69 US 198 Campbell v. Read

69 U.S. 198

17 L.Ed. 779

2 Wall. 198


December Term, 1864

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THE act of Congress of April 2d, 1816, regulating appeals and writs of error from the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia to this court, limits them to cases in which the matter in dispute is of the value of $1000 or upwards. It provides, however, that if 'any questions of law of such extensive interest and operation as to render the final decision of them by the Supreme Court desirable' are involved in the alleged errors of the Circuit Court, the case may be heard here, even though the matter in dispute is of less value than $1000; and any judge of the court, if he is of opinion that the questions are of such a character, may allow the writ or appeal accordingly.


With this statute in force, Campbell, by will, left legacies to his widow and several illegitimate children; but, after paying them all, a fund of $141 remained in the hands of the executor undisposed of; there being no residuary legatee named in the will, and no parents, &c., legitimate children,


3 Stat. at Large, 261. or collateral relations, who had the right to claim it as next of kin in preference to the widow.


The widow accordingly claimed it under statute. Her claim was opposed by the executor in virtue of an act regulating such matters in the District, and which declares that 'every bequest of personal estate to the wife of a testator shall be construed to be intended in bar of her share of the per sonal estate, unless it be otherwise expressed in the will.'* Her right depended, therefore, upon a construction of this statute, and the point before this court was, whether this question was a question of law of such extensive interest and operation as to render the final decision of it, in a case like the present one, by this court, desirable. Under the impression that it might be, or under some misunderstanding, an allocatur had been allowed in vacation by one of the justices of this court. The printed copy of the record showed no certificate that the papers it contained were a transcript of the record, though counsel put nothing on that ground, which was supposed to be an accident only.


Mr. Eames, for the appellant, argued that the question was of such a character as the act of Congress contemplated. It concerned the whole subject of testaments and intestacies in a large and important territory, constantly increasing in population and wealth, the seat of the Federal Government itself. The amount here, indeed, was not large, but the principle, and therefore the 'question of law,' was the same as if the amount was millions.


Mr. Stone, contra.


At a subsequent day, the CHIEF JUSTICE announced briefly the court's opinion, that independently of the record's not showing a proper certificate,—this itself being a sufficient ground for dismissal,—the amount in controversy was insignificant, and that the court was satisfied, on an inspection of the papers, that the allocatur was inadvertently sanctioned. There was, he said, no principle involved of such extensive application as to bring the case within the act of Congress giving jurisdiction on a judge's allocatur when the amount in controversy is less than $1000. Notwithstanding the allocatur, therefore, the case was

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Act of Maryland, 1798; Dorsey's Laws, 406.