made the following points:––

1. The first question which will arrest the attention of the court, on the face of this record, is that of jurisdiction.

The complainant entered into a contract of the 9th November, 1842, which in its opening clause is stated to be tri-partite. The parties are, 1st, the complainant, a citizen of Louisiana. 2d, Thomas R. Shields, a citizen of Louisiana. 3d, Six individuals, indorsers for Shields four of whom are citizens of Louisiana, and two of Mississippi.

This contract was made to annul a sale of a plantation in Louisiana, made by the first party to the second.

In a few weeks after the date of the contract, the complainant abandoning the common domicile of himself, his purchaser, and two thirds of the indorsers, declining the aid of the state tribunals of his own State, appeals to the federal court in New Orleans, to set aside his contract, then changes his demand into a suit to enforce it, and ends by obtaining a decree against his fellow citizens of Louisiana, for a large sum of money.

On what ground is the jurisdiction of the circuit court of the United States, to determine a controversy between citizens of Louisiana, to be maintained?

The only authority cited by complainant's counsel, is Story's Eq. Pl. § 392, and authorities there cited.

This authority is not at all in point. It only refers to a question of pleading in equity, relating to cross-bills, but does not touch the question of jurisdiction. The cross-bill may unquestionably be filed to determine questions arising between the defendants, so as to enable the court to determine the whole matter in controversy. But in the present case, no relief was prayed by the cross-bill against co-defendants, but on the contrary a decree was prayed for against the original complainants; and in the decree itself, no notice whatever is taken of the cross-bill; but the court confines itself to deciding the claims of the original complainant against the original defendants, and the defendants in the cross-bill.

The device used in this case is perfectly transparent, and if successful, converts the federal courts into courts of unlimited jurisdiction, regardless of the citizenship of parties.

It requires no argument to show that the original bill could not possibly be sustained for want of proper parties. A bill to set aside an agreement for cancelling the sale of property, could not be entertained without the presence of the two parties to the sale, and agreement to cancel. But the court was without jurisdiction between these two parties, who were both citizens of Louisiana, and the bill should have been dismissed on its face. Instead of this, the defendants, citizens of Mississippi, having a common interest with these citizens of Louisiana, were forced, in spite of their protest, and under duress of the process of the court, to file a bill against their co-defendants, not for their own benefit, but in order to help the complainant to get a judgment against themselves, and against the co-defendants.

This court has repeatedly had occasion to determine that, where necessary parties to bills could not be brought into the federal courts, by reason of the constitutional limitation on their jurisdiction, the suit must be dismissed. The jurisprudence on this point has never varied, and the decisions are numerous. Where parties are merely formal, the court will dispense with their presence, but will never assume jurisdiction over them. Russell v. Clark's Executors, 7 Cranch, 69; Greenleaf v. Queen, 1 Pet. 148: Wormly v. Wormly, 8 Wheat. 421; Carneal v. Banks, 10 Ib. 181; Harding v. Handy, 11 Ib. 126; Mallon v. Hinde, 12 Ib. 193; Vattier v. Hinde, 7 Pet. 250; Dunn v. Clark, 8 Ib. 3.

The act of congress of 28th February, 1839, so far from authorizing such proceedings as were had in this suit, expressly contemplates the case where parties in interest cannot properly be brought before the court; and provides, that 'the judgment or decree shall not conclude or prejudice such parties.'

The plea to the jurisdiction ought, therefore, to have been sustained, as filed by those defendants who were citizens of Louisiana.

2. The court, being without jurisdiction as to Thomas R. Shields, who purchased the land, cannot decree, as against him, either for the rescission or specific performance of the contract of November 9, 1842. The bill, therefore, must be dismissed, because he is an indispensable party to any cause brought for either of those purposes. This proposition is too clear to require argument or authority.

3. There was error in permitting the complainant to bring an entirely new and different suit against the defendant, under pretext of amending his bill. The original bill was, to set aside a contract. The amendment prayed a specific performance of the same contract. This was not an amendment, nor a supplemental bill, but a new suit.

The allegation in the original bill, brought on the 19th December, 1842, set forth that complainant feared that defendants would refuse to execute their contract of 9th November, 1842, and prayed to have it rescinded. The defendants, by their answer, in March, 1843, denied any intention to violate the contract, and expressed their intention of executing it. This judicial confession of their liability to perform its terms estopped them from any contestation of its validity, and should have sufficed to satisfy complainant; who, however, seemed determined to have a litigation. Although willing to abandon his claim for a rescission of the contract, instead of discontinuing his suit, he engrafted in it an inconsistent demand, by what he calls an amendment.

This is contrary to all the rules of pleading in chancery. Story's Eq. Pl. 332, et seq.; Mitford's Ch. Pl. 385.

So where the original bill prayed that a bond might be delivered up to be cancelled, an amendment not allowed praving an account of what was due on the bond. Cresy v. Beavan, 13 Sim. 354.

4. The amended bill should have been dismissed, as disclosing no ground for equitable relief. The demurrer should have been sustained.

This amended bill sets forth no ground for the interposition of a court of equity; alleges no refusal, by defendants, to perform their contract; and prays for the payment of a sum of money due on promissory notes. This payment could have been obtained by a suit at law. In relation to the claim for a formal conveyance of the property, contained in the amended bill, it is clear that the defendants, Victoire Shields and William Bisland, could not be condemned to make a conveyance of title standing in the name of Thomas R. Shields. The amended bill was, therefore, nothing but a naked demand, in law, for the payment of a debt.

5. The only demands set up in the record against Elis, Guion, and Winder, are contained in the cross-bill, filed at page 54 of record. These defendants filed a plea to the jurisdiction of the court; and set up, in defence, the absence of any averment in the cross-bill, showing any cause of action against them. A reference to the cross-bill will show that, in point of fact, no complaint was made against them; and in no part of the record is there any demand, by Barrow, for a decree against them. There is a judgment against these parties, that they pay a large sum of money to Barrow; although the pleadings disclose no prayer for such a decree, in either the original or cross-bill.

It would be an idle take to pursue any further the examination of proceedings, so completely at war with all the rules of law, and all the principles which guide courts of justice in the discharge of their duties. The investigation is felt to be profitless; for the want of jurisdiction in the court below, over parties in whose absence no decree could be ...

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