138 US 525 Cressey v. Meyer

138 U.S. 525

11 S.Ct. 387

34 L.Ed. 1018

CRESSEY et al.
MEYER et al.

March 2, 1891.

[Statement of Case from pages 525-527 intentionally omitted]

W. H. Rogers, Geo. A. King, C. W. Hornor, and Jos. P. Hornor, for appellants.

J. D. Rouse and Wm. Grant, for appellees.

Mr. Justice BREWER, after stating the facts as above, delivered the opinion of the court.

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One proposition alone requires notice. This was an action by a creditor of the state, not against his debtor, but against its debtors, to secure an appropriation of their debts to it to the satisfaction of its obligations to him. It is a proceeding of a garnishee nature. The appearance of the state, voluntarily, its application to be made a party pro interesse suo, may avoid all questions as to the right of the plaintiff to maintain this suit. Conceding that such a suit is proper, it still remains in the nature of a personal action by one individual against another. As against such a suit, laches and limitations are in a court of equity sufficient defenses.The settlement, which was practically between the state and its debtors, was made in 1847. Thirty-six years thereafter this bill is filed. If the time for full payment given by the settlement of 1847 is subtracted, this suit was commenced 19 years after the time fixed by that settlement for the last payment had passed. Limitation and laches forbid that this suit should be sustained. It may be that, as against the sovereign, no statutes of limitation run; and it may be that, in the courts of Louisiana, the state may enforce all obligations due to it, no matter what period of time may have intervened since they were assumed; but that right is personal to the sovereign; it does not pass to any of its creditors; and its intervention and appearance in a suit brough by a creditor, as against its debtors, does not give to such creditor its sovereign exemption from liability to the statute of limitation and the defense of laches. Whatever, therefore, might be true if the state of Louisiana were suing in its own courts, this suit must be treated in the federal courts as one by an individual against individuals; and, brought 19 years after, by the terms of settlement between the state and its creditors, the last payment was due from them to it, must be adjudged a stale claim. The decisions of the supreme court of Louisiana are in accord with this conclusion. Association v. Lord, 35 La. Ann. 438. That case was the counterpart of this, and the final conclusion of that court was against the right to maintain the action and on the ground of the staleness of the claim. The fact that much litigation had intervened during these years, that bankruptcy proceedings were pending, avails nothing to this plaintiff, who was no party thereto. The decree is affirmed.