Michigan Trust Company v. Edward Ferry

Decision Date21 April 1913
Docket NumberNos. 200 and 201,s. 200 and 201
Citation228 U.S. 346,33 S.Ct. 550,57 L.Ed. 867
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Willard F. Keeney, charles S. Thomas, Edward B. Critchlow, Henry C. Hall, Walter I. Lillie for petitioner.

Messrs. George Sutherland, Franklin S. Richards, and Edward Stewart Ferry for respondent.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 347-351 intentionally omitted] Mr. Jsutice Holmes delivered the opinion of the court:

These are suits brought in the circuit court for the district of Utah upon decrees of the probate court of Ottawa, Michigan. The defendant demurred to the complaints, the circuit court sustained the demurrers, and gave judgments for the defendant, and these judgments were affirmed by the circuit court of appeals. 99 C. C. A. 221, 235, 175 Fed. 667, 681. A short statement of the facts alleged at great length in the complaints will be enough.

William M. Ferry died in 1867, domiciled in Ottawa county, Michigan. His will was proved, and the defendant, Edward P. Ferry, was appointed executor by the Ottawa probate court, qualified and entered upon his duties. In 1878 he removed to Utah, and becoming incompetent, was put under the guardianship of two sons, W. Mont Ferry and Edward S. Ferry, in 1892. In 1903 residuary legatees and devisees petitioned the Michigan probate court that the defendant be removed from his office of executor, that he be ordered to account for the unadministered residue of the estate, and that the Michigan Trust Company be appointed administrator de bonis non with the will annexed. Notice of the petition and time and place of the hearing was given by publication and also was given to the defendant and his guardians personally in Utah. The guardians, by order of the Utah court, appeared and asked for the appointment of a guardian ad litem, which was made, and an answer and cross petition praying for affirmative relief were filed. Lawyers were retained and paid out of the defendant's estate by order of the Utah court. There were various proceedings, the end of which was that the plaintiff was appointed administrator de bonis non, the cross petition was denied, and it was decreed that the defendant was indebted to the estate for $1,220,473.41. The defendant being entitled to one fourth of the above sum as residuary legatee, he was declared liable for $915,355.08, and ordered to pay it over within sixty days to the Michigan Trust Company. The defendant also had been appointed by the same court executor under his mother's will, and after proceedings like those that we have described was declared liable for $16,458.81, which, too, he was ordered to pay to the plaintiff within sixty days.

Ordinarily jurisdiction over a person is based on the power of the sovereign asserting it to seize that person and imprison him to await the sovereign's pleasure. But when that power exists and is asserted by service at the beginning of a cause, or if the party submits to the jurisdiction in whatever form may be required, we dispense with the necessity of maintaining the physical power, and attribute the same force to the judgment or decree whether the party remain within the jurisdiction or not. This is one of the decencies of civilization that no one would dispute. It applies to article 4, § 1, of the Constitution, so that if a judicial proceeding is begun with jurisdiction over the person of the party concerned, it is within the power of a state to bind him by every subsequent order in the cause. Nations v. Johnson, 24 How. 195, 203, 204, 16 L. ed. 628, 631, 632. This is true not only of ordinary actions, but of proceedings like the present. It is within the power of a state to make the whole administration of the estate a single proceeding, to provide that one who has undertaken it within the jurisdiction shall be subject to the order of the court in the matter until the administration is closed by distribution, and, on the same principle, that he shall be required to account for and distribute all that he receives, by the order of the probate court.

The court below, admitting the power of the Michigan court to adjudge the true state of the account of the assets in the defendant's hands, and to require him to transfer them to his successor, denied its power to adjudge him liable for assets converted verted to his own use, and to decree that he should pay the amount from his own property. We believe that this is the law in some of the states (United States use of Wilson v. Walker, 109 U. S. 258, 27 L. ed. 927, 3 Sup. Ct. Rep. 277), but it is no less well established in many that an executor must account for all the property that has come to his hands, and the proceedings end with a decree that he pay over the sum with which he is chargeable, either to his successor or the ultimate distributees; such a decree indeed being a condition precedent of the cumulative remedy on the bond. Storer v. Storer, 6 Mass. 390, 392, 393; Cobb v. Kempton, 154 Mass, 266, 269, 28 N. E. 264; Murray v. Wood, 144 Mass. 195, 197, 10 N. E. 822; Probate Ct. v. Chapin, 31 Vt. 373, 376. In Beall v. New Mexico, 16 Wall. 535, 540, 21 L. ed. 292, 294, it is recognized that some states have made it the duty of an administrator who has been displaced to account to the administrator de bonis non, and very many decisions to that effect are cited correctly in 2 Woerner, Am. Law of Administration, 2d ed. § 352, p. 748. Vide id. § 536, pp. 1181, 1182.

As there can be no doubt of the power of the states to give the larger scope to an account, which indeed is not illogical in view of the fuller modern development of the notion that an executor holds all the assets in a fiduciary capacity, the only question in any case is what the state has seen fit to do. Upon this question courts of other jurisdictions own great deference to what the court concerned has done. It is a strong thing for another tribunal to say that the local court did not know its own business under its own laws. Even if no statute or decision of the supreme court of the...

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