ERROR to the Supreme Court of Louisiana; the case being thus:
On the 10th August, 1860, Bloom, Kahn & Co., of which firm one Levy was a member, all parties being resident traders in New Orleans, gave their promissory note to A. T. Stewart & Co., resident traders of New York, payable March 13th, 1861. Payment was refused on demand at maturity. Very soon after this, that is to say, in April, 1861, the late rebellion broke out, and from the 15th of that month, when its existence was announced by proclamation from President Lincoln, until some time after, May 4th, 1862, at which date the government troops took possession of New Orleans,1 the ordinary course of judicial proceedings was so interrupted by resistance to the laws of the United States, that none of the defendants could have been served with process if suit had been brought on the note against them.
On the 11th of June, 1864, Congress passed this act, entitled [78 U.S. 493, 494] 'An act in relation to the limitation of actions in certain cases:'
On the 16th April, 1866, the Federal courts being now re-established in New Orleans, Stewart & Co. sued Bloom, Kahn & Co. on the note. These set up what is called in Louisiana 'the prescription of five years;' equivalent to that which is elsewhere known as a statute of limitation, barring an action after five years. No replication to this plea was put in. The Code of Practice in Louisiana bars replications generally. This code enacts that
And by the settled practice of the State what was embraced in the defendants' answer was open to every 'objection of law and fact the same as if specially pleaded.' The plaintiffs therefore were to be considered as denying the validity of the State statute of prescription which the defendants had set up in their plea, and as declaring that in virtue of the act of Congress above quoted it was suspended by the rebellion.
The court in which the suit was brought gave judgment [78 U.S. 493, 495] for the defendants. The plaintiffs then filed a petition in the Supreme Court of Louisiana for a rehearing of the case, and, among other things represented in the petition, that in the court below
The petition for rehearing also declared that the plaintiffs had filed a written brief in the said District Court, which the rules of that court required them to file, setting out the said act of 1864. This petition was inserted in the record.
The Supreme Court of Louisiana affirmed the judgment in the court below, in these words:
The plaintiffs now brought the case here.
Prior to the 5th of February, 1867, there was but one enactment on the subject of bringing judgments from the Supreme Courts of States to this court, the well-known 25th section of the Judiciary Act of 1789.2 On the day first above mentioned, however, Congress passed another act on the subject;3 following, in most respects, the language of the old act, though changing it in some places and leaving out one whole clause in the old act. The important parts of the two acts are here set out in parallel lines; words in the act of 1789 omitted in the act of 1867 being inclosed in [78 U.S. 493, 496] brackets, and words variant in the two enactments being put in italics:
Judiciary Act of 1789.
Judiciary Act of 1867.
The case being now in this court, two questions were made:
1. Of jurisdiction in this court.
2. Assuming jurisdiction to exist, the correctness of the judgment below.
Mr. E. T. Merrick, for the dismissal, and in support of the ruling below:
It is said in the brief of the opposing counsel, that in the Supreme Court below the plaintiffs set up and insisted upon the act of Congress of 1864, as a bar to the prescription. We remember no such fact. The matter must be decided by the record. Certainly there is nothing of record to show that any question respecting the statute of limitations of the United States of June 11th, 1864, was raised or relied upon before the Supreme Court of Louisiana, as a ground of recovery. 4 Although the act of 1867 is broader than the act of 1789, it must be construed with it; and thus construed there is nothing which contemplates a writ of error for any other matter or thing than that which appears on the face of the record. It was not the intention of Congress by the new act to create any new method of trying cases in error. [78 U.S. 493, 498] A petition to the Supreme Court stating that a particular statute was relied on in the inferior court, does not prove that it was so relied on; still less does it prove that it was relied on in the court above.
Moreover, if the writ is to have the same effect under the act of 1867, 'as if the judgment or decree complained of had been rendered or passed in a court of the United States,' it will not benefit the plaintiffs in error, because if this case had been tried in the Circuit Court of the United States, in the absence of bills of exception, there is nothing on which to base an examination of the question; much less to reverse the judgment of the lower court.
On the merits: The act of Congress of 1864, in relation to the limitation of certain actions, was meant to bind the courts of the United States alone. This is to be inferred, because as will be conceded, there is no grant of power in the Constitution of the United States to Congress, to prescribe rules of property or practice for the government of the courts of the several States, and because as to matters not intrusted to the government of the United States, the State courts are considered as courts of another sovereignty. 5 As Congress cannot create the State courts, as it cannot establish the ordinary rules of property, obligations, and contracts, nor in general, denounce penalties for crimes and offences, in the several States, it cannot prescribe rules of proceeding for such State courts.
On the other hand, there is no inhibition in the Constitution of the United States upon the individual States to pass statutes of limitation even where such statutes of limitation bar the judgments of sister States.