345 U.S. 648 (1953), 439, Levinson v. Deupree

Docket Nº:No. 439
Citation:345 U.S. 648, 73 S.Ct. 914, 97 L.Ed.2d 1319
Party Name:Levinson v. Deupree
Case Date:June 01, 1953
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 648

345 U.S. 648 (1953)

73 S.Ct. 914, 97 L.Ed.2d 1319




No. 439

United States Supreme Court

June 1, 1953

Argued February 5-6, 1953




A New York girl was killed in a collision between two motorboats on the Ohio River in Kentucky. Respondent obtained a defective appointment as ancillary administrator of her estate and filed a timely libel in personam in a Federal District Court in Kentucky against the owners and operators of the motorboats for damages under the Kentucky wrongful death statute, which prescribed a one-year statute of limitations. Respondent later obtained an undoubtedly valid appointment and, more than a year after the death, moved to amend his libel to allege his new appointment. This was not permitted under Kentucky law, because a new suit would have been barred by the statute of limitations.

Held: the suit being in admiralty, federal practice controls. The administrator, holding an effective appointment under Kentucky law, should be permitted to amend his libel so as to allege that appointment, even though the applicable statute of limitations would bar a new suit. Pp. 649-652.

199 F.2d 760, affirmed.

A Federal District Court dismissed an administrator's libel to recover for a wrongful death occurring on a navigable river. The Court of Appeals reversed. 186 F.2d 297. This Court denied certiorari. 341 U.S. 915. On remand, the District Court awarded a decree to the administrator. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 199 F.2d 760. This Court granted certiorari. 344 U.S. 903. Affirmed, p. 652.

Page 649

FRANKFURTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Katherine Wing of New York was killed in a collision between two motorboats on the Ohio River within Campbell County, Kentucky, on June 19, 1948. On December 7, 1948, Deupree was appointed ancillary administrator of Katherine Wing's estate by the County Court of Kenton County, Kentucky, and, on the same day, he filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky a libel seeking to recover damages for her death from petitioners Levinson and Hall, the owners and operators of the boats which had collided. The libel alleged Deupree's appointment as administrator. On March 3, 1949, petitioners answered with a general denial. On July 7, 1949, petitioners having moved for an order requiring the administrator to provide security for costs, Deupree filed an "affidavit for leave to sue in forma pauperis." This affidavit stated that "decedent was possessed of no estate out of which costs or expenses herein can be paid or from which security therefor can be given." On the same day, petitioners filed a special demurrer putting in issue Deupree's capacity to sue, on the ground that the appointment of an administrator in a county where there is no estate is void. Jewel Tea Co. v. Walker's Administrator, 290 Ky. 328, 331, 161 S.W.2d 66, 68. Deupree thereupon obtained another appointment as ancillary administrator, this time from the County Court of Campbell County, where the cause of action for wrongful death, itself an estate, had its locus. On July 29, 1949, Deupree filed a motion to amend his libel by alleging this new appointment. To the amended libel, petitioners, on September 9, 1949, entered a general demurrer.

The District Court sustained both the general and special demurrers. It held that the Kenton County appointment of Deupree as administrator was void, and that

Page 650

the amended libel alleging the Campbell County appointment "cannot relate back to the inception of the libel proceeding." The claim as set out in the amended libel, the court held, was therefore barred by the Kentucky one-ear statute of...

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