Florentine v. Barton/Opinion of the Court
|Florentine v. Barton by
Opinion of the Court
The land in dispute, in this case, was sold by order of a court some forty years ago, to pay the debts of its deceased owner. The heirs seem to have acquiesced in the regularity and justice of this proceeding till the plaintiff in error, a few years ago, obtained from them a release of their title, doubtless for the purpose of this litigation.
By the law of Illinois, the lands of one deceased are liable for the payment of his debts. The Circuit Court of the county in which the administration is granted has jurisdiction to order their sale for that purpose. The petition of the administrator, setting forth that the personal property of the deceased is insufficient to pay such debts, and praying the court for an order of sale, brought the case fully within the jurisdiction of the court. It became a case of judicial cognizance, and the proceedings are judicial. The court has power over the subject-matter and the parties. It is true, in such proceedings, there are no adversary parties, because the proceeding is in the nature of a proceeding in rem, in which the estate is represented by the administrators, and, as in a proceeding in rem in admiralty, all the world are parties. In making the order of sale, the court are presumed to have adjudged every question necessary to justify such order or decree, viz., the death of the owner; that the petitioners were his administrators; that the personal estate was insufficient to pay the debts of the deceased; that the private act of Assembly, as to the manner of sale, was within the constitutional power of the legislature; and that all the provisions of the law, as to notices which are directory to the administrators, have been complied with. 'The court having a right to decide every question which occurs in a cause, whether its decision be correct or otherwise, its judgment, until reversed, is binding on every other court.' The purchaser, under such a sale, is not bound to look rurther back than the order of the court, or to inquire as to its mistakes. The court is not bound to enter on record the evidence on which any fact was decided. The proceedings on which the action of the court is grounded, are usually kept on separate papers, which are often mislaid or lost. A different doctrine would (especially after a lapse of over thirty years) render titles under a judicial sale worthless, and a 'mere trap for the unwary.' These propositions will be found discussed at length and fully decided by us in Grignon's Lessee v. Astor.  Any further argument in vindication of them would be superfluous.
The question raised as to the constitutional power of the legislature of Illinois to pass the private acts modifying the general course of proceedings in similar cases, was necessarily decided by the Circuit Court of the State, under whose order and supervision this sale was made. The State court is the proper tribunal to construe and determine the validity of the enactments of their own legislature.
But assuming the question to be open for our decision, we see no reason to doubt the authority of the legislature to pass such acts as are now complained of, without infringing the Constitution of the State or of the United States. Such legislation is remedial, not judicial. It infringes no contract; it is not ex post facto, nor even retrospective; it is not the usurpation of judicial powers; it authorizes the administrators to sell at private sale, and not at public auction, as by the general law, but not till ordered by the proper court. Every question of a judicial nature was left to the judgment of the court. It must order the sale, and approve it when made. There may have been many reasons why it would be for the benefit of the estate and the creditors that the land should be sold at private and not at public sale. The legislature, by this private act, direct only the manner of sale; the courts are to judge of its necessity. Statutes are to be found in almost every State in the Union giving authority to guardians to sell the real estate of their wards, and usually requiring the supervision and approbation of a court. The power of the legislature to grant such special authority to guardians has been generally admitted. In a case in Illnois,  it is said by their Supreme Court that, 'to deny this power to the legislature in this view of its action, would almost annihilate its powers.' Yet there was an assumption of power in that case far exceeding anything to be found in the present.
^10 2 Howard, 319.
^11 Mason v. Wait, 4 Scammon, 134.
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