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PATTON v. BRADY

March 17, 1902

PATTON
v.
BRADY, EXECUTRIX



ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA

Fuller, Brewer, Brown, Shiras, Jr., White, Peckham, McKenna; Mr. Justice Harlan and Mr. Justice Gray took no part in the decision of this case.

Author: Brewer

[ 184 U.S. Page 611]

 MR. JUSTICE BREWER, after making the above statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

The first contention of the defendant is that the Circuit Court did not have jurisdiction. The parties, it is true, were both citizens of Virginia, but the question presented in the declaration was the constitutionality of an act of Congress. The plaintiff's right of recovery was rested upon the unconstitutionality of the act, and that was the vital question. The Circuit Courts of the United States "have original cognizance, concurrent with the courts of the several States, of all suits of a civil nature at common law or in equity . . . arising under the Constitution or laws of the United States." Act of August 13, 1888, c. 866; 25 Stat. 433.

That a case arises under the Constitution of the United States when the right of either party depends on the validity of an act of Congress, is clear. It was said by Chief Justice Marshall that "a case in law or equity consists of the right of the one party, as well as of the other, and may truly be said to arise under the Constitution or a law of the United States whenever its correct decision depends on the construction of either," Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. 264, 379; and again, when "the title or right set up by the party may be defeated by one construction of the Constitution or law of the United States, and sustained by the opposite construction." Osborn v. Bank of the United States, 9 Wheat. 738, 822. See also Gold-Washing & Water Company v. Keyes, 96 U.S. 199, 201; Tennessee v. Davis, 100 U.S. 257; White v. Greenhow, Treasurer, 114 U.S. 307; Railroad Company v. Mississippi, 102 U.S. 135, 139. In the latter case the following statement of the controversy was given in the opinion: "From this analysis of the pleadings, and of the petition for removal it will be observed that the contention of the State rests in part upon the ground that the construction and maintenance of the bridge in question is in violation of the condition on which Mississippi was admitted into the Union, and inconsistent with the engagement, on the

[ 184 U.S. Page 612]

     part of the United States, as expressed in the act of March 1, 1817. On the other hand, the railroad company, in support of its right to construct and maintain the present bridge across Pearl River, invokes the protection of the act of Congress passed March 2, 1868." And upon these facts it was held that the case was rightfully removed to the Federal court. Within these decisions obviously the Circuit Court had jurisdiction.

A second contention of the defendant is this: After the case had been brought to this court the defendant, J. D. Brady, died. Whereupon the plaintiff took steps to revive the action, and on November 4, 1901, Maggie A. Brady, the executrix of the deceased, was substituted as party defendant. Now it is insisted that the action was one based upon a tort, and, as such, abated by reason of the death of defendant.

Congress has not, speaking generally, attempted to prescribe the causes which survive the death of either party. Section 955, Rev. Stat., provides that --

"When either of the parties, whether plaintiff, or petitioner, or defendant, in any suit in any court of the United States, dies before final judgment, the executor or administrator of such deceased party may, in case the cause of action survives by law, prosecute or defend any such suit to final judgment."

This does not define the causes which survive. In the absence of some special legislation the question in each case must be settled by the common law or the law of the State in which the cause of action arose. United States v. Daniel, 6 How. 11; Henshaw v. Miller, 17 How. 212; Schreiber v. Sharpless, 110 U.S. 76; Martin v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, 151 U.S. 673; Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company v. Joy, 173 U.S. 226, 229. It matters not whether we consider the common law or the statute law of Virginia as controlling. By either the cause of action stated in the complaint survived the death of defendant.

Section 2655 of the Code of Virginia (Code of 1887) reads as follows:

"An action of trespass or trespass on the case may be maintained by or against a personal representative for the taking or

[ 184 U.S. Page 613]

     carrying away any goods, or for the waste or destruction of or damage to any estate of or by his decedent."

The term "goods" is broad enough to include money, and as used in this statute must be held to be so inclusive, for it would be strange that a cause of action for taking and carrying away a thousand pieces of silver, should survive the death of the defendant, while a like action for taking and carrying away a thousand dollars in money should not. In The Elizabeth and Jane, 2 Mason, 407, 408, Mr. Justice Story said: "It cannot be doubted that money, and, of course, foreign coin, falls within the description of goods at common law." But more than that, the estate of plaintiff was reduced to the amount of three thousand dollars and over, by the action of decedent, and such reduction was a direct damage and comes within the rule laid down by the Court of Appeals in Mumpower v. Bristol, 94 Va. 737, 739, in which the court held that: "The damages allowed to be recovered by or against a personal representative by section 2655 of the code are direct damages to property, and not those which are merely consequent upon a wrongful act to the person only," and in which the presiding judge of the court, delivering the opinion and showing that the act sued for was not within the scope of the statute, said:

"The wrongful act which the defendant is alleged to have committed and for the injury resulting from which the plaintiff sues, consisted in maliciously and without probable cause suing out an injunction against the plaintiff, whereby the operation of his mill was suspended. It is quite obvious that this injunction did not operate to take or carry away the goods of the plaintiff, nor cause the waste or destruction of, or inflict any damage upon, the estate of the plaintiff. It is true that the language of the statute is comprehensive, and embraces damage of any kind or degree to the estate, real or personal, of the person aggrieved; but the damage must be direct, and not the consequential injury or loss to the estate which flows from a wrongful act directly affecting the person only. No part of the defendant's property was taken or carried away; no part of it was wasted or destroyed. The plaintiff's use of his property, and not the property itself, was affected by the act of which he complains."

[ 184 U.S. Page 614]

     See also Ferrill v. Brewis' Adm'r, 25 Gratt. 765, 770, and Lee's Adm'r v. Hill, 87 Va. 497.

If we turn to the common law, there the rule was that if a party increased his own estate by wrongfully taking another's property an action against him would survive his death, and might be revived against his personal representative. In the case of United States v. Daniel, 6 How. 11, which was an action against one who had in his lifetime been marshal of a district, to recover damages which the plaintiffs had sustained by reason of false returns made on certain executions by one of defendant's deputies, it was held that the action did not survive, because the decedent had received no benefit and had not increased his estate by means of the wrongful act. The court, referring to the common law, said:

"If the person charged has secured no benefit to himself at the expense of the sufferer, the cause of action is said not to survive; but where, by means of the offence, property is acquired which benefits the testator, there an action for the value of the property shall survive against the executor. . . . If the deputy marshal, in the misfeasance complained of, received money or property, the marshal being responsible for such acts, the cause of action survived against his executors. But this is not the case made in the present action."

Now the gravamen of the plaintiff's complaint is that he was compelled to pay the defendant the sum of $3062.28 to protect his property from unlawful seizure for illegal taxes. In such cases, having paid under protest, he can recover in an ...


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