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MISSISSIPPI MILLS V. COHN, 150 U. S. 202 (1893)

U.S. Supreme Court

Mississippi Mills v. Cohn, 150 U.S. 202 (1893)

Mississippi Mills v. Cohn

No. 27

Argued October 20, 23, 1893

Decided November 13, 1893

150 U.S. 202


The jurisdiction of federal courts, sitting as courts of equity, cannot be enlarged or diminished by state legislation.

Whether such a court has jurisdiction in equity over a particular case will be determined by inquiring whether, by the principles of common law and equity, as distinguished and defined in this country and in the mother country at the time of the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, the relief sought in the bill was one obtainable in a court of law or one which only a court of equity was fully competent to give.

A creditors' bill, to subject property of the debtor fraudulently standing in the name of a third party to the payment of judgments against the debtor is within the jurisdiction of a federal court, sitting as a court of equity, although, in the courts of the state in which the federal court sits, state legislation may have given the creditor a remedy at law.

N. and S., being citizens of Louisiana, obtained a judgment in a court of the state against C., also a citizen of Louisiana, which they assigned to W, and L., citizens of Missouri. The assignees thereupon brought suit against C. in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Louisiana, putting the jurisdiction on the ground of diverse citizenship. Held that under the provisions of § 1 of the Act of March 3, 1875, 18 Stat. 470, c. 137, which statute was in force when the suit was commenced, it could not be maintained.

The jurisdiction of this Court in this case is limited by the Act of February 25, 1889, 25 Stat. 693, c. 236, to the determination of the questions as to the jurisdiction of the circuit court.

The facts in this case are as follows: on March 29, 1881, Joel Wood and William H. Lee, citizens of the State of Missouri, partners as Wood & Lee, obtained a judgment in the Eighth District Court of the Parish of East Carroll, Louisiana, against Simon Cohn, a citizen of the State of Louisiana, for $529.25, with interest, for goods sold by them to him on October 30, 1880. On April 2, 1881, S. B. Newman and S. D. Stockman, composing the firm of S. B. Newman & Co., also obtained a judgment in the same court against said Cohn for

Page 150 U. S. 203

$24,282.16, which judgment, subject to a credit of $5,452, the proceeds of certain attachment proceedings accompanying the action, was duly assigned to Wood & Lee. Newman and Stockman were both citizens of Louisiana. On November 30, 1885, Wood & Lee filed their bill in equity in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Louisiana against Simon Cohn, his wife, Fannie Cohn, and his wife's mother, Henrietta Steinhardt, all citizens of Louisiana, the purpose and object of which was to set aside as fraudulent a judgment in favor of Mrs. Cohn against Simon Cohn, and to subject certain property standing in the name of Mrs. Steinhardt, and alleged to be the property in fact of Simon Cohn, to the payment of these judgments. On July 11, 1882, the Mississippi Mills, a corporation organized under the laws of the State of Mississippi, obtained a judgment in the Eighth District Court of the Parish of East Carroll, Louisiana, against Simon Cohn for $751.46. On July 5, 1883, it commenced in that court a suit of substantially the same nature as that commenced by Wood & Lee. This suit was duly removed to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Louisiana. After such removal, and on October 29, 1886, these cases were consolidated by an order of the circuit court, and from that time on they proceeded as one case. Pleadings having been perfected and proofs taken, the consolidated case was submitted to the circuit court, and on July 18, 1889, a decree was entered dismissing the bills of plaintiffs for want of jurisdiction. To reverse this decree of dismissal, appellants have brought their appeal to this Court.

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